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  • Gayle Baker

Completing that Food Security Circle with our Abattoir, Composting, and Root Projects

September 8

While the information we gained was rich, the turnout to welcome one of our newly-elected Local Community Commissioners (LCC), Brian Webster, was disappointing. After a heartfelt Territorial Acknowledgement, ending with appreciation for the inexplicable forgiveness by First Nations on this journey of reconciliation, we began our time together learning more about three of our most critical agricultural projects, composting, our abattoir, and the Root.


Brian began by answering our traditional initial question of what excites and delights him by speaking briefly of his feelings about the onset of fall. For him, September has always been a time of mixed feelings: those of sadness at the end of warmth and verdant growth, balanced by the excitement and energy of harvest time. As a farmer and co-owner, manager, and apple picker of The Salt Spring Apple Company (https://www.saltspringapplecompany.com/), these conflicting feelings are magnified. An admitted worrier, a summer of anxiety about whether the harvest will yield enough good-sized apples, is replaced by the backbreaking work of harvesting 3,560 trees and making cider. And, he is also expending an unfathomable amount of energy with his team of Local Commissioners to guide these first, so important, months of the LCC toward a new form of local government that can be both transparent and productive.


We began our conversation with details about our exciting composting project (https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2023ENV0006-000126). Enormous effort and many years have been expended to bring this project to fruition. Now, at last, success is just around the corner. An Ecodrum, a huge tube, will be fed waste from our abattoir, grocery stores, and restaurants. It is expected to produce Grade A compost, saving the environmental and financial costs of trucking an estimated 100 tonnes of waste off our island every year. How does it work? What does it look like? For those details, you may want to learn more about Ecodrums: (https://ecodrumcomposters.com/).


According to Sheila Dobie, co-chair of the Salt Spring Island Farmland Trust, in a News Release from BC Government, Thursday, February 2, 2023:

Dealing with community-produced food waste without having a composting facility has been an unresolved challenge for many years. I am proud of the many community organizations, businesses and individuals who worked tirelessly for the past 10 years to make this project a reality.


Made possible by a partnership of four leading local organizations, each has its role:

  • The Capital Regional District (CRD) is contributing the legal structure and funding, if needed, through its Liquid Waste Service, with its bylaw recently-amended to include composting.

  • Salt Spring Island Farmland Trust (https://www.ssifarmlandtrust.org/) is the landlord of this project, providing the space needed at its Burgoyne Valley Farm.

  • The Salt Spring Abattoir (https://saltspringabattoir.ca/) will operate the composter.

  • Salt Spring Island Community Services (https://saltspringcommunityservices.ca/) farms a portion of the Burgoyne Valley Farm to produce some of the food for its programs and will also produce some of the items needed for this composter to yield rich results.

What progress has been made?

  • The pad has been poured,

  • The Ecodrum is on-site,

  • The building covering it, and keeping the compost dry, is nearing completion, and

  • The long process of securing a CRD contract is almost complete.

What are the yet unsolved challenges:

  • Experimentation is needed to determine the optimal menu for this Ecodrum to yield that Grade A compost.

  • How will we get those needed ingredients?

  • Could supplying it with the needed wood chips also address the growing fire and environmental concerns of backyard burning?

  • If this compost is of the quality (Grade A) and quantity (100 tonnes a year) expected, shouldn’t it eventually be offered to the community at large rather than limiting sales to Burgoyne Valley farmers?

This spurred a more in-depth exploration into the current prohibition on sale of this compost due to Islands Trust General Employment (formerly Industrial) zoning definitions. While it is a tangle yet to be resolved, Brian reminded us that all farmers - whether in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) or not - compost. While The Apple Company is in the ALR and allowed to compost its waste and bring other materials (such as horse manure) on to the farm to ensure successful composting, Salt Spring farms located outside the ALR are not as fortunate. In his opinion, it only makes sense that all Salt Spring farms should be allowed - and encouraged - to compost.


Why might a farm need to add extra material to compost? Brian gave us a clear example of why this should not only be allowed but encouraged: After the cider pressing is done, a mash of apple waste remains. Left as is, it becomes a gooky, smelly orange sludge. When horse manure is added and allowed to compost naturally, it is transformed into lovely compost. Do current regulations require farmers to maintain their own horses simply for the manure needed to create this rich compost? In his opinion, zoning improvements need to be made to align our laws with the relatively-simple realities of owning a farm on Salt Spring and the inevitably of composting as part of farming activities.


