Monthly Archives: March 2010

Wetland Use, Water Use & Drainage

Here’s what the Environment & Agriculture Table Discussion group came up with regarding water use in the Gulf Islands.

  • Buy water in bulk – a group in Saltspring is doing it
  • If you take too much rainwater the groundwater is affected (plants do use the water and release into atmosphere (skipping the groundwater collection phase)
  • Grow native plants – they don’t need as much water
  • Or search out plants that require even less water (Mediterranean plants – person doing so on Galiano)
  • Plan your operation to grow over time to support use of less water; grow shade plants
  • Germinate plants in the shade even in the hot summer
  • Raised beds provide great drainage (root plants all year long), 3″ on each side recommended. All water goes into your plants.
  • Grow a Lasagna Garden: layers upon layers: newspaper, seaweed, then manure, then topsoil… in a heap ok (or boxed), supports crop after crop through the year
  • Grow Purple Sproating Broccoli: year round, comes out in spring again, an endless crop of Broccoli. Small heads. Use the stem. Keep on chopping em off!
  • Grow Kale and Chard (some for ten years; split and plant, or let them go to seed)
  • Use ponds as reservoirs, pump from them, with 5000Gallon tank (switch to in winter when ponds are low)
  • The forest can provide
  • Read the book coming out by Adrienne Gregory of Galiano Island: The Active Herbalist. A book about herbs and wild plants that people have forgotten about that have all kinds of uses. Europeans wanted to recreate their gardens here but there is a lot here already. Look out for launch info!
  • If everyone was out wildcrafting, would they be decimated with disease? No – Trust the plant!
  • Plantain, Wild watercfress, Dandelion, 24 kinds of berries (blackberries, Salmonberry), Nettles (dried), Minor’s Lettuce, Chickweed (tonic)
  • Grow Rosehips – make jam
  • Harvest plants responsibly and they will still keep coming back
  • Change mindset about raised beds and wild – get out the mindset of perfect rows
  • Only take 5% of what the plant has to offer: but take care, harvesting as group is different than as individuals
  • Work with habitat interconnections ie, Nettles and Butterflies…this is essential habitat, message in education
  • Don’t glean too much – some of it is the wildlife’s food!
  • Trade and share your harvest

What else can we do to promote sustainable use of water on the Gulf Islands?

Agricultural Land is Important – That’s Easy – But What About Other Types?

The Environment & Agriculture table discussion welcomed the second group and the first topic or burning issue to arise was the problem of unequal perceived value of different classes of land.

The core issues:


  • It’s easy to understand that agricultural land is important for all of us but it’s harder to understand why other types of land are important – what can we do about this?
  • We are living in an environment that is just a fraction of what it was: oceans were once teaming with life, now we cannot derive sustenance from them – how can we fix this?


Other types of land are important because they:


  • Clean the water
  • Clean the air
  • Help mitigate climate change
  • Reconnect us with the land…ie, using timber for our homes, growing food in our yards, fishing for our dinner, walking in the forest, …what else?


Suggested Solutions


  • Use the land that is already available rather than clearing more trees
  • Large trees store much more water than young trees
  • Pender Island is doing a study on carbon offset forests
  • Don’t take the forest down – use a different crop (Hemp, Nettles)
  • Make nettle clothing
  • We need to change our mentality, not take the forest down
  • Practice AgroForestry: The Working Landscape (not just agriculture)
  • Imagine a future where we wouldn’t need parks – sacred places, yes, with general an understanding about limits


What else can we do to increase awareness that all types of land are important? What other thoughts or opinions to do you have on this topic?

Community Networking as a Region

Resource Person: John Wilcox, of Duck Creek Farm on Salt Spring Island… my favourite quote of his from this session: “I’m not an activist, goddammit, I’m a citizen.

Sharing information can bring us together, and information can dissipate our energies. This session had 24 participants who for the most part expressed dismay at the enormous information overload that can happen with the broad set of issues in the food sector, and yearn for a better sense of unity.

The discussion kept coming back to these central themes.

