In 2010, at the age of 35, I started farming in the Alberni Valley region of Vancouver Island. Surrounded by mountains, with a long inlet leading to the Pacific, this area’s climate is less moderated by the sea than many others; we typically get some of the the warmest summers and coolest winters on the island. Climate and soil conditions are great for agricultural production. I run a teeny-tiny farm, over various properties, with an often overwhelming hodgepodge of elements.
While tuning into nature and keeping my hands in the soil is of utmost importance for my overall well being, I’ve grown to realize that some of my greatest personal rewards come from sharing information and supporting projects that build community resilience. From the ground up, with little to no external funding, I helped to build a fruit gleaning project and elementary school garden. Little did I know that my efforts would eventually assist me in securing a contract with the local government!
The Alberni Valley is part of the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD). It is part of the traditional territory of 10 different groups of Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations peoples and includes the City of Port Alberni and the West Coast communities of Bamfield, Tofino, and Ucluelet. Our local food assets include a significant marine element along with traditional agriculture and an abundance of wild plants and animals. We have agricultural constraints similar to those of the broader industry such as ageing farmers, restrictive processing regulations and environmental concerns- such as lack of water. We also however, have a key asset: relatively reasonable agricultural land prices for Vancouver Island.
The 2011 Agricultural Plan was the ACRD’s great beginning to an agricultural support initiative that then lay flat. It wasn’t until 2014 that additional funds were set aside to flesh out and put the plan into action. Some kind of serendipity and fate brought me onto a team that was