Beamsville grape grower advocates for regenerative farming practices

Hoverfly Photo credit: Alvesgaspar / Wikipedia

Montreal-based non-profit Regeneration Canada is spreading the word about the importance of soil health and “regenerative farming” practices in an evolving world reckoning with climate change. 

Canadians  may think of themselves as removed from the effects of a changing  planet, says Regeneration Canada’s co-director, Antonious Petro, but the  signs are already here, especially when it comes to increasing  incidences of drought conditions. 

Cover  crops, crop biodiversity, not disturbing soil, water management,  agroforestry and regenerative grazing all are aspects of regenerative  farming, but everything begins with increasing and supporting soil  fertility. 

Focusing  on soil and its function empowers farmers to adapt to and mitigate the  effects of climate change, says Petro, by keeping carbon in the ground  and increasing water retention in land. 

“We  need to have more plants and vegetation and trees and fertile soil to  balance carbon cycle and distribution among carbon pools where it’s  stored,” he said. 

Ann-Marie  Saunders, a Niagara grape grower, practises regenerative farming, and  participated in Regeneration Canada’s online Living Soils Symposium,  discussing a recently released online map connecting consumers to regenerative farmers.

The  family-run Saunders Family Farm and Vineyard began moving toward  organic farming practices after Ivy Saunders, Ann-Marie’s late mother,  developed Parkinson’s disease, which later claimed her life in 2015. Ivy  had handled much of the pesticide-covered fruit grown on the farm since  the 1960s. 

In  moving toward a more natural way of farming, the family learned more  about nature, plants and soil and how everything interconnects. 

Dirt, Saunders says, is not just an anchor for plants. “There’s life in the soil.” 

At  the 11-acre Beamsville vineyard, the ground between rows of Chardonnay,  Pinot noir, Cabernet Franc, and Riesling grapes, is covered with living  plants (as opposed to leaving soil bare and exposed) using perennial  cover crops native to the area. 

The vegetation reduces erosion and keeps soil cooler and damper during drought conditions. 

Much of regenerative farming is about getting out of the way of nature and letting it thrive.

Saunders admits there’s a learning curve, and said farmers, whose wallets are  hit first when it comes to implementing changes, may be reluctant to  adjust, but she says the benefits are seen in the long term. 

“As  a farmer, if your system is working or doing much better along a cycle  and really more self-supporting, its less stress for you,” she said,  pointing out there’s less time spent worrying about inputs and labour. 

“You’re not having to take on extra things that the soil may already be working at doing.”

Since  launching two weeks ago, Regeneration Canada has received a “tremendous  amount” of interest in their map, Petro said, which will also serve to  connect farmers with other farmers interested in regenerative farming  practices in their area. There are presently two Niagara farms on the  map: Saunders Family Farm and Vineyard and Southbrook Vineyards.

For more information and to access resources on regenerative farming, visit: