Page 1

Seed SAVERS Seed sales were thriving in Cowichan as suppliers ran out.

Page 10

Volume 1 • Issue 1

Free rural delivery from Port Hardy to Victoria

October 2009

This month in

• A Lake Cowichan woman passionate about mushrooms marries the taste with salmon in unique festival. • A First Nations community garden project in Port Alberni keeps growing. • The prospect of backyard chicken coops ruffles feathers in Nanaimo, piques interest in Qualicum. • A Saanich Peninsula man mixes agriculture with homelessness and comes up with a winning combination. • Old skills become new again for students at WestShore Teaching Garden in Victoria. KARI MEDIG/BLACK PRESS

Agriculture on Vancouver Island has dwindled, to the point that only five per cent of the food eaten on the Island is grown on the Island. And those who are still farming say red tape surrounding their way of life has to change.

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OCTOBER, 2009

News

Qualicum Beach pushes Backyard chickens self-sufficient lifestyle ruffling Nan. feathers TOBY GORMAN

NEIL HORNER

W

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ne municipality on Vancouver Island that is taking the issue of food security seriously is the Town of Qualicum Beach. Special projects planner Luke Sales has spearheaded the Community Food Initiative, which has in turn sponsored a number of initiatives designed to at least encourage local food production. “Our residents are concerned and the town is starting to take some action to increase food security,” he said. “Throughout the world, food security and sovereignty is becoming an increasingly important issue. People are realizing where they get their food from really does matter. “We live on an island and depend on food coming from halfway across the continent in some cases — all dependent on an increasingly long and fragile transportation system.” Sales said one of the first municipal initiatives involved a food security workshop in February, which drew about 60 people to the Community Hall. “Everyone was engaged and there was lots of lively discussion,” he said. “Out of that came a number of action items and since

Nanaimo’s bylaw office said there has been no direction from council to explore an amendment to the current bylaw, ith urban backyard chicken but with other cities taking action, it is coops gaining acceptance expected the subject will soon take wing. in cities like Vancouver, Langlois, along with colleague Victoria and Kelowna, it Anthony James, built a chicken coop as a could be just a matter of time before demonstration for friends and housed it Nanaimo city council with four ISA Brown chickens, hatches a plan to allow each of which will lay about chickens here also. 250 eggs annually. Within city limits, only The coop, along with the properties larger than one price of the chickens, chicken acre are permitted to have feed, pine shaving and chicken coops according recycled materials to build the to Nanaimo’s Animal structure cost $35.19. It took 22 Control Bylaw. But with a hours to make. groundswell of support for “The building takes nothing backyard chicken coops from the environment,” said sweeping across B.C., Langlois, who also grows Nanaimo yards could soon a variety of plants and Chickens ‘a lifestyle be filled with the sound of vegetables on his corner choice’ in the city. clucking birds. lot property. “And the eggs “It’s an idea that is gaining acceptance,” obviously don’t have to be trucked. It’s said Guy Langlois, a proponent of urban the beginning of the Zero Mile Diet.” backyard chickens. “It’s a lifestyle choice Prior to building the coop, he and more than some kind of statement. Langlois received consent from nearby People are becoming more interested in neighbours. “They all thought it was sustainable methods and reconnecting a great idea,” said Langlois. “The with sustainable ideas.” neighbourhood is really supportive.” NANAIMO NEWS BULLETIN

PARKSVILLE-QUALICUM BEACH NEWS

NEIL HORNER/BLACK PRESS

Luke Sales is spearheading a push for food self-sufficiency in Qualicum Beach.

then we have broken down into smaller groups and we are tackling some of those action items.” One of the key components of the group’s work so far, he said, is to raise public awareness and to this end, they held a special screening of a movie called Island on the Edge, about the issue of food security. It was well received, with 200 people showing up. Sales said the town has also promoted backyard gardens and is currently looking at the possibility of the town allowing backyard chickens — an initiative spearheaded in Victoria. “It’s a dependable source of protein that comes right from home,” he said. “It’s also a good way to get rid of compost. You take it out to the backyard

and the chickens eat it and it’s gone before you know it.” A similar program, he said, involves a harvest sharing program, wherein residents with fruit trees they can’t harvest are encouraged to partner with a community network that would harvest it for them and split the take. One municipal initiative that has really taken off is the community garden, located in General Money Park. More than 40 small plots were snapped up by eager gardeners and they’re currently producing a plethora of fresh produce. In future, Sales added, the group is considering holding a workshop on how to preserve the produce once it has been harvested.

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OCTOBER, 2009

News

Seed sales thriving in Cowichan DON MAROC COWICHAN NEWS LEADER

F

aced with financial and environmental crises beyond anything they’ve experienced, the general public is moving, quietly but productively, to adjust to an uncertain future. Even the mainstream media has caught on to the fragility of our food security. On Vancouver Island we produce only five per cent of our food and we have only a three-day supply in our supermarkets. The public senses the emergency and is doing something about it. It is opting to grow its own food security. At Dinter’s Nursery and Buckerfield’s farm store in the Duncan area, staff ran all spring trying to keep up with customers’ demands for seeds, bedding plants, and fruit trees, potting soil, and fencing. Bernie Dinter, who has spent his entire life in the plant business, claims it is the first time vegetable plants and seeds have greatly outsold those for flowers. “Anything edible just flies out of here,” Dinter explains. “Even sweet potato starts sold out. Veggie plants, including things like lettuce, are sold out.” He is concerned fruit trees, which have to be ordered a year ahead, are virtually gone. Vegetable seed sales, declining three or four years ago, are way up. It’s not just seeds. People are demanding organic soils so Dinter has switched to all organic components in its potting soil mixes. They’ve even replaced the moisture-holding perelite with rice hulls. Buckerfield’s, a major seller of all things for gardens and farms, is having its biggest year ever. According to Wendell Curry, who is in charge of horticultural supplies, sales of vegetable starts in four-inch pots doubled this past spring. The store ran out of the most popular veggie seeds, even though

‘Folks...are spending more time with landscaping and gardening.’ – Wendell Curry it carries seeds from nurseries from B.C. to California. It sold thousands of day-old baby chicks, laying hens, broilers and roasters, and even turkeys until exhausting the supply of many varieties from Rochester Hatcheries. Over on Salt Spring Island, Dan Jason, who sells only seeds collected by himself and other local growers, reports seed sales have more than doubled. The growing number of people wanting to grow at least some of their own food has made Jason’s Seed and Plant Sanctuary for Canada, where supplies of local heritage seeds are preserved, more vitally important than ever. It’s hard to pin down exactly who is buying all the seeds and plants. We know unlikely people like Duncan city councillor Sharon Jackson — who knows a lot more about art and politics than botany — has dug up the lawn of her city lot, built raised planting beds, and has fresh veggies on the way. Consultant Gary Rolston, preparing an agriculture plan for the regional district, claims the surge in food production is rooted in people’s demand to know where their food is coming from. Homegrown is their first choice and farmers’ markets are their second. Dinter adds the media and food trade journals all push growing your own food. Curry thinks that frequent recalls of contaminated foods have made people think more about the sources of their meals. It might also have to do with the global financial meltdown, says Curry. “Folks are taking fewer vacations. They’re spending more time with landscaping and gardening.”

ANDREW LEONG/BLACK PRESS

Layne Drouillard, 6, waters a sunflower during Jubilee Community Garden’s fifth anniversary at Centennial Park in the Cowichan Valley recently. The garden is one of the more public examples of a growing interest in gardening.