We need a simple, effective, quick way for current regional and broader global food system issues to be highlighted, either via website or email. There are a huge number of small organizational websites and listservs that provide excellent information… in overly specific, or redundant ways.

It’s the 21st century post-industrial blight. Too much choice is no choice at all; people just file stuff away to read later, and never get to it.

A few people asked for something like a craigslist clone devoted to food issues, with a select list of key issues wisely edited and parsed out for political importance, as well as a place for all the myriad BC food and ag organizations to post links and brief notices of events and alerts. Aggregating the work of various sites would be useful too. Again, a yearning for a comprehensive, trusted source wrapped in simplicity.

Of course, there are a few sites that try to do this, but aren’t succeeding for various reasons. Funding would be at the crux of the success of such a venture.

This information proliferation is directly related to the lack of unity in food-related organizations in the province. And yes, while the discussion was intended to be ‘regional’ in the sense of the islands bioregion, the general drift was that people were thinking in terms of policy jurisdiction, and referring to BC as the region.

The extensive list of various food sovereignty interest groups throughout BC means a fair bit of redundancy in organizing efforts, and a watered-down effectiveness. John Wilcox raised the notion of a provincial federation of food and ag groups that would have a strong voice. Concerns about strong personality conflicts and centralization of power could be addressed through smart confederation, and media management of the issues would be much better, with the ability to provide clearer messages.

These are huge issues, but entirely achievable. I think there’s a lot of room for discussion here. I worked at FarmFolk/CityFolk as the resident geek for five years, and have plenty of opinions on both themes, but think I’ll leave it there for discussion; comment away!

Some relevant links from the group: — FarmFolk/CityFolk — BC FARM Knowledge Network — Islands Trust’s new food security site

we all eat for a living!

What Can We Do About the Effect of Pesticides & GMOs?

The Environment & Agriculture table also discussed the effects of pesticides and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) our ecosystem (incl. human health). Here’s what the participants had to say:

  • Saltspring does not support GMOs, but does not have legislation for it (myth that they actually do)
  • Communities can agree to be GMO free, but legislating it is difficult
  • Lobby the government
  • Set up a system that doesn’t require chemicals (plan staff time); nurture a “resilient” system
  • It takes awhile for the system to build resilience to pests (Derek Masselink, the table Resource Person and expert, saw bugs that weren’t even supposed to be in BC)
  • Support beneficial insects
  • The Hardware store (on Galiano) is now selling fewer harmful and more organic pesticides. Stores now have to get a certificate to sell pesticides, so some are dropping them from their inventory. Home Hardware on Pender stopped carrying them, but farmers did lose some treatments that would be helpful.
  • Watch the Pender Island documentary on pesticides (can someone provide a link?)
  • Watch the documentary: The World According to Monsanto
  • Run or support an educational campaign
  • Related to obtaining clean water
  • Purchase a Water Catchment System – maybe a bulk purchase by Island’s Trust, subsidized, transportation plan (barge). Engineer Needed.
  • Look up the (see also: -Ed.)
  • Funded education
  • CRD’s jurisdiction
  • Ground water protection is not regulated in BC
  • Mayne Island Water Protection Agency
  • Brian (on Thetis?) had a service for setting up water catchment systems

The Galiano Island Health Care Centre imports water – why? Complicated process of getting, storing, maintaining

I’m Starting a Farm, Where do I Begin?

The first round of discussion at the “Environment & Agriculture” table began with each participant listing their “burning question or issue” then once all issues were recorded the group began going through them with suggestions and further comments. The first issue to come up was “I just moved to Galiano Island to start an eco-friendly farm – where should I start?”

Here are the suggestions that came up (in order of the round):

  • Start with potatoes
  • Roger Pettit has some seed potatoes
  • Consult the book “Edible Forest Gardens” on growing without disturbing / abusing the native ecoystem
  • Consult with folks who already already doing it
  • In terms of larger scale food production, employ mapping as a tool…ie, Who has a wetland that could produce rice?
  • Incorporate traditional knowledge
  • The community could provide better information on traditional knowledge
  • Start and then analyse the symptoms that emerge on your operation or garden over time
  • Adjust to the current weather conditions instead of strict planning before hand

And remember…!

