Bramber farm family awarded for innovation

Ashley Thompson
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The who’s who of the provincial agricultural scene are taking note of an organic farm nestled far from prying eyes on a secluded property in Bramber.

The Nova Scotia Institute of Agrologists selected Selwood Green Organic Farm owners Norbert Kungl and Minga Mintz for the 2012 Outstanding Farm Family Award.

An April 21 press release issued by the NSIA says members chose to honour the Selwood Green proprietors for their exemplary innovation and unwavering commitment to the agricultural industry in Nova Scotia.

The award comes at a time of great change for all involved with the farm, which was founded in the 1980s. 

Rather than spending his days tending to the 15 to 20 acres of crops and 9,000 square feet of greenhouse space at his quiet farm, as he once did, Kungl now manages Norbert’s Good Food, a vegetable shop and kitchen that’s open seven days a week at the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market.

“When we had to move our market to the new Seaport Market building we saw an opportunity. The overall idea was to value add to our produce that we grow on the farm,” Kungl said. 

Norbert’s Good Food, opened in February 2011, was the answer to a mathematical dilemma that was putting great pressure on the operators of Selwood Green in a time when the rising costs of preparing produce for deliveries to large-scale retail stores was eating away at the small company’s profits.

“It felt like there was more and more pressure for the small grower to get by with less and less return and I just wanted to opt out of that system and control the product from growing it… to the end consumer,” Kungl said.

“In a way we’ve achieved that by integrating the restaurant and the vegetable shop into our business.”

Business is gradually increasing at the Seaport Market as people in the Halifax area are getting used to the idea of having a market open seven days a week, Kungl said. 

“We are barely breaking even at this point in time but it is very encouraging because we are seeing a steady growth.”

Kungl, who works around the clock, says the Outstanding Farm Family Award came as a surprise, but it was most welcomed at a time when a little motivation can go a long way.

“It came as a surprise because I feel that we are so early on in the stage of expanding our farm by adding a retail shop and a kitchen to it. This is an inspiration to be recognized for that and what it triggers is a wanting to do the best with it.”

 

Simply the best

In Kungl’s opinion, organically grown produce is better than all the rest.

He’s devoted more than 30 years to learning the ins and outs of organic growing, and sharing his knowledge of the topic with others.

“I’m convinced that organic farming is the way to go and I think that a lot of farmers could make significant steps towards a more organic way of producing food.” Norbert Kungl

“I’m convinced that organic farming is the way to go and I think that a lot of farmers could make significant steps towards a more organic way of producing food.”

Long viewed as an expert organic grower, Kungl has provided several keynote speeches on the benefits of environmentally sound farming.

“Doing what is right for nature is right for us as well,” he said.

“You don’t spray poison onto the crops that you will eventually eat. There are other means.”

Instead of using synthetic pesticides that can contaminate soil and nearby water supplies, Selwood Green relies on crop rotations to break insect and weed cycles. For the extra pesky pests, Kungl says floating physical barriers and biological warfare — the use of bacteria that targets specific insects — works well.

“It is not detrimental to the world’s population if you do try to feed everyone organically,” he explained, noting that he has nurtured 30 acres of organic goods at the family-run veggie farm in a single season.

“It’s not as easy for many other farmers to go organic but I think there is a great area of improvement towards organic farming practices that would help all of us — the environment and the farmer, too, by saving costs.”

 

Neighbourly farming

To support his fellow farmers, Kungl stocks the shelves at his shop with local goods whenever possible.

If Selwood Green is unable to meet the needs of the metro-based market, Kungl turns to his neighbors for supplies.

“Everything that goes in our meals either comes from our farm or other local producers,” he said, noting that exceptions will only be made if customers request an out-of-season product that can only be grown in an exotic climate.

“We have 360 days of business at the shop in the city and we need more local production, ideally from our own farm, to support the market.”

On top of carrying a selection of fresh organic produce, Norbert’s Good Food offers all-day breakfast, smoothies, specialty coffees, organic baked goods and a variety of lunch specials.

When the dust settles and the business transition that has required all hands on deck at Selwood Green starts to feel like the new normal, Kungl says he hopes to build new greenhouses to increase production.

“For the time being just surviving and building the new business in the city without neglecting the farm is the highest priority.”

For more information, visit www.selwoodgreen.com.

Organizations: Seaport Market, Nova Scotia Institute, Halifax Seaport Farmers

Geographic location: Bramber, Nova Scotia

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  • Michelle Summer Fike
    June 24, 2012 - 14:18

    Many of us who have been involved in the organic farming community in Nova Scotia for many years have held Norbert Kungl up as a mentor and example of how fine farm stewardship, sound organic management practices, and inspired, intelligent thinking can result in a vibrant, successful farm business. I applaud Norbert and Minga on this award. They are definitely most deserving!

  • Minga Mintz
    May 11, 2012 - 16:21

    Hi! This is Minga Mintz-Kungl from the above article (re: Outstanding Farm Family Award). Thanks for a great article about our family and the exciting event of receiving this award. I have one other comment to make, and that is that Norbert has not traded work in the fields for managing our shop at the Seaport Market. He has added that to his roster of chores and while the change in our marketing business has required that we hire someone to act as an assistant manager capacity at the farm on the days when Norbert must be at our shop , the farm could not function without Norbert's full on hands on involvement. Thanks again! Sincerely, Minga Mintz