Agriculture Canada has tripled the number of certified organic acres it is growing on P.E.I., including fields in the heart of Charlottetown.

In 2016, the research farm in Harrington, P.E.I., became the first Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada facility in the country to have part of its operation certified organic. Agriculture Canada now has 15 hectares in total certified on P.E.I.

Organic acres drone shot

A view of the organic section at the Harrington, P.E.I. research farm taken from a drone. (Submitted by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada )

"The 25 acres (10 hectares) in Harrington have been so successful and we had been essentially farming the Charlottetown farm as an organic farm since about 2013," said Jan Holmes, farm manager at the Charlottetown Research and Development Centre.

"We've decided to use the Charlottetown farm to showcase some of the organic things we're doing." 

Organic field peas Charlottetown

These organic field peas are part of ongoing research into pulses on P.E.I. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

'Nice to look at'

The fields used to be the old site of the Experimental Farm until everything moved to Harrington in the 1990s.

"We kept farming this land here to keep the weeds from taking over," explained Aaron Mills, a research scientist with Agriculture Canada.

"It's nicer than a weedy old pasture, if we can add little bit of agricultural complexity, right in the city, in our fields, then it's nice to look at."

Organic acres Aaron Mills

Research scientist Aaron Mills next to the organic field peas being grown this summer in Charlottetown. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

The fields border on a residential neighbourhood, part of the motivation for going organic.

"We're close to people living in residential neighbourhoods here, we don't want to use any pesticides, or anything like that," said Mills.

"We're developing new techniques for organic management, primarily in Harrington, and we're taking some of those techniques and applying them to the land here in the city."

Organic acres dried field peas

Some of the field peas that were grown in the newly certified organic fields in Charlottetown. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Promoting pulses

The Charlottetown fields feature alfafa, sunflowers, a mix of cover crops and four different varieties of field peas.

"The pulses are crops that are really increasing in popularity on the Island and we just wanted to throw this into our demonstration," said Mills. 

Agriculture Canada has been working in partnership for four years with a company promoting pulses on P.E.I., New Leaf Essentials East.

In March, the company announced it was setting up a new processing plant at Slemon Park.

"These are their varieties, we've been trialing them under East Coast conditions," said Mills. 

"They've brought this market to the Island and successfully expanded the pulse acreage on P.E.I."

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Chris Chivilo (centre) grades a sampling of P.E.I. grown fava beans in September 2016. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Raising awareness

"I think it's a great thing," said Chris Chivilo, president and CEO of New Leaf Essentials East.

 "Most Maritimers aren't familiar with pulse crops other than growing their own faba beans or broad beans in their gardens."

His company is experimenting with other pulse crops, including black beans, lentils and cranberry beans, with continued guidance from the team at Agriculture Canada.

"It's very good for us and the consumer and farmer," said Chivilo.

"They get to do the research to see what works so you don't have to make the same mistake over and over trying to figure it out on your own."

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Farm manager Jan Holmes takes a closer look at some oats in the organic section of the Harrington research farm. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

High yields

There has been a lot of positive response, says Holmes, to the organic fields at the Harrington station.

"People have been very interested and the researchers that work with the organic area here have been trying numerous different types of crops and numerous different growing methods," said Holmes. 

"Some of the yields have been very high and the crops have been coming off really good."

Agriculture Canada will be looking to sell the organic peas it has harvested from the Charlottetown fields. They have to put out a tender to sell anything produced on federal land, but the pulses could end up at the new plant in Slemon Park.