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Sandra sent me a link to this recent article from The Tyee which discusses a cooperative grain CSA project being started in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island:
Hand over $65, and McLeod and Walker will lease you a 200-square-foot slice of Makaria Farm, their 10-acre organic spread near the town of Duncan, in the fertile Cowichan Valley. They’ll also give you a grain seed of your choice, seminars with guest experts, and basic infrastructure support, including irrigation and tools.
The idea is that they take you through the growing season with support, workshops, help you harvest and thresh your grain, and then you get to keep the grain you grew in your own plot during the season.
There is so much interest in growing grains: last year we grew out some of Dolores de la Torre’s kamut in the demonstration garden at the Community Resource Centre in Powell River, and it was beautiful and delicious (I ate some right out off the tops as it was drying, still in the ground). And grain advocate Chris Hergesheimer visited the Open Air Market during the summer to talk about growing wheat, kamut, and other grains. He also handed out free samples of various types of grains for people to try.
Here is a fun fact about how little space is needed to get started:
Quoting tables provided in Gene Logsdon’s book, Small Scale Grain Raising, McLeod explains that 1,100 square feet — a 10 foot by 109 foot plantation — could produce about 60 pounds of wheat.
“You can probably get about two loaves of bread per pound,” he says, “so that would be up to 120 loaves of bread per harvest.”
That’s two loaves per week for a year. Out of what might presently be a lawn.
And while we’re on the subject of grains, here is a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiative being started in Vancouver:
Urban Grains is a community supported agriculture program based in Vancouver, B.C. Currently in the early stages of development, we hope to be the first ever CSA to provide local B.C. grain to people living in the Vancouver area. Our first year of operation (2008/2009) will be a pilot project, aimed at increasing the viability of grain farming for B.C.’s producers, while also broadening the options for local eating in our region.
Although we are not yet soliciting members, we encourage everyone interested in the program to join our mailing list. Not only will we keep you updated on the project’s development, but you’ll also be given priority when we begin the membership registration process. Keep in mind that, while no commitment is necessary, spots are limited, so we highly recommend that you sign up early.
If you follow the link above, you can sign up for their newsletter. Here is the latest one:
Much has happened since our last newsletter in January – we’ve moved in leaps and bounds, in fact. As many of you know, in December we held a meeting with a small group of farmers who are growing grain in the Delta region, primarily either as a cover crop or wildlife set-aside. Although the meeting was quite encouraging from the point of grain availability (there is no question, these farmers have grain for sale), we were confronted with two key hurdles: 1) our original vision of a CSA model, similar to the one in Creston and Nelson, would not work in Delta. It became clear that if we were to base the program in Delta, we would be forced to adopt a more conventional distributor role requiring significant start-up capital and a less direct consumer/producer connection; 2) the region was lacking the necessary infrastructure. Before grain can be milled, it has to be cleaned, and we were unable to find any individual or business nearby with the capacity to clean for human consumption.
Unsure where next to turn, we were contacted by a part-time farmer living in Agassiz, who is keen to become involved in the project. Jim Grieshaber-Otto, together with Diane Exley and their two children, manage a community-minded family farm that has been growing small amounts of grain for several decades. About 100 acres in size, Cedar Isle Farm partners with a neighbouring dairy farm to produce silage and hay (for both cows and horses), and pastures Angus beef cattle, layer hens, and free-range broiler chickens. The farm grows a few acres of grain each year – mostly oats and wheat – which is either used as animal feed or sold to friends and neighbors. This year the farm has three acres of fall-sown winter wheat and one acre of triticale (a cross between wheat and rye), and will soon be planting two acres of hard red spring (bread) wheat, for harvest this autumn. Jim estimates that, given a decent growing season and harvest conditions, they will have enough grain both for the CSA and for their own on-farm and local use. Although not certified, the farm has long operated under organic principles and is in the process of seeking certification.
Despite there still being some questions about infrastructure, our partnership with Cedar Isle Farm places us in a relatively strong position. The farm has a well-maintained 1958 combine (pictured in the attachment) and a functional, heritage (circa 1901!) fanning mill for cleaning grain. While the current cleaner should work in a pinch, we’re trying to track down a better piece of equipment, possibly paying for its purchase through funds raised in the first year of the CSA. We have spoken with the people at Anita’s Organic Grain and Flour Mill (http://www.anitasorganicmill.com/) in nearby Chilliwack, and they appear willing to custom mill the relatively small quantity of grain we would need. We have also identified a small-carbon-footprint transportation and distribution option; an Agassiz-based delivery truck operator has agreed to add wheat and flour to his regular delivery trips into the Vancouver area.
