Verena Varga and Amy Smith believe that healthy soil produces healthy crops and healthy crops ultimately lead to healthy people.
With that philosophy in mind, the pair created Heart Beet Organics seven years ago in Darlington, between Hunter River and Charlottetown.
They turned it into a certified organic farm featuring 1.5 acres of mixed vegetables.
For their efforts, Varga and Smith were recently awarded with the Gilbert R. Clements Award for excellent in environmental farm planning. The award is named after the late environment minister and is given annually by the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture to a farm that is economically viable, environmentally sound and socially responsible in the production and/or marketing of high quality food from a sustainable system.
Heart Beet Organics is the first certified organic operation to win the award.
Utilizing open beds as well as greenhouses, they grow a variety of vegetables such as spinach, kale, tomatoes, carrots, garlic, parsnips, beets and a variety of others. They have also recently expanded into the value-added side of business by producing a variety of fermented vegetable products, including kombucha, a fermented tea that is found across the province in retail and food service outlets.
“I think our success has been trying to be really great stewards of the land, of the soil, always working to improve the quality and the health of our soil,’’ Smith said.
Smith and Varga don’t use pesticides or synthetic fertilizers of any kind, or even organic approved products, but instead use a system of barrier methods, companion planting and encourage beneficial insects through biodiversity. The farm system they employ includes permanently raised beds, a steady crop rotation, the use of cover crops after harvest and the usage of green manures in order to keep disease low and soil organic matter high. Conscious of compaction, they do use low till methods and small equipment to achieve this.
“It takes a while to learn and I feel just now we’re having our heads above water trying to see ahead,’’ Varga said. “When you’re starting something . . . you take it day by day just trying to make a go of it. I now feel like we have time to do some workshops and do more things outside of the farm to help us learn ourselves and teach others.
Heart Beet Organics supports the P.E.I. Food Exchange, is involved with Prince Street School’s seeding program in Charlottetown while Varga and Smith serve as advisers for Charlottetown Rural High School’s vegetable garden.
The award shows how far the organic industry has come in the last number of years.
“Every organic farmer could win this award because we’re all doing all of these practices every year,’’ Smith said.