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Farming for the future in Saanich PENINSULA: | New owner of Woodwynn Farm on the Saanich Peninsula is embarking on a new venture that will see homeless people take part in farming. CHRISTINE VAN REEUWYK PENINSULA NEWS REVIEW

A

bustle of activity takes root each weekend at Woodwynn Farm in Saanich as volunteers revitalize the historic property while bringing to fruition Richard LeBlanc’s vision — a therapeutic community to help the homeless. “There is a highspirited energy to these work crews, who are helping with everything from painting, cleaning, weeding, landscaping, and gardening,” said LeBlanc. “Many people who feel frustrated about the homeless situation in the Capital Regional District are enthusiastically embracing the opportunity to contribute time and effort to something tangible — preparing the land and buildings for the growing of organic local produce that will, in turn, be the foundation of growth and healing for many homeless people who have lost their sense of belonging and purpose.” The history of Woodwynn Farm is filled with the major players in the settlement of the Peninsula; it was after all, the first farm on the Saanich Peninsula. Angus McPhail was the first to wipe his boots and raise his daughters on the farm now called Woodwynn. A long-time Hudson Bay Company employee, McPhail, also known as Aeneas McPhale, was issued a land grant on retirement and landed on the Peninsula in the spring of 1853. “All the big bugs got good places near the Fort, the rest of ‘em, like grandfather, got shoved in the sticks,” said his grandson John “Jack” Verdier, according to notes in the Saanich Pioneer Society documents. Ironically, the same farm was last listed for sale at nearly $7 million.

CHRISTINE VAN REEUWYK/BLACK PRESS

Richard LeBlanc holds the future of the Saanich Peninsula’s historic Woodwynn Farm in his hands. Through the Creating Homefulness Society, LeBlanc hopes to combat homelessness in the Capital Regional District by offering those on the street a hands-on approach.

In 1872, James Hagan, who made his money in the gold mines of B.C., purchased the homestead where the first house was built. “Hagan carried on as a successful farmer and took an active part in the development of Saanich.” said typewritten notes in the Pioneer Society archives. He donated the land where the Lady of Assumption Catholic Church still sits today. After that his son Larry Hagan carried on farming. It’s unclear in the documents who knew who first, but Larry Hagan hosted Princess Juliana of the Netherlands when she visited the thenLieutenant Governor William Woodward — who would become the next master of the historic farm. Woodward bought the farm around the time that Hagan died in a farming

accident in 1944. Woodward, with wife Ruth (nee Wynn-Johnson), took over the farm and the name Woodwynn Farm was born.

‘There is a highspirited energy to these work crews.’ – Richard LeBlanc It’s changed hands a few times over the past six decades, with the most recent near sale sparking a tug-o-war on the Saanich Peninsula. First LeBlanc came along with his tale of ending homelessness in the Capital Regional District and rejuvenating the farm in the process with his therapeutic community. Then The Farmlands Trust (Mount Newton Valley) Society

came along saying it wanted to protect the land for farming in perpetuity, educate a new generation of farmers, provide land tenure so farmers could make a living and provide the public opportunities to tour and be involved in a working farm including community events and a trail system. LeBlanc, founder of the Creating Homefulness Society, won the race to purchase the 192acre farm to create a therapeutic community. LeBlanc wouldn’t disclose the purchase price, saying only a group of philanthropists came together to make the sale happen. They took possession on June 1. It was just more than a year since the first public meeting in Central Saanich where LeBlanc presented the project to create a therapeutic community; more than

Quickfacts ◆ THE WOODWYNN Therapeutic Community is based on the model of a therapeutic community in Italy, San Patrignano. ◆ RICHARD LEBLANC previously ran Victoria’s Youth Employment Project which boasted a 76 per cent success rate before closing in 2002 when funding dried up. ◆ AS PART of the fundraising program, they now offer Yoga on the Farm, where visitors can pose among the picturesque buildings, oaks and hayfields.

two years since he began working on the plan. Two weeks after the purchase they began harvesting award-winning (Saanich Fair) hay. One day, LeBlanc plans to have former homeless people harvesting that

hay, and other organic produce. His plan is to create The Woodwynn Therapeutic Community, to help homeless people in the CRD transform their lives while learning life and farming skills. It would begin small with a group of 12 clients, working up to a maximum of 96 people as well as a dozen or so staff. It would give homeless and other marginalized individuals the opportunity to rebuild their lives within a structured three to five year residential program. Before the last municipal election, the District of Central Saanich indicated it would not consider rezoning the property institutional, meaning the society will house the clients off site — something LeBlanc has said he’s close to achieving.