That’s all to report for now. While we do have some other exciting plans to announce, they are all rather tentative, so you’ll have to wait until the next newsletter. We hope to be visiting Cedar Isle Farm sometime in March to check on the progress of the grain, and then determine the logistical details (price, size per membership, delivery schedule, etc.) for the CSA program. At that point, if all goes well, we will start accepting memberships.
Thanks for your interest and support. Stay tuned!
Martin & Ayla at Urban Grains
All these little tentative projects give me hope that we’re working on lots of possible solutions to the big food security problems we’re facing. I’d love to see some kind of cooperative grain project get started around here. Anyone interested??
This story is pretty inspiring, and sounds like where we could be headed in the Powell River region, with some more smaller farms springing up, a bit more awareness of the value of local food to the local economy, maybe some small businesses and value-added operations, and something like Helena Bird’s proposed teaching farm & market garden (AKA “Full Circle Farm”) to anchor the community around a central facility to provide a common infrastructure for production and processing.
Here’s the part I like:
“All of us have realized that by working together we will be more successful as businesses,” said Tom Stearns, owner of High Mowing Organic Seeds. “At the same time we will advance our mission to help rebuild the food system, conserve farmland and make it economically viable to farm in a sustainable way.”
Cooperation takes many forms. Vermont Soy stores and cleans its beans at High Mowing, which also lends tractors to High Fields, a local composting company. Byproducts of High Mowing’s operation — pumpkins and squash that have been smashed to extract seeds — are now being purchased by Pete’s Greens and turned into soup. Along with 40,000 pounds of squash and pumpkin, Pete’s bought 2,000 pounds of High Mowing’s cucumbers this year and turned them into pickles.
Somehow we need to start pulling in the same direction. Things seem very ragged and disorganized right now, largely thanks to the policies of large centralized governments, but helped along by societal forces that make farming an unattractive profession. It’s so bad now for small-scale farming that almost anything would help reverse the trend.
From The Tyee, Some evidence from local seed retailers that the grow-your-own food movement is really catching on this season:
“We put out the catalog at the beginning of January, as we always do” says Jeanette McCall, a sales representative at West Coast Seeds, based in Delta, B.C.
“Then, boom. We had many, many, many more orders than we anticipated. [Our computer system] simply couldn’t handle the load,” she adds. “It just sort of crashed.”
It’s the same story at Salt Spring Seeds, which specializes in heritage and heirloom vegetable varieties.
“I’ve never seen the likes of this in over 20 years of selling seeds,” confirmed owner Dan Jason.
Now, if we could only establish a local seed-saving project here, to serve our local needs…
Interesting update from Corky Evans, who will be in Powell River on Sunday June 1 to talk at the Open Air Market. Corky is currently touring the province talking to farmers and getting lots of information on the effects of the new regulatory regime, especially the meat inspection regulations, which are causing a lot of our local farmers to fear for the future of farming in this region. Corky:
I have been traveling BC for a few months talking to farmers about farming. I have heard a huge number of excellent ideas for support systems to regenerate the business of farming that are not subsidies. None of these ideas, though, will work as long as BC is content to be LAST in Canada in support for food production and farming.
The enclosed graph was sent to me yesterday by a person who I met on the tour. It is the best representation of the overall situation in BC, now and historically, I have ever seen. Please give it a look. In fact, please give it a considerable amount of study.
The graph is pretty easy to understand. It starts in the 1980’s and runs up to last year. It shows that under the Socreds, the NDP and, now, the Liberals, British Columbia has failed farmers and farming. The top line is the average (not the best, the average) of support by Canadian Provinces. The bottom line is BC. As long as this condition continues to exist no Minister, no Cabinet and no Premier will be able to turn things around for the farmer. Essentially, we are the least competitive jurisdiction for this particular form of business in Canada.
If the graph interests you, send it to your friends. Maybe broad public knowledge of this embarrassment will convince society and societies Leaders to want to fix what is broken. I am working on the Party I support to understand the issue. Maybe you could work on yours.
Agriculture Critic/ Official Opposition
In case you missed it, here‘s that graph again. It tells a pretty sad story indeed. But the question is: what are we supposed to do about it?
Come on out on June 1 to hear Corky Evans speak in Powell River. Guaranteed to get you fired up!