Many had been expecting the news for weeks, but it was still heartbreaking, and so unfair. Raymond Loo passed on Monday morning (Sept16, 2013), dead from cancer.
Bottom line, he was a good farmer. He grew fruit, vegetables, grains, forages and livestock on Springwillow Farms in Springfield in central PEI. His father Gerritt Loo had purchased most of the farm in 1952, and then married Joyce Haslam who had inherited the rest of the farm from her father. They had seven children, four boys and three girls.
I met Gerritt and two of his brothers on a farm on the Appin Road on a brisk fall day in the early 1990's. I was doing a television story on backyard potato breeding, and had no idea what I was going to find. It was one of the most enjoyable and interesting days of my career. We first drove through a well kept mixed hardwood forest to find the three brothers in a little valley harvesting potatoes. Gerritt had been working since the 1970's to develop a variety with resistance to late blight. Island Sunshine was the result. It continues to be an important variety, especially for organic potato growers.
And it was this interest in the environment and organic farming that Gerritt passed onto his children including Raymond.
Springwillow Farms became certified organic in 1996, and whether he wanted the mantel or not, Raymond became the face and voice of organic farming in the media, and amongst other farmers. It wasn't easy early on as conventional farmers were very hostile, but because of Raymond's patience and good nature he slowly convinced other farmers he wasn't a threat, in fact he was just like them, trying to make a living in a difficult business, just doing it differently.
What I admired and respected about Raymond was that so much of his efforts were to develop markets that other farmers could benefit from too. In 2005 he set out to secure markets for organic products from PEI in Japan. He and two dozen other farmers grew and sold black currants, non-GMO and organic canola seed and oil, organic soybeans, buckwheat, and rhubarb (even dandelions). The Japanese are very demanding and discriminating in their food demands, but they pay fairly, and that suited Raymond just fine. We will honour him by maintaining these markets he worked so hard to create. Some day we may even have a wider discussion about continuing to develop organic farming here as a way of protecting the critical natural resources we enjoy. Raymond would have liked that too.
My deepest sympathies to his family.