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Harrow Organic Farm

In 2004, Dean Martin and his family made the decision to transition the family farm from conventional to organic. Over the next two decades, they learned about the challenges and rewards of organic farming.

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Harrow Organic Farm

Family Farm:

Dean, wife and two sons.

Farm Location:

Harrow and on Pelee Island.


The farm has been in the family for over 100 years. Dean has been personally farming there for ~38 years, transitioned in 2004.

Approach to Farming:

Organic is a more honest, genuine way to farm that is rich in opportunity.


  • Acreage: 1500 acres

  • Crops: Soybeans, corn, wheat and winter barley.

  • Soil: Organic matter is slowly increasing but it has been very difficult to maintain fertility levels, especially phosphorus; temperate climate.

In 2004, Dean Martin and his family made the decision to transition the family farm from conventional to organic. Over the next two decades, they learned about the challenges and rewards of organic farming.

“We’ve been organic now for 18 years, and I farm with my wife and two sons. We are working about 1500 acres in Harrow and on Pelee Island. The farm has been in the family for over 100 years.”

Having been in the family for over 100 years, Harrow Organic Farms has undoubtedly gone through a myriad of changes. One such change is its transition to organic in 2004. The Martins switched to organic when they saw a niche that they could get into and provide more opportunity for their sons. After the switch, they continued to farm the same crops, but organically – this includes soybeans, corn, wheat and winter barley.

Dean’s two sons were young when the farm transitioned to organic farming. Despite their age, Dean knew that if they ever wanted to follow in his footsteps and take on the family farm, they just wouldn’t have enough acres to farm conventionally and turn a profit. By getting into organic, it would be easier to diversify with different crops or even get into farming livestock. With organic, there was more opportunity. 18 years later, Dean’s two sons are both looking to work on the family farm.

Switching to organic is not without its challenges; organic farming depends on adopting practices like crop rotation and cover cropping, much more than conventional farming does. Dean has learned that, where before he could use fertilizer and herbicides, organic farming requires a long term strategy incorporating soil health, legumes, and building up the carbon in order for crops to survive.

One of the biggest challenges of organic farming is, of course, weeds. Without herbicide, the population of weeds builds up from year to year. This has led the Martins to lean towards technology: steering tractors that use an ARTC signal (areawide real-time traffic control signal) to be able to grow and cultivate within an inch of the crop and electric weed zappers that kill weeds growing above the crop line.

Since switching to organic practices, Dean has also learned that soil is a long term plan; it’s very difficult to maintain fertility levels, especially phosphorus, on the farm. But at the same time, the surrounding water systems are healthier, running with lower phosphorus levels than they did before. Every year, the Martins identify a couple of things that they can improve or a few pieces of equipment that will fill a hole that they’ve noticed in regards to fertility.

One of the more noteworthy benefits of organic farming to Dean is the stability of the organic market. It doesn’t fluctuate on a minute by minute basis – it’s more stable year to year. This gives Dean more opportunity and time to plan for the farm’s, and his family’s, future.

Dean has also noticed a deeper, more intimate connection with the land since transitioning to organic. As a conventional farmer, Dean wouldn’t see his field more than once or twice through the season until the combine came through. Now, Dean is in touch with each individual field, with his family working each field several times before planting. Each field gets different practices depending on the crop, giving Dean a more intimate relationship with each parcel of land and leading to a more satisfying harvest.

In terms of organic standards, Dean believes that the most important thing to do is improve the enforcement of organic standards to ensure that the product being delivered by farmers is exactly what they say it is. Because if it isn’t, and producers are found to be cheating the system or cutting corners, it will significantly weaken the organic brand.

Ultimately, Dean is most appreciative of the honesty of organic farming. According to Dean, while labels like “pasture-raised” and “grass-fed” can be vague, organic standards are strict enough to know exactly what product you’re buying when it’s labeled “organic”. 


The Prairie Farmer Profiles (Sundog Organic Farm, MJJ & A Organic Farm, Haywire Farms, Mill Creek Organics Ltd, Pristine Prairie Organics, Upland Organics, Our Farm, G & G Farms, Marshall Farms and Penny Lane Organics) were written by Janet Wallace.  The Ontario Farmer Profiles were provided by the Organic Council of Ontario.   The Farmer Profiles were developed as part of the Prairie Organic Development Fund’s Canadian Organic Ingredient Strategy (COIS).  The COIS was funded by the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, Government of Canada.  Translation services were provided by the Government of Manitoba.