Beyond the ALR

Sep 1, 2021 | Norm Reynolds | 0 comments

You are warmly invited to join in CV Conversations which will be more—conversational; represent a diversity of perspectives on topics of interest to Comox Valley residents. We don’t know how this will turn out—It’s and experiment! We’re going to make up the rules as we go and we thoroughly hope that others will want to join the conversations and contribute new ideas as to how the conversations can evolve.

If you are interested in being part of CV Conversations for one issue or for all posts or have some thoughts on how this conversational blog could be even more relevant/interesting send me a note at nreynolds at shaw.ca. We, the founding members of CV Conversations, see this as a natural progression for a participator centred local community website.

Tony, David, Norm

Beyond the ALR

Tony Skeptic

In our previous discussion on the ALR, Doug Hillian asked me for “specific actions” I would like to see local governments take.

Unlike some areas of the province, the Comox Valley still has a substantial amount of ALR land available (the quality varies) plus some non-ALR land suitable for some types of farming. Many farmers are getting closer to retirement. In many cases, family members are not interested in continuing to farm.

Here are some options. I believe, local governments in the Comox Valley could explore via their regulatory, tax, educational and marketing arms:

a) Make the food-to-plate logistics chain in the Comox Valley as simple as possible (from a legal perspective) and have resources available to explain its details to new farmers entering the field.

b) Encourage the building of formalized processes to encourage mentorship relationships between senior and younger farmers just starting their careers.

c) Encourage North Island College and Vancouver Island University to offer a broader choice of short, practical courses that new farmers could take while still working on their farms.

d) Encourage the establishment of group purchasing methods to get better prices when buying/renting farming equipment and seeds, sharing heavy equipment, and creating opportunities for workers and equipment to rotate to share the workload on various farms.

e) Create a “Grown in the Comox Valley” brand/logo/marketing effort for products 100% produced within the geographical boundaries of the Valley. It could start with fruits, vegetables, eggs, cheese, wine, beer, honey, and alcoholic beverages and then expand from there into “value added” products that require secondary processing and packaging.

f) Offer tax breaks and/or other financial/legal inducements to restaurants, supermarkets and other organizations/institutions offering food who can prove that they buy at least X% of the food they sell from the “Grown in the Comox Valley” program. Also encourage supermarkets to have an aisle dedicated specifically to food “Grown in the Comox Valley” to increase the visibility of the products.

g) Encourage local credit unions to provide low interest loans to new farmers, plus liability insurance and related financial products. The motto for them could be something like “In the Comox Valley, money does grow on trees/fields.”

h) Encourage the expansion of various Food Festivals at different times of the year to attract tourists across a wider time span, rather than just at the peak of the summer. Create a long term plan to make the Comox Valley a key destination for culinary tourism.

i) Encourage the local papers (print and online) to have a weekly dedicated column on agriculture in the Comox Valley.

j) Create a media campaign advertising the food independence concept among local consumers. Produce stickers that can be used on cars with the “Grown in the Comox Valley” logo.

k) Encourage the creation/expansion of alternative models of land ownership (e.g., lease to own) to improve access to expensive land.

l) Encourage the expansion of community gardens in urban areas.

m) Lobby the relevant government jurisdictions to add flexibility to the restrictions on the number of dwellings (permanent and/or temporary) on farmland being worked on by new farmers (even if it is for a temporary 2 or 3 year exception) to improve the existing housing shortage (prices and availability).

n) Create a list of incentives that local governments can offer to ensure that the programs listed above are seen as worth doing by the respective target audiences.

o) Finally, create a centralized tracking system to measure which of these initiatives are producing results and which need to be tweaked/redesigned to meet stated targets.

David Wickund

Hi Tony and Norm,

Well, here are my ramblings before I e-bike my way to harvest organic onions. I really think any discussion on local food issues requires an appreciation for the complexities involved. To build a robust food production system has many challenges and along with those are the opportunities. 

To start, what are the conditions that foster a flourishing local farming? First you need a strong base of people that see local production as necessary to reduce the vulnerability of reliance on imported food. In other words, address food insecurity–a topic which can take books to address.

Convenience is king and inexpensive is often an overriding desire. Both attitudes have a profound effect on building a local food structure. People want lots of choice in fresh and prepared foods that are easy to access day and night. Much of this is opposite of what creates a strong secure viable local system. 

Next we need highly skilled people to provide the labour to grow the food. Farming is one of the most challenging crafts one could tackle. Especially for those involved in more intensive small scale production. Added to that is the challenge of doing it without relying on commercial herbicides and pesticides. This is about building a strong ecosystem based on learning from the natural systems rather than simply imposing our will on the land. Just look around to see how well that last option has turned out. Not. 

