Farming a legacy of sustainability for the next generation

Three generations of the Bugera family (left to right): Ivan, Sébastien, and Larry Bugera. Photo: Supplied

By Alan Wiebe
OrganicBiz contributor

Larry and Murielle Bugera, along with their son, Ivan, believe in farming for the next generation. The Bugera’s are third and fourth generation farmers who operate the organic acres of Ferme Larielle Farm. The farm is located east of the Village of St-Pierre-Jolys along the historic Joubert Creek.

The Bugera’s come from a long tradition of family farming. Larry’s grandfather, George Bugera, was among the first Ukrainian pioneers to start farming in the Stuartburn area in 1899. Murielle’s grandfather, the Honourable Albert Préfontaine, established the family farm in 1911. Today, it is designated as a Manitoba Century Farm. The amalgamation of the Bugera and Préfontaine family farms, as well as additional acres purchased throughout the years, make up the Ferme Larielle Farm.

We’re farmers — and we believe in what we do. We believe that farmers have a big role to play to reduce our carbon footprint. – Murielle Bugera

The intergenerational legacy of the family farm gives deep meaning to the Bugera’s identity and connection to the landscape. They were looking for ways to keep the land and the farm in the family. The Bugera’s recognized an opportunity to improve the sustainability of their farm for future generations by transitioning from conventional to organic farming.

“Organic farming can help us enhance the health of our soil so that it’s better at absorbing and releasing water,” Murielle said. “It reduces our risk by building resilience to flooding and drought, and has lower costs of production. We also want to stay ahead of stricter farming regulations in the future.”

Larry and Murielle Bugera

The Bugera family began growing alfalfa in 2004 to facilitate their transition and were certified for organic production in 2007. Alfalfa is one of the best options for making the transition to certified organic production in terms of weed control, soil fertility, and overall economics.

The process of going organic progressed a lot easier with help from Martin Entz and Gary Martens from the University of Manitoba.

“They helped us develop rotational plans and a support network,” said Murielle. “From there, we just started cropping the best we could and we learned as much as possible about green manure, intercropping, building soil health, and weed management.”

The Bugera family still use conventional farming methods as part of their long-term strategy to subsidize their transition to organic farming.

Murielle isn’t saying conventional farming is bad, “We’re farmers — and we believe in what we do. We believe that farmers have a big role to play to reduce our carbon footprint. We like organic farming because it helps us to reduce our risk and build resilience by improving the health of our soil.”

They are currently organically cropping red spring wheat, barley, and oats, with plans to diversify into flax and soybeans. It is also possible the family may pasture livestock on organic fields in the future so they don’t have to buy green manure or compost.

The Bugera family agrees that the biggest challenge in transitioning to organic farming is finding the specific information you need in order to incorporate growing methods that are right for the soil conditions unique to each farm. Organic farming requires growing methods that are different from conventional farming because organic farmers choose not to use any kind of pesticides or chemical fertilizers on their field.

Fortunately, organic farmers are undoubtedly willing to share information about their farming practices. Larry explains that, “There are a number of ways to transition from conventional to organic farming. We learned by going to seminars, field tours, and talking with other organic farmers.”

Their son, Ivan, was one of the reasons for the organic transition.

Ivan recommends planning ahead and developing a strong network of people who have the knowledge and equipment you need to help you improve your soil quality. “You really need to know your soil and focus on building your soil. That’s the best way to build your resilience.” He adds that there’s a market for a lot of organic crops if you take the time to consider what you like and what you are good at growing on your farm.

The Bugera’s are passionate about sharing what they have learned with other people who are interested in organic farming practices. The family travels around the country to attend and present at organic conferences. Most recently, they attended a conference in Toronto where they heard first-hand how people from the city buy organic food because they think it’s healthier for them and the environment.

Making the transition to organic farming was intimidating at first, until they got used to the idea of implementing new farming practices. “It’s like changing jobs,” says Murielle, “The first time is scary — but after a while, you get used to it.”

The changes made to transition the family farm to produce organically grown crops has established a legacy of sustainability for the next generation of the Bugera family. “We have a responsibility to encourage the younger people,” Murielle said, “Especially if it makes sense for the people we are doing this for — like our son’s and grandson’s generation.”

You can find out more about Ferme Larielle Farm by visiting them online at fermelarielle.ca.

Alan Wiebe is watershed assistant for the Seine-Rat River Conservation District