“A farmer is someone who is outstanding in their field” (so you’re already a success if you just get out there!)

Are you a new farmer? What other questions do you have?

Do you have more experience? What other advice would you give?

New Models for Growing Food Locally

Heather Pritchard from Farm Folk / City Folk was the ‘resource person’ for a group discussion on ‘Growing Food Locally with New Models’. The first of the two sessions gravitated naturally to the topic of Community Supported Agriculture, and Heather was asked a wide range of questions on the topic of CSAs. The group present at the discussion also contributed to the things summarized here.

The number of CSAs in British Columbia has grown remarkably. Heather estimates that the number has jumped from three to about twenty six in the last five years.

At its essence, a CSA is a subscription box program $500 to $600 per year with $20 to $25 of food value per box. There are many interpretations but most CSA boxes are not customized per customer, as you would find with Spud. Often a lead farmer will share or buy from other farms to augment the supply and variety in a given CSA box. Adding the produce of several farms together can lead to a more complete offering. With the first CSAs, all produce was divided equally. These days, CSAs tend to guarantee a certain amount, and then provide first dibs on the remainder at a price to its members. Boxes are typically delivered to a depot. At the depot, recipients might trade things they don’t like for things they do after delivery. Sometimes farmer’s markets act as the drop off depot for CSAs.

The primary advantage of the CSA is that money is given in advance to the farmer, and crop yield risk is taken on by the customers (although this is less true these days). Many CSA’s ask for the full amount in advance, allowing them to manage cashflow throughout their season.

A CSA can be started on relatively small plots of land. Five acres can supply a one hundred person CSA. They typically dont’ make a lot of money and The farmer must manage money really well.

Question: What about housing for farm workers?

Answer: Most municipalities permit “trailers”.

Heather had a “hot poultry tip for the week” for us: CSA customers love eggs!

There are many aspects to CSAs that anyone considering starting one should consider:

  • Youth Involvement
  • Crop Mobs
  • Cooperative Farms
  • Garden Mentorships

Pricing of Goods Produced

Question: How do you value the food?

Answer: Same value as the local farmers market. Certified Organic crops come with correspondingly higher prices.

Debra Foote mentioned that a specific certified organic website provides prices, with seasonal variations. She said that it’s very important for farmers not to undervalue their product. And when selling to a store, don’t expect to sell at the same price as to a consumer.

FFCF sells their product to the table at a farmers market, and the table sells it at a markup.

Mayne farmers market finds that every table as their market sells for the same price. Galiano lore shows that the farmer with a lot of stock may sell for less because they need to get rid of a larger amount.

Other Models and Distribution Methods

Some examples of some growing models not involving CSAs included Glenn Valley Organic Farm COOP and Horse Lake community farm cooperative which has a campground on site. For operations funded in part by shares. Single shares might be $5000 for a $400,000 or $500,000 farm. Management for operations like these is done via a board of directors, structured however they like.

Try finding a like-minded land owner and make a go of it on a small scale, (even in urban areas!) via a website that can help you find people willing to provide land. See for example: Sharing Backyards

Explore selling products directly to grocers like the Organic Grocer

Direct Farm Gate Sales: Farm gate sales must have a business license, possibly only if you’re selling over a certain amount of product. The threshold might be quite high and may vary with municipality. The Briitsh Columbia Agricultural Council is one resource.

One model from Salt Spring Island involves multiple farms feeding into one distributor : growinguporganic. This project redistributes local organic food to Salt Spring institutions. This is a community development project that isn’t revenue neutral.

Sites you might want to check out include Saannich Organics and Out of our own Backyards

Question: What about growing only for yourself? How small a piece of land do you need to grow most/all your food?

Answer: Even 0.1 acres per person might be useful. Here is a blog entry we found on that topic.