8

OCTOBER, 2009

News

‘Old’ skills ‘new’ for next generation AMY DOVE GOLDSTREAM GAZETTE

In a classroom grounded in dirt, students are learning to survive. The lesson plans are basic, centered around growing food sustainably. From composting to harvesting, teachers at the WestShore Teaching Garden are providing a hands-on education in small-scale agriculture. “These are basic survival skills,” said Candace Thompson, garden program facilitator. “It’s shocking these aren’t the first things we get taught.” Run by the WestShore Centre for Learning & Training in Victoria, students from schools and continuing education programs got their hands dirty as the first spring crops grew. Carpentry students built planter boxes, a compost bin and a bench for the garden. Others prepped the vegetable bed over the winter, building up the soil through a cover crop and planting shrubs and bulbs in the perimeter garden. People react to the experience

AMY DOVE/BLACK PRESS

WestShore Teaching Garden advisor Candace Thompson checks out the vegetable patch last winter, prior to students planting vegetables in programs throughout the spring.

differently, but in some the excitement is clear, Thompson said. “It’s an unknown becoming a known,” she said. “It’s almost like an awakening.” From March through May, students grew food. What was once a bare grassy patch was transformed into 10, 50-foot rows of vegetables, all right next to Sooke Road.

As the produce is ready to be harvested students will collect it and take it to market, Thompson said. In that way they are cultivating food and business skills. Six raised plant beds have been allotted to students from Belmont Secondary, Colwood Elementary and WestShore Centre. Continuing education

students have access to all the parts of the garden as well. Away from school, trips are planned to local farms. The students will learn about pruning, preserving and other value-added products to make farming viable. Work is underway to secure funding for a heritage apple orchard. The trees will come from Saltspring Island and the apples are all different in appearance and taste. Once planted, the trees won’t produce fruit for five years. Caring for them in the interim teaches students to grow for future generations, Thompson said. Community donations have helped the garden flourish. Most recently the Island Chef Collaborative gave them $1,800 to finish the fence around the garden. An irrigation system is being installed to ensure the garden can continue growing over the summer. That is one of the main challenges of a volunteer garden, ensuring it is properly watered, said program

co-ordinator Bonnie Keleher. An $8,000 grant from Community School Connections is paying for that project, as well as for materials for the carpentry class. The simple act of showing someone how to grow food gives that person a sense of security, Thompson said. More than the security of having food, there is security in knowing you produced it, she said. “I try to make it simple. The simplicity of being secure,” she said. “We deserve that.” Ideally as the garden programs bring more community members to the campus people will see opportunities on their own land to grow food. You can grow a lot of food in a small space, it just takes some creativity, Thompson said. “I don’t think (these skills are) that far removed. They just don’t have someone to open the door for them,” she said. To learn more about the teaching garden go to www. learnforlife.ca. The garden is located at 2139 Sooke Rd. in Victoria.

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OCTOBER, 2009

News

First Nations garden keeps growing WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS

An aboriginal farm project in the Alberni Valley has grown since it started four years ago, yet its future remains uncertain. Incredible Edibles is nestled on Beaver Creek Road in the Alberni Valley. A small cedar structure with a traditional design serves as its retail outlet. The business sells produce grown on site. It employs one co-ordinator and five full-time workers from April to October. The business is an arm of the Hupacasath First Nation, and got off the ground with funding from Vancouver Island Health Authority’s (VIHA) food security for Vancouver Island initiative four years ago. The project started on a small swath of land formerly worked by a

Brussel sprouts grow outside in the gardens.

farmer, so it required little preparation for growing, project co-ordinator Sheila Williams said. According to Williams, carrots, broccoli, onions, squash, asparagus, Swiss chard, kale and three types of beans are grown. Ten watermelons sprouted this year, and pumpkins are showing signs of life. Nothing is wasted. Clippings from raspberry plants that were growing onto a footpath, for instance, were replanted

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and grown in the greenhouse, which was added last year. Eggplants, oriental greens, tomatoes and various peppers are grown in the greenhouse. And, this year, small limes have even sprouted. While underwritten with funds from VIHA, the operation has creative revenue streams. The value added component of seed harvesting and re-selling is in its second year. “We sold quite a bit this year, and are getting better at it,” Williams said. Also, shares are sold to customers for $10 to $20 per week for each of the 16 weeks of the season. In return, each week customers pick up reuseable cloth shopping bags of mixed fresh produce. Future initiatives being contemplated include teas from ingredients grown on site, as well as compost

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sales. “The community likes it because they know where, how and who grows their food,” Williams said. “And it gives us a bit of startup money at the start of the season,” Williams said. “ Business has been steady locally, and the project just won the Aboriginal Agricultural Association’s best organic garden award. Despite these modest accomplishments, the project’s future is uncertain. The remaining crops will be plowed under in preparation for fall, but whether they’ll be planted again in the spring is another matter. Funding from VIHA has run out, and other sources to tap are being explored, Williams said. “We can’t sustain ourselves just yet, but we hope to eventually make enough to pay the wages,” “I hope we’re here next year.”

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OCTOBER, 2009

News

There’s fungus among us LAKE COWICHAN: | Mushrooms and salmon go well together — and not just on the plate, says a Lake Cowichan food advocate. DOUG MARNER

Details

LAKE COWICHAN GAZETTE

I

ngeborg Woodsworth has for a long time espoused the bounty of the Cowichan Valley, with its abundance of food that grows right in our backyard. On her lushly treed five acres at Mayo Creek Gardens, eight kilometres east of Lake Cowichan, Woodsworth’s property is an abundance of natural plants that flourish around the largely undisturbed habitat. As she walks along narrow forest pathways on and around the property, you can sense immediately that she is in her element. She’s looking for mushrooms in the shaded forest, but the warm, dry weather has discouraged their growth. “All I want is just a couple of days of rain,” said Woodsworth. “I would prefer more.” With that rain, she said, mushrooms will start springing up. Woodsworth estimates she has close to 60 varieties of mushrooms on her property alone; in the world, there are about 200,000 identified mushroom varieties. She’s frustrated there are no mushrooms around, although she’s not surprised. This past winter, she said, was the worst for mushrooms in the last 20 years. The forecast for this winter is that el Nino will hit, which usually brings plenty of rain. “I’m looking forward to that, it should be good for mushrooms,” she said.

◆ NINTH ANNUAL Salmon and Mushroom Festival, Cowichan Rocks Curling Lounge, Lake Cowichan Saturday, Oct. 24 and Sunday, Oct. 25. ◆ SATURDAY, 10 A.M. –NOON Cooking demonstrations, salmon barbecue. ◆ 10 A.M.–4 P.M. Mushroom identification, photo displays, slide show. ◆ SUNDAY, 10 A.M.–NOON Salmon barbecue, market of fresh mushrooms, crafts, pies, etc., field trips with registration on site ($5 per person). ◆ MORE INFO available at www. mayocreekgardens.ca or call 250-749-6291.

DOUG MARNER/BLACK PRESS

Ingeborg Woodsworth examines one of 60 varieties of mushrooms that she has identified on her Lake Cowichan property.

Her belief in locally grown food and her passion for mushrooms led her to initiate the annual Salmon and Mushroom Festival in Lake Cowichan. The festival, with the ninth

annual edition on Oct. 24-25 in the Cowichan Rocks curling lounge, celebrates the bounty of two local foods that the Cowichan Valley area is famous for. And holding an event to celebrate the two together, in the

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fall, just makes sense, she said. “I’m doing this because I’m a member of the Lake Cowichan community,” Woodsworth added. “There are more mushrooms here in the Cowichan Valley than on the Lower Mainland. And we all know about the world famous salmon that comes from our area. Together they are a perfect meal combination.” She said eating natural local foods is better for you and it tastes great. It’s also better for the environment because the food doesn’t have to be transported that far. Woodsworth’s other motivation for organizing the festival is to help promote the area. Since the festival began in 2000, it has attracted more and more people from outside

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the Cowichan Lake area and now, she believes, more local residents are discovering it. Woodsworth senses that with the new venue, after years of holding it first outdoors in Saywell Park and then in the old fire hall beside town hall, that there is definitely a different, more positive connection with the community. Her enthusiasm for mushrooms is tempered somewhat by caution. She admits she personally only eats six mushroom types, noting that many can make you sick or even kill you. If she’s not sure about a mushroom, she won’t eat it and she urges that same caution to anyone who picks mushrooms. “I blanche everything,” she said. “It should always be safety first. It’s better to be safe rather than sorry when eating mushrooms.” Mushrooms are the fruit of the under stem of the fungus plant that grows out of mossy ground or even right on trees, both living and rotting; it’s what gets picked and eaten. They are an integral part of the replenishing of the forest soil as they help break down the woody fibre. “The first recycler: fungi,” she said with a laugh. Mushrooms are also nutritious, with niacin, thiamine and riboflavin, vitamin C, potassium and protein, which vary from type to type. “As long as you make sure they are safe to eat, mushroom are very good for you and, of course, can be very flavourful,” said Woodsworth.

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Added value needed From: CHANGING/ p3

SUSAN QUINN/BLACK PRESS

Andrea Schutt, left, and Crystal Smith harvest new potatoes at Arrowvale Farm in the Alberni Valley.

Farm experience comes to life at Arrowvale Ann and Bob Collins of Arrowvale Farm and Campground are bringing the farm experience back to the people in the Alberni Valley. This is the second year that the Collines — farmers for 30 years — have set up a regular market on their Hector Road property, and they offer everything from vegetables to eggs and fresh meat,

depending on the season. The Arrowvale gardens are tucked in behind the barn where Collins is also raising Canadian horses as well as cows. “We’ve grown up to 20 acres of mixed vegetables, carrots, onions, corn, potatoes,” says Ann. The Arrowvale Farmer’s Market runs every Saturday from now until Oct. 31.

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“We witnessed that with cranberries. People were making good money and then everyone and their dog was trying to get cranberry bogs going and the world price dropped.” However, he conceded the berry sector on the Island is one of the few areas that appears healthy and expanding. Similarly, McLeod noted that money can be made growing asparagus — as long as it can be properly marketed and transported. Value-added, innovation needed One operation often cited as a success story in Oceanside agriculture is the Morningstar Farm in Parksville. Incorporating Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, Moo Berry Winery, farm tours and a retail outlet, Morningstar Farm earns enough to keep the owners and 20 workers employed year-round.

‘There are a couple of keys, the first of which is value-added.’ – Clarke Gourlay

Clarke Gourlay, who owns Morningstar with wife Nancy, said the key to success is to not only produce food, but to do at least some of the processing on-site. “There are a couple of keys, the first of which is value-added. That’s essential, but it’s not enough.” Gourlay said. “The second key is retail, because the markup between wholesale and retail is huge. Third, you have to multiply your core product.” To this end, he said, Morningstar has gone into tourism, festivals and farm merchandise, which are not their core products. They also have

a little beef, a little pork, also not the primarily dairy operation’s core products. “It comes down to economics,” he said. “Can you sell enough of the product you’re making at a high enough rate in order to make a living? Anything that allows you to do value added and retail is going to help you with that.” Gourlay said he’s confident people who are really serious about farming for a living can make a living at it, but they have to be able to do more than put seeds in the ground and harvest the final product. “I think there are very significant opportunities for innovative people who can come up with innovative financing to have a good career with agriculture,” he said. “It’s not free, or even cheap, but there are good ways to make money in it.”

Comox Valley part of growing trend From: ISLAND/ p2

John Watson, executive director of the Comox Valley Economic Development Society (CVEDS), thinks the media attention is beneficial in many ways. “I think it’s great we are seeing such incredible coverage of the Valley’s culinary and agritourism assets and opportunities,” he said. “I think it’s just the start of what will be a growing trend in the Valley to promote the

pristine environment we have and the interesting families we have that are showcasing agritourism and agriculture expertise better than probably any other region in B.C.” The Comox Valley is an emerging destination for travel, and agritourism and culinary tourism help build a tourism package in the Valley, he said. “It complements our outdoor activities, what we all know we’re so well positioned for ... adding

culinary to the package helps us round out the package,” he said. “I think it helps us fill hotel rooms in the long term and helps us drive the tourism economy.” Jeff Vandermolen, co-owner of Beaufort Vineyard and Estate Winery, agrees the media visits are very beneficial. “It reinforces for us and for others that we’re on the mark and people are interested in eating local products,” he said.