Growing food has many risks from the weather, weeds and pest pressures. The challenge for a beginning grower is how to take on this craft and earn a living wage. This is by far the greatest challenge that is very pronounced in the Comox Valley due to a lack of and high cost of housing. No simple fix here. Beginning growers require lots of support to make it past the 2 to 3 start-up years.

Some are fortunate to have spouses or family to subsidize the operations during this crucial time. This severely limits those who can choose this career. If local food security is to be addressed we need to develop some solutions to this challenge. Perhaps a form of Employment Insurance for a period of time tied directly to performance and need. 

To be a skilled small scale grower requires strong attributes of working with people, technical knowledge and understanding what are successful business strategies. This requires a minimum of two years of academics and mentoring. Programs like NIC’s Market Gardener or JM Fortier’s Market Gardening Masterclass lay the foundation and then apprenticing with a successful commercial small scale grower is essential. This is specific to fruit and vegetable production. Animal and grain production have their own challenges with many overlapping factors across all production systems. 

The third component is access to agricultural land in increments of 5 years. To understand a plot of soil and know how best to work with it requires time and several seasons. The Comox Valley has seen an unprecedented increase in real estate values pricing even ALR land out of the reach of most starting growers. Protecting the land for agricultural use is useless if those wanting to provide food for local families are shut out from it.

Local governments can get more creative in incentivizing land owners to offer small plots of an acre or more to growers. Lowering or removing taxes on small plot farms may persuade owners to welcome partnerships with growers. 

I know local governments only have so many tools to help. Many of these other issues require lobbying the provincial and/or federal levels to find solutions.  

Just some quick thoughts which could easily be expanded on. Let me hear your comments. I am off to the farm now. 

Cheers,

David

Hi Tony and David, I like this “Conversations” idea. I can see it already growing with new topics and contributors.

Victory Gardens—a lesson in what we can do locally

Many thanks to Tony and David for their contributions to this discussion of food independence in the Comox Valley. Thanks to Doug Hillian for his interest and contributions to the discussion. I think this idea of conversations is something that we have all asked ourselves “Why Not? Why do we just get talked to/at in our local media. Why not do the human thing and talk—together– about what really matters to us?

For my part I would like to bend the conversation around to an aspect of food independence that is not about farms and farmers—however vital those discussions are.

I think it is worthwhile to look at the Victory Gardens that were such and important part of Canada’s ability to feed the nation when so much energy was being diverted to war efforts.

Victory .Gardens were vegetable plots planted, mostly in backyards , but also in churchyards, city parks and playgrounds across Canada during the First and Second World Wars that picked up the slack in food production/allocation when so much energy, and materials were being diverted to the war efforts.

In the United States the President’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, planted a victory garden on the White House lawn!

Beans, beets, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, peas, beets, cucumbers, tomatoes, turnips, squash and Swiss chard were all grown in sufficient quantities to seriously affect the quantity and quality of food available during the war years.

In addition to increasing the quantity of food available during the war, Victory Gardens also solved problems with supply chains created by having so much effort diverted away from domestic transportation.

In the United States 20 million people responded to the call to become locally self sufficient. Much of the press, at the time, carried pointers on how to become nearly self sufficient in food. More than 20 million Victory Gardens were planted.

Magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post and Life printed stories about victory gardens, and women’s magazines gave instructions on how to grow and preserve garden produce. Families were encouraged to can their own vegetables to save commercial canned goods for the troops.

With the advent of COVID-19 so many people have turned to home gardening that seed has become an endangered commodity. AND! Home gardeners do not want to spray toxic chemicals in their backyards and on their food so there has been a large increase in books, websites, and courses in Integrated Pest Management.

The more healthy food we grow in our neighbouhoods, the more beneficial insects and birds will be kept from suffering so much from the effects of spraying vast acreages with toxic chemicals. And small scale, local gardening cuts out a great deal of petrochemicals that go into pesticides while short circuiting the greenhouse gasses that would otherwise go into transporting food to distant markets.

I think that in a discussion on local agriculture it is vitally important to recognize the part/the large part that home/small plot gardens can play in local food self sufficiency.

If it can be done for a war effort why can’t it be done for the health of our people and communities?

It has been my dream for a long time that Courtenay/CVRD might establish a website with a place for local citizens to ask questions and get answers about things like how to turn lawns into healthy local food along with questions on transportation/housing/recreating in healthy local ways.

Happy Trails!

Norm Reynolds

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