Meeting the Okanagans’ “Godfather of Organics”


I was excited to test out my new (to me) vehicle and stretch its legs, but I was also excited about parking on Elam and Maggie's land.

Loads of burning questions in my head formed as I made my way to the Organic Farming Capital of Canada. I didn't want to take too much time from this busy man, a Godfather of Organic foods in the Okanagan.

I'm digging deep into the origins of organic agriculture. Eclectic crews of back-to-the-landers, spiritual seekers, rock crooners, travelers and farmers’ who rejected chemical farming and held the standard for themselves of organic alternatives. Elam and other pioneers' in organics started simply as a small band of rebels to join the (now) cultural transformation in the way we see, understand, grow and eat food. Today, organic has gone mainstream, split in two: an industry oriented toward bringing organic to all people as well as a movement that has a vision of sustainable agriculture. 

And according to filmmaker Mark Kitchell (Berkeley in the SixtiesA Fierce Green Fire, Evolution of Organic) it’s "the most popular and successful outgrowth of the environmental impulse of the last fifty years."

As a Holistic Nutritionist who is constantly looking to the past to traditions - for sage wisdom, I was ecstatic when invited to speak with a big player in the local organic industry. A Godfather, if you will, and his wonderful partner.


I met Maggie and Elam at a "Summer of Love" hippie party that Laurel Irons (Okanagan-Similkameen Community Acupuncture) and I planned for the Cawston community. It would be a fun way to sip, share and party, blending kombucha and herbal remedies with alcohol (or not) and of course great music and food. That's where Elam and Maggie came in, their band "Wild Organic Humans" provided us with the sounds of the 60's and got people off their feet and dancing. They like to rock.

But, the hot, hot summer is over. It's a chilly November 1 and I arrived on their land in Cawston. Warmly welcomed into E&M's cozy residence, we sat with a cuppa honey'd herbal tea. I started firing questions. Elam's "Lennonesque" drawl had me captivated.

R: "Do you remember the types of foods available in the 60's/70's and the 'natural foods movement' around the same time, were you part of it at all?
E: Yes processed foods were advertised all over the place, the natural foods movement we were involved in was in the 70’s. It was normal for me as I'd worked on farms since I was 10 years old, my parents had farmed an area of ground crop and a leased orchard. After high school I went to University and traveled. I picked fruit each summer that put me through school, travelling and being a hippie, playing music. My goal was to try not to make or spend too much money. As children came, I continued working as a fruit picker - I was really good at it! The best. We bought our first piece of property with another couple. We shared the property so it was almost like a commune. We worked really hard and paid it off fast.

Us organic farmers’ were just this little family that shared ideas and beliefs – these other guys had big warehouses and were way ahead of us. When I bought a farm no question I was going organic but at the time there was no regulations on this. I bought publications by J.D. Rodale to learn more about it.

We didn't want to make a ton of money. We just knew we didn’t want to spray and kill shit – we'd been in to herbs and  mushrooms, herbal healing and we'd go out and gather wild plants. We just learned as we went. It was a small industry around here that was growing organically, you know it’s good and clean.

For deliveries, we'd put an O on the box so people knew that that was the organics. After awhile that wasn’t going to cut it, we started the first 3rd party certification group in Canada, SOOPA. We got together and came up with standards and started talking with consumer affairs, went to Ottawa to present it to them – put together definitions and standards and that became your basis, they’ve moved forward since then but it was started with us and all around the same time. The whole organic industry developed in the states, up here, all the same. Accreditation progress, international body that oversees the certifications. Lots of work.  

Taking jobs through the winter helped Elam's group pay off the land purchase in 3 years.  The O's on the food boxes were what organic pioneers around the area did because there weren’t standards back then for regulating organic produce. Farmers' can say they are organic but they might have different ideas of what it really is, so the accreditation body really is important. Elam has had a few different pieces of land– all are still organic even though he doesn’t own them all anymore, but he still sold the fruit for them even after because of his connections in the organics world.
"What was the feeling of that time - the 60s/70s v- regarding freedom, creation and being a part of a 'movement'?"
E: The thoughts and ideas – Baba Ram Dass, Timothy Leary, trying to learn, open up our minds, was part of my learning and growth process. 
There's so many fields of knowledge that are required to be an effective farmer, it’s fascinating and has been an amazing journey. Used to just be a few of us hippies running around putting roofs on the cabins in the nude, with gum boots. Wanting a cleaner lifestyle and healthier, natural food.
A lot of organic farmers get in to it now because they want to make big money. That wasn’t a reasonable motivator for us – we made less money back then.  It was more about the motivator of clean food (no poisons) rather than making money. Wanted to raise our kids in a less toxic environment. We had no idea it would go in this huge growing direction like it is now.  We were trying to follow our hippie and organic roots. Trying something different. We saw some things that we didn’t think was the right way to go, we had to follow our own path. That led us to organic farming.
M: I was still in San Francisco when the vegetarian movement began and all the sprouts and the beans and lentils and I was always interested in cooking. Working in restaurants as an actress you get a lot of ideas of different things to make.

E: She's a great cook!

"Clapping Chimp" Sun-dried tomatoes from Elam's Organics

"Clapping Chimp" Sun-dried tomatoes from Elam's Organics

M: Being at Haight Ashbury felt like the world really was changing. The ideology of the 60s’, 70s in those era’s we believed we were changing the world: breaking down barriers of what was expected of us, women’s movement, spirituality/organized religions, New Age & wiccan movement, tarot and astrology, everyone felt like it was moving in that direction.
 "What are a few quotes that would sum up your hippie views?"
Live and Let Live
If I can make $10 a month and spend $5 I’m a rich man!
Living "back to the land" so living isn’t pricey.
All you Need is Love.  (John
Lennon philosophies were influential.)
Good Vibes.
Food is Love!!!

E: "Everyone Needs to be Loved.”  If you approach your interpersonal relationships with this understanding, a great deal of positive energy is exchanged and good things happen.

M: We are each Other’s Gurus
It’s so important that we raise consciousness in our own ways – embracing LOVE, embracing equalizing and pay back the planet, to nourish the planet, to heal it to heal ourselves. Because right now technology is taking over the planet, we need to individually reach out and help people, it’s a bit of a crisis right now. We can overcome it, but we have to help each other. Lift each other up, outside of the technology. Work in a heart centered way to help the planet.

 "Final question, just for fun - what was your FAVOURITE thing to eat in your hippie hey-days? (healthy or not!)"
M - crab and artichoke soup, there's a place in south San Francisco that does wonderful seafood and artichoke soup. Seafood Louie Salad, a bunch of crab and a salad with thousand island dressing. November is the best season for it.
E - Lentil Loaf. (We used to do "this little piggy had lentil loaf" on our babies' toes as we didn't eat meat!) I became vegetarian at 21 and have done vegan, macrobiotics and even raw, but pescatarian now and is more flexible.  Love cherries, peaches, apples.

Maggie and Elam have formed a band called the Wild Organic Humans, a fun stress-relieving side project from the weight of self-employment. They work to cross promote the business and the band. Having both been involved in music before they got together, playing and singing together is something all in fun. Check them out here and book them for your next musical event!
Maggie was a Drama major at UC Irvine –(theater major) but her chosen science field was horticulture. Her first band was called Maggie and the Maggettes who did fun cover songs like ABBA. Elam spent time making music as he travelled and picked fruit, slowly budding into the change maker he became. Putting love, values and integrity into their work was something I admired greatly.

As well, the fact that it seems like for these two, food and music has always been together! (Much love!)