After trudging through the thick layer of snow blanketing his farmland, Brent Preston shovels some aside and begins digging into the soil.
Under the snow, the ground is unexpectedly green, with a medley of peas, sunflowers, clover and oats alive and thriving in the dead of winter.
“One thing we like to say is: there’s never any bare soil in nature,” Preston said, dusting the snow off a chunk of earth in his hands.
“The more diversity you have, the healthier the soil is going to be.”
While the plants are alive, Preston has no intention of ever harvesting them. When the growing season arrives, he will plow them back into the soil, making way for the salad greens, spinach and cucumbers he produces at his organic farm in Creemore, Ont.
It’s a practice known as cover cropping, an ancient but now uncommon technique in which crops are planted during the off season to keep soil healthy and active.
Paul Slomp, who raises beef cattle in Saint-André-Avellin, Que., said his farm has already moved away from chemicals and artificial feeds. His 200 cows now graze exclusively on grass, which he manages with the goal of maximizing the land’s ability to capture carbon.
He questioned the worries around higher costs, and said he’s now making more money than he did before the changes.
“Because we’re reducing the amount of input that we need to purchase, we’re actually able to generate a much better profit margin,” said Slomp, who is not a member of Farmers for Climate Solutions.
“The cows are meant to do this; they thrive in a system like ours, and it can be quite profitable.”