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  • Gayle Baker

Eating Together, Eating Local. . . We Can Do Better!

October 27

Eighteen joined this ASK Salt Spring gathering to welcome local food production advocates. While Grow Local leaders, Polly Orr and Nick Jones, and Farmland Trust Director, Jon Cooksey, led the conversation, the room was filled with other experts as well, including local growers, long-time local farm advocates, and even a local agronomist from the Ministry of Agriculture.


After our Territorial Acknowledgement, reminding us that we were regrowing our relationship with the land when we produce and eat local foods, we began a rich conversation among local food enthusiasts . Throughout our two hours together, we explored the reasons that, despite our rich and abundant land, only 4%-6% of what we eat is grown locally. And, then we discussed practical ways that the local percentage of our daily food could increase, with a goal of at least 30% by 2030.


While our conversation explored a number of seemingly-overwhelming obstacles as well as practical solutions, many of which are in-progress, the theme of the day was that growing and eating local is about relationships. All one complex system, with very challenging economic realities, the solution will be found through building and rebuilding local relationships, many of which have been weakened by the COVID pandemic.


When asked whether climate and other issues might impact our food supply even before 2030, Jon spoke with passion about getting the train moving in the right direction. He reminded us that we were at the end of a very, very long food chain. With the disruption expected as our climate changes, it is only logical to expect that getting food from far away producers will get increasingly more difficult, if not impossible.


And, in Jon’s opinion, the only way to get the local food train moving again is to repair and build relationships between local farmers and with local consumers, regional growers, and First Nations, including the Quw’utsun (Cowichan) band already doing some amazing work in the Burgoyne area with wetland and forest restorations. And, also building relationships with funding and governing agencies. Jon believes one of the very best way to do this is to sit down together to enjoy the wonders of a locally-grown meal together.


Interested in beginning to grow those relationships through sharing local food? You have an opportunity to do just that this coming Saturday, November 4 to celebrate the tenth birthday party of our abattoir: https://saltspringabattoir.ca/10th-annual-abattoir-birthday-bash/).


The Challenges:

  • Much of our food comes from either Canadian or foreign farms that are fueled by government subsidies. A participant spoke of her recent travels in France where she savoured amazing and inexpensive cheeses. She learned that these local cheeses were heavily-subsidized, unlike our local farmers. Without these subsidies, if buying decisions are made by solely by price, local farmers cannot expect to compete.

  • Local growers also depend upon an insecure and inflationary supply chain for their needs. Some feed, stock, seed, and organic soil nutrients are not available on Salt Spring, adding costs that must be passed on to customers.

  • While abundant, our farms are small. Without the enormous expanses of productive fields in other regions, their level of mechanization is simply not feasible on Salt Spring. Instead, much of our local food production depends almost totally upon manual labour. With our changed demographics, finding willing workers is often not possible.

  • Our small, labour-intensive farms often grow fruits and vegetables rather than the bulk of our caloric needs found in dairy, grains, and meats. While we could realistically sustain ourselves locally for eggs, fruits, vegetables, flowers, and - yes - alcohol! - the majority of our basic needs such as rice, milk, and beef continue to be produced largely off-Island.

  • Our abattoir (https://saltspringabattoir.ca/) is a success story, halting the decline in animal production by locally slaughtering lambs, pigs, beef, rabbits, chickens, cattle, and turkeys. Despite this success, the abattoir is buffeted by challenges, including the recent avian influenza and on-going staffing challenges.

The Solutions:

While there are extremely-daunting challenges, we learned about a wide array of initiatives, all focused upon growing local relationships and communication. And, many of these initiatives stem from the tireless work of our local Agricultural Alliance (https://www.ssiagalliance.org/), SSI Farmland Trust (https://www.ssifarmlandtrust.org/), and enthusiastic young farmers, Polly and Nick, with Grow Local, a project of the SSI Farmland Trust: (https://saltspringexchange.com/2022/04/25/grow-local-building-a-healthy-resilient-food-chain/). While some of these initiatives focus upon our local farmers, others focus on consumers, partnerships with other agencies, and political advocacy. Despite the focus, we repeatedly heard that increasing our percentage of local food is dependent upon building relationships and communication.

A) Local Farmers and Consumers: Every time local farmers get together, they all win by identifying opportunities for sharing, trading, and exploring new methods. While margins are too low for much interest among our local producers to cooperatively wholesale their products, there is a high interest in sharing expertise and equipment. One line of inquiry is to challenge the near-total dependence upon manual labour, exploring ecologically-sensitive mechanization where appropriate. As there are grants available for this equipment, local farmers need to identify what shared equipment would significantly-improve that delicate balance between cost and income.


The Farmland Trust’s Root (https://www.ssifarmlandtrust.org/projects), is up and running! Thanks to the support of a wide array of donors, local growers now have a 3,000 square foot facility of fully-certified commercial kitchens and storage, offering them wholesale, processing, and distribution alternatives. Have you ever heard of LocalSalt (https://marketplace.localsalt.ca/how-the-localsalt-marketplace-works/)? It is an online marketplace based in the Root connecting local growers with customers. Check it out!


