In 1994, at his family’s invitation, Ward and his wife Jo-Anne took over the family farm by purchasing shares from his father and three siblings. After dabbling in various specialty crops, they chose organic production as the way forward. Today, Midmore Farms near Morinville, Alberta grows wheat, rye, oats, barley, flax, canola, peas, fava, alfalfa, sweet clover and some nutraceuticals (milk thistle and sea buckthorn). The couple also custom feed cattle and tend an 80-acre woodlot – a contribution to future generations that enhances biodiversity and is already a haven for wildlife.
Trained as a welder, millwright and power engineer, Ward job-shares with another farmer as control centre operator for a pipeline company. Jo-Anne, who also grew up on a farm, is the fulltime farmer. “As our farm developed, so did the organic industry,” Ward reflects. “Through my volunteer work in the industry, I went from being unaware of organic feed grain markets to personally meeting organic grain buyers from across North America. For a very small market farm, that’s fantastic exposure. I came to realize that anything I can do to help the industry grow ultimately benefits my business as well.”
What Makes Ward a Champion?
As president of Organic Alberta in 2014, when the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative began, Ward led the board through the decision to embark on their largest, most complex project to date. He served on the POGI steering committee during its crucial first years and on other committees since. An astute leader and articulate organic champion, he is generous in sharing both time and insights gleaned on the frontlines of organic farming. Still an active volunteer, Ward sits on the board of Morinville Municipal Seed Cleaning Plant, which serves organic as well as conventional farmers.
“The Prairie Organic Grain Initiative has become a portal for resources never before available in organic farming, including the Pivot and Grow website and the Green Manure Tool Kit. POGI has spurred the growth of agronomic training and brought that expertise to the farm through programs such as nutrient management. And it has fostered relationships across the prairies, within and even beyond the organic value chain. As farmers see opportunities to save input costs and boost soil health, we’re starting to see practices within mainstream agriculture that were previously deemed exclusively organic. Honestly, I am surrounded by fantastic, innovative farmers, not only organic but also conventional. And I’m the first to admit that we have more in common than not. It has been a pleasure to recognize that and offer and get respect from all walks of agriculture.”