We spoke with Jessie Sosnicki (as we do most weeks at the market), one of the coolest certified organic vegetable farmers we know. Sosnicki‘s farming practices leave the soil, air, water, plant life, animals, and people smiling. We found out why local organics cost more than imports, what she gets asked most at the market, and who drives the tractor on this family farm.
Why do local, organic tomatoes cost so much more than ones from Mexico? (Ridiculous!)
As an organic farmer that works bent over in the dirt picking by hand I will not grow or sell cheap food. I once wholesaled bushels of peppers for $4. Never again. Our organic fields yield less tomatoes than large scale grown conventional imports because of bug damage, and diseases such as blight. But most importantly I grow for TASTE, not ‘production’ or ‘shelf life’. Paying $3/lb. for the most succulent tasting Heritage variety, like a big fat sweet rainbow Striped German, will boot the heck out of the .79 cent boring, tasteless, imported, red tomato any day!! (We better get to the market early now that the secret’s out!)
You grow over 100 different varieties of vegetables throughout the season. Which are your three favourites?
This is hard. I am obsessed with Heirloom tomatoes, and there is no way I could even pick just three varieties of my fav tomatoes! I love our fresh dug potatoes, crisp raw sweet onions, and huge bunches of kale. I think when you ask a question like this it should go by season! (Jessie is laughing out loud!) I juice a lot, and make smoothies a lot, so beets and carrots are precious to me when I pull the first each year. Strawberries, corn, garlic, how in the hell can you ask such an unfair question? (Jessie laughs again + we now know to never ask this question of a farmer again!)
Sosnicki’s Farm is certified organic. Why is that certification important and was it a difficult process to receive it?
Being certified allows me to display ONE certificate at farmers’ markets which I believe covers all the very important basics. Organic – Local – My Own. I don’t have to be verified ‘local’ because my farm address is listed and is obviously local. The verified local labels have nothing to do with chemicals or inputs and look kinda organic-y which has led to a lot of confusion in the past for my customers. I do not have to verify with yet another organization that I farm ‘my own’ as it is included in my ‘product summary’ with my organic certification. When we decided to go organic we spoke with other organic producers – folks that were PROUD to have the certificate! It was something we worked towards, and when you are feeding people what you claim is healthy organic food, it is my opinion that you should be accountable to a third party and undergo an annual audit. It was a three year transition and is around $500 per year for our veggie production. Very affordable considering we pay thousands in fuel and vehicle repairs and around $5,000 annually to farm market vendor fees!!! The paper work is a breeze for me as I believe in keeping crop records to see how the farm is doing year after year anyhow. I am PROUD to be certified organic!
Who drives the tractor? You or Ben?
(Jessie’s laughing out loud….again) BOTH! When we had our 4040 ol’ John Deer, I disked, plowed and cultivated. I have jack-knifed I don’t know how many plant wagons around, and cultivated using the sweet little ol’ Farmall (a general purpose tractor, for all the non-farmers reading this- we had to google it to find out ourselves!). We’re so small now that I just spend a lot of time on an old quad dragging around a trailer harvesting and picking up. Ben definitely does the majority of all large tractor work now. We actually don’t own any big tractors anymore, so when you’re renting from the neighbors it’s safe to say Ben is much safer with the big guns! (Big laugh from Jessie)
We love an organic farmer that is all over social media. Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest?
Despite the glares I get from Ben when he sees me typing on my phone, and the fact that he is just learning to understand the importance of twitter and that I am ‘tweeting,’ you should have seen his reaction when I told him I was ‘pinning’! He threw his head back and belly laughed! He does not get it! He makes me feel like a teenager ‘wasting time, messing around, not doing anything constructive.’ (More laughing!) I do it all and love it!
Why is your corn so freaking good?
(Jessie is laughing again… or still!) It has everything to do with our rich, happy soil via a kick butt rotation and organic compost! And the variety of course. We wanted to be renegades with an ‘all yellow corn’. Bi-colour corn (aka ‘peaches and cream’) does have some nice varieties, but come on! Yellow corn was first and is fabulous, as I am out to prove!!! Maybe the worms and other insects out there have something to do with it? (More laughing!) That corn field is alive with activity. Very Happy Corn! (We are very happy customers too!)
What time does your farm day end?
I would like to say ‘at dusk’ or when the ‘cows come in’ and that I spend my evenings ‘knitting by lantern light watching the sun set’ (no?) but the truth is that I typically finish a harvest day around 6-7pm, make supper for 8pm, and then play whatever addictive iPhone game I downloaded that week, and read emails. Ben likes political crap on TV or history or sports, so TV is definitely not my thing. A good movie is awesome but rarely happens. I fall asleep by 9:30-10:00pm almost every night. I’m up at 5:30-6am. Been like this since I was a little girl. My dad and I were early risers. Our work day begins at 7am. Waaayy earlier on Saturdays for market of course!
Did you grow up on an organic farm?
No. My parents own a conventional corn and soybean century farm (been in my dad’s family for 100 years) down the road. My grandpa and dad were the first to start using chemical inputs on the home farm. We don’t see eye to eye about farming. My dad’s worked very hard all his life and no one wants to believe at the end of the day that they’ve been doing it ‘wrong’ or that it’s ‘unsafe’ or ‘bad’ to spray, use wacky seeds to increase yields, etc., etc. There is a devil dancing around (nickname Monsanto?) that is doing a number on a lot of farmers. In the meantime I am proudly trying to show my dad that ‘Hey! See, we CAN do this!!’
If you won the lottery, how would your life change?
I think a lot of things would get fixed up real nice, and new greenhouses would go up. We’d buy our own tractors/equipment, and probably buy more tractors and needed items for other farmers/families we respect. I would build the most amazing on-farm processing kitchen ever. I would flip the hydro company the bird and go off the grid. I would add an egg processing facility to the mix. I would get a lot more animals. I would get WAY more political and fund organizations I care about like COG. I would go on a vacation to Chiapas and visit my Mexican guys and help THEM do things down there. I would never stop farming. I would buy more land so that I could rehabilitate it and offer more produce. I would adopt kids from around the world.
What question do you get asked most at the farmer’s markets?
“Where is your farm?” 1.5 hours Southwest of Toronto in Waterford, just south of Brantford, Ontario.
“Are you organic?” Yep, certified. Why don’t you check out my certificate hanging there?
“How do you cook this?” or “What do you do with this”… I love these questions as I love to cook. Poor Ben, not so much
For more information on Sosnicki Organics and their family farm, check them out online, and read updates on The Sosnicki Organic Produce Blog. Give Jessie and Ben a follow on Twitter @SosnickiOrganic, on Pinterest @Jessie Sosnicki, and like them on Facebook too. But most importantly, get to the market and try their exceptional produce and support such exceptional people with smile on their faces.