Grow Local, a partnership with the SSI Farmland Trust, was recently-established to build collaborative food growing opportunities to increase the amount of food grown and shared on Salt Spring. Among their many activities are the weekly food swap, engaging with Neighborhood Food Security projects, and supporting educational programming at The Root food hub. This list also includes:

  • Gleaning: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gleaning) is a long-practiced opportunity to get even more from fields. Polly and Nick hope to organise local opportunities to go into fields after harvest to collect remaining fruit. Traditionally, 1/3 of the product would go to the farmer, 1/3 to the gleamers, and 1/3 would be donated where needed. Yielding food that would be left to waste, it is also an opportunity for consumers to work with growers, building relationships through a day together of outdoor exercise. Look for local gleaning opportunities!

  • Island-wide potlucks will bring Salt Springers together to share food featuring local ingredients and support community initiatives.

  • Neighbourhood Food Security grants, in association with the Salt Spring Island Foundation, will be offered to support community garden projects like EchoValley (https://echovalley.ca/our-history/).

  • The 50 Farms Project is idea of Daria Zovi of Quarry Farm: A network of 50 geographically-distributed farms on the island would produce food for those nearby, perhaps patterned on our existing Pod system. Each farm would supply local food needs, mostly through CSA (community-supported agriculture) programs, but also creating relationships between the farmers and neighbours. While it is understood that farmers will also sell to others, by identifying local farms in each Pod and communicating what they can offer to neighbours, local buying will thrive in spheres even smaller than Salt Spring. The project would also include mentoring and support of young farmers, greatly adding to our local food security.

  • And, the list of possibilities goes on. . . .

B) Partnerships with Other Local Agencies: Without our generous funding agencies, we would have no Abattoir or Root nor any of the exciting projects discussed in this ASK Salt Spring gathering. Beyond these foundational funding sources are specific programs with Community Services, School District 64, and our local grocery stores.


One of the most exciting projects is the Community Services vouchers. Did you know that provincial funding and local donations offer a win-win by giving vouchers for food at the Tuesday Farmers’ Market to those who qualify? An important source of nutritious local produce for those who may not be able to afford it, farmers at the Tuesday Market win as well. An important program, we learned that it is only one of may food-related programs of Community Services. As one suggested, Community Services should join us for an ASK Salt Spring gathering so that we can learn more about their many programs. Look for them soon.


School District 64 does some amazing things with their garden programs (https://www.schoolgarden.ca/), much as the result of tenacious, hardworking Robin Jenkinson. And expanding upon current activities, conversations are beginning to explore locally-based lunch programs. Stay tuned. . . .


While essential partnerships, these are only a few of the rich farm connections throughout our island, also including our local businesses, including Country Grocer, Thrifty, and Natureworks who buy local. An unanswered question. . . .can we do better using expired grocery items rather than wasting them?


C) Political Advocacy: If France can have inexpensive local cheese, why can’t we have inexpensive local products? A result of strong lobbying, what would a strong local grower lobby look like? Can it be done? Competing against the large food lobbies may be too difficult, but what about partnering with Transition Salt Spring, the Farmers’ Institute, and local businesses to develop a clear and present ecological/economic lobbying voice? (NOTE: As MLA Adam Olsen has spoken at previous ASK Salt Spring gatherings about the power of lobbying, he might be the first stop when assessing possibilities. He will be at ASK Salt Spring Friday, December 1.)

There is quite a lot of grant funding available. Unfortunately, due to the fragmentation of our local growers, there is more often competition rather than collaboration when seeking grants. A collaborative approach is sure to be a better approach to bring needed money to Salt Spring.


Where DoWe Go From Here?

As our time together was drawing to a close, it seemed fitting to conclude with next steps. While we all, growers, consumers, and local government, have our roles, this conversation focused upon what local government could do to help our farmers.

  1. Worker Housing: While not only a farm challenge, the difficulty getting workers for this extremely-labour intensive sector of our economy makes growing local even more challenging.

  2. Local Funding: The Local Community Commission (LCC) should continue (and increase) local funding in the form of one-time Grants-in-Aid of approximately $5,000 for projects. It should also continue (increase?) the on-going funding for Grow Local through its Contribution Agreement, begun by the CRD Community Economic Sustainability Commission and continued by the LCC. Our Electoral Director Gary Holman can also fund infrastructure, as he has for the Root, through Community Works (gas tax) funding.

  3. Hire a Full-Time Food Security Coordinator. While this could require funding from a variety of partners, it was agreed that, if Salt Spring is committed to increasing its single-digit percentage of locally-grown food to 30%, a professional is needed with a broad perspective of what needs to get done and breaking down current fragmented activities to focus on cohesive communication, marketing, lobbying, and grant writing.

Our time together over, we enthusiastically thanked our guests, Jon, Poly, and Nick - as well as the many other experts in our gathering - for their enthusiasm, hard work, vision of possibilities, and dogged focus on increasing our local consumption to 30% and beyond. (Thank-you, Jon, Nick, and Polly!)


So what is a FabLab? Not only about books, our Library has a wealth of exciting new programs. Please join us this Friday, November 3, 11-1, at the SIMS (former Middle School) classroom next to the Boardroom to welcome our enthusiastic Librarians Julia and Carolyn.


Come meet our Library’s new Indigenous Coordinator, Caroline Dick, to tell us about indigenous programming, including the creation of a new Indigenous Learning Centre, a newly curated decolonized collection, a Reconciliation book club featuring Indigenous authors, and a weekly Indigenous Friendship Circle for Indigenous people held every Sunday.


Then, Librarian Julia Wagner will tell you about the FabLab, an interactive technology learning hub that offers something for everyone, young, old, techy, or just curious!


Hope to see you Friday to welcome Julia and Carolyn!


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 questions, 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.


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