We then learned a bit about our abattoir, an essential local service if we want local livestock and chicken production to continue and thrive. We learned that before the opening of the abattoir, animal production had been steadily-decreasing. The abattoir resulted in a resurgence of this important agricultural enterprise. But, our abattoir faces challenges. Some are predictable: getting staff, hard for all enterprises on Salt Spring, is especially difficult due to the seasonal realities of slaughtering. Other unpredicted challenges have also made it difficult for our abattoir such as the Avian Flu and changing regulatory requirements.


Some good news: After a decade seeking a location, building, and equipping, our Root at 189 Beddis Road is up and running! Another of the many successful programs of the Farmland Trust (https://www.ssifarmlandtrust.org/projects), it is a space for food production and storage, offering commercial sized ovens, stoves, cooking utensils, refrigeration, and some storage. It is available to all who want to rent it. Some potential customers will be those seeking to produce and preserve food cooperatively. Others will experiment with a new product before investing in their own equipment. And, the list of possible users goes on. . . .


Well-staffed with four employees and $10,000 of CRD funding for its Grow Local program (https://saltspringexchange.com/2022/04/25/grow-local-building-a-healthy-resilient-food-chain/), it is now offering well-attended workshops in addition to the well-loved Sunday Food Share event. Watch for more news about its exciting events - soon!


With these three innovative projects spotlighting our efforts toward local food security - composting, the abattoir, and the Root - it was noted that Salt Spring may be experiencing an identity crisis: A traditionally rural community, a large segment or our population has either lived here or in other rural communities all of their lives. But, we also have a significant number of residents who have arrived after a lifetime in suburban or urban communities. Drawn to the look and ambiance of our rural community, they are often frustrated by the realities of our narrow, bumpy roads, neighboring roosters, and curiously-missing services that they had expected.


Balancing the widely divergent service needs of our diverse population is just one of the many challenges facing the LCC. As 1:00 approached, Brian spoke briefly of other LCC challenges. He is frustrated that administrative needs, like access to the bylaws of the services overseen and the seemingly-simple task of creating an annual schedule of two meetings a month - one after daytime working hours - is taking so long. He worries that too much of the energy of Local Commissioners is being spent on issues that, in his opinion, should have been handled at the inaugural June 20 LCC meeting.


Another of his concerns is that, while Local Commissioners take their authority to set priorities seriously, other important CRD services, like the five water and two sewer districts as well as the critical allocation of our Community Works (gas tax) funds (at an estimated $600,000 a year), fall outside of the authority of the LCC. He is hopeful that this will soon change so that the LCC will have oversight of all local services, with full authority to set the priorities for all these services from a comprehensive perspective.


Another huge concern for him is the challenging budget decisions facing the LCC, with deliberations beginning Thursday, September 14, 9:00 a.m. in the SIMS Boardroom. With expected pressures from increasing salaries as well as needs in many of the services, he wonders how the LCC will be able to keep the budget to a reasonable increase while also addressing the overwhelming flurry of requests for added and/or enhanced services.


A tough job requiring a masterful balance of priorities, we thanked Brian for being with us; sharing his perspective on some of our most important issues; and his passion, hard work, and enthusiasm for this new, significantly different approach to overseeing our local services. (Thanks, Brian!)


Please join us this Friday, September 15, 11-1, in the SIMS (former Middle School) Courtyard to welcome Robin Williams, wearing one of his multiple hats - the newly elected President of the Housing Council. Focused on creating worker housing, he will be unveiling his plans to partner to do just that.


What would you like to ask him?

  • What will be the first steps you take to begin building the worker housing we so need?

  • What would you like to see accomplished by the end of 2024?

  • What do you see at the biggest challenges to address? How will you address them?

  • What partnerships do you need to accomplish your goals?

  • And?

Please join us next Friday to welcome Robin!


Big News:

ASK Salt Spring now has ongoing funding! A heartfelt THANK-YOU to the Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA) and its Executive Director, Peter Allen !!!


***New fundraising option***

You can now give the Return It change you earn from your bottles to ASK Salt Spring: Account #230.

Any question, anytime: ask@asksaltspring.com


Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings,

monthly schedule of upcoming gatherings?

asksaltspring.com. Want to listen to interviews of our special guests?ASK Salt Spring Answered


Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.

We love your receipts! Remember: #15


Our Partners. . . .

Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA), Country Grocer through Save-a-Tape and Gift Cards and Island Savings’ Simple Generosity grant.

A heartfelt Thank-You!


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