The VIEx is currently running a Job Creation Program (JCP) with the theme “Urban Access to Agriculture” This means showing children in the schools where food comes from and teaching children what AGRICULTURE means. Lesson plans are being tested, farm tours “from farm to table” and eventually a resource manual to use in the classroom. This meets the curriculum as well as promotes farming, food and agriculture!

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C a n a d a ’s o n l y k n o w n s u p p l i e r o f t h e s e e l u s i v e C a n a d i a n B l a c k D i a m o n d s . S o l d f r o m D u c k e t t s ’ F a r m g a t e .

One of the ongoing goals and objectives for the Vancouver Island Exhibition is: to educate the public and to encourage young people, especially 4-H clubs, to understand and appreciate the value and importance of agriculture in their communities and their everyday lives. For more information: #4 - 2300 Bowen Road, Nanaimo, BC V9T 3K7 Phone: 250-7578-3247 Fax: 250-758-3277 Website: www.viex.ca Office Hours: 8:30 am - 4:00 pm - Monday to Friday Funded in whole or in part through the Canada-British Columbia Labour Market Development Agreement.


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OCTOBER, 2009

News

Changing face of farming VANCOUVER ISLAND: | Agriculture on the Island has dwindled to a mere five per cent of food consumed here. Where did it go wrong, and can it be fixed? NEIL HORNER PARKSVILLE-QUALICUM BEACH NEWS

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here was a time when farms on Vancouver Island not only provided ample food for the residents who lived here, but also for much of the Lower Mainland. Over the years however, the agricultural sector on Vancouver Island has faded, to the point where only about five per cent of the food consumed here is grown here. That, say some, puts Island residents at risk, should the sea-borne stream of food from elsewhere be disrupted. They have a point. With only an estimated three days’ supply of food on hand at any one time, it wouldn’t take long for residents to really feel the pinch, should shipping be disrupted. The reasons for the decline in agricultural production on Vancouver Island are many and varied. Some cite unfair competition from products dumped across the border, others blame poor government regulation and tax regimes, some blame a shortage of labour, while still others say the rise of large-scale agri-business, coupled with societal attitudes towards food play a significant role. Many challenges for local farmers Jenny McLeod sits on the board of the Farmer’s Institute for Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. She said Vancouver Island is a prime site for agriculture — or at least, it should be. “We have a very diverse agricultural area here,” said Jenny McLeod, a director for the Vancouver Island branch of the B.C. Farmers Institute. “What we can grow here is up to and including grains such as wheat, as well as wonderful vegetables. “We live in an area where tomatoes are

agriculture on the Island, but he’s not sure what to do about it. “When I moved here in 1975, there must have been seven or eight active dairy farms in the district, and now there are only two,” he said. “I think regulations are a part of it, as well as a lack of commitment of seasonal labour. The only place you can make money in agriculture is in commodity groups that have a quota system, which makes sure farmers are making a return.” Positive options are available arksville-Qualicum MLA Ron Cantelon — who served briefly as the minister for Agriculture and Lands — agreed the sector has declined, but he said there are some good options available, should farmers decide to utilize them. “Agriculture in the mid-Island is in flux, it’s changing,” he said. “The industry is adapting to the new realities of the market. People want to buy local and want to buy fresh, and farmers are catching on to this and taking advantage of it.” Although he conceded there have been some problems with the meat processing regulations — he called it a work in progress — he said the provincial government has brought in smaller quotas for chicken producers that, he said, will help the smaller-scale producers. Cantelon said part of the key to success is for farmers to find a niche market and exploit it properly, citing blueberries as an example. However, Springford has a note of caution about niche markets. “Niche marketing only lasts until somebody finds out about it,” he said. “if there’s good money to be made from blueberries or truffles, others will get into it and the price will go down.

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NEIL HORNER (ABOVE), WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON (RIGHT) BLACK PRESS

Morningstar Farm co-owner Clarke Gourlay shows off some of the produce from his Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, above. The Coastal Community Credit Union in Port Alberni raised $2,000 at their 100-Mile Barbecue in September. The event was held in concert with local farmers, and for $10 per plate featured such things as summer squash soup, pulled pork, Bratwurst sausages, and pasta salad. All proceeds were donated to the Bread of Life soup kitchen/ food bank.

possible, as well as peppers — with a little help — and carrots. We have very rich areas such as the Comox Valley, which is very good for dairy, because of the good pasture land.” McLeod said there are a number of factors lining up against farmers, some of which are unique to the Island, some of which carry over to B.C. and Canada, and others of international scope. “There have been a whole lot of changes in the Ministry of Agriculture, with regulations that have slowly been brought in to cover things that are more suitable for large-scale agribusiness,” she said. “We have things like the

new meat regulations, which have been causing problems for the farmers to the point where we are seeing farmers going out of business.”

‘Niche marketing only lasts until somebody finds out about it.’ – Colin Springford Because some farmers are having problems getting their animals to a government certified slaughter facility, more and more farmers are simply not raising meat animals. Trade agreements, McLeod said, are also

a major problem for farmers. “We get fruits and vegetables from California that are cheaper than we can produce them,” she said. “We get really cheap apples from Washington State. It’s hard to compete with that.” As well, she said, a new taxation regime — currently under review — has taken a bite out of farms’ profitability. “The split tax assessments are a big thing,” she said. “There have been changes in how they assess farmland and they will look at the land and say you’re not farming 100 per cent of your land, so the part that you

aren’t farming will be taxed at the much higher residential rate.” Because the food distribution and marketing system is set up for large volume agribusiness, McLeod said small Island farmers have a difficult time marketing their products. “The big supermarkets have huge contracts, so if you want to sell to them you have to provide hundreds of pounds of something at a certain time,” she said. “Smaller farms can’t do that.” Coombs Farmers’ Institute president Colin Springford raises beef cattle and forage to sell for horse feed. He said he has noticed the decline in

Continued: ADDED/ p4


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OCTOBER, 2009

News Vancouver Island’s agriculture publication Published quarterly by:

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eople as far away as New Brunswick are reading about what Comox Valley producers, chefs and grocers are doing. Bloggers, culinary and travel writers have been learning about the Valley’s agritourism and culinary products this summer and have been sharing the stories they’ve found. Rebecca Bollwitt of Vancouver, who writes the Miss 604 blog, was in the Comox Valley as part of a Tourism British Columbia tour, which took her up from the Cowichan Bay area to Comox. The trip focused on Vancouver Island food, and they went to many restaurants, farms and wineries to raise awareness of what is available, explained

‘...the Island is really leading the way in the slow food movement.’ – Rebecca Bollwitt Bollwitt. “A lot of wineries were saying a lot of people don’t know you can grow grapes on Vancouver Island,” she said. “The real focus was on how the Island is really leading the way in the slow food movement.” Bollwitt was struck by how much of a community there is on the Island and in the Valley. “Everywhere we went to eat, they’d have cheese from the farm we went to that morning or wine from the winery we went to ... everyone is working together,” she said. “(The trip) was to publicize the fact there are these great resources

on the Island and how everyone works together and cross-promotes.” Don Genova, a journalist who writes for Island Times magazine among others and also has an All You Can Eat podcast, found the same sense of community. “I really got the feeling there’s a real community there between the food producers,” he said. “Everybody talked about everybody else. And it’s not just lip service; it’s genuine appreciation of the product and pride in the product and wanting to support the local community.” Genova, who spent three days in the Comox Valley, was struck by producers’ commitment to quality. “I was impressed with the quality of the food products; I think they were all very good,” he added. Continued: COMOX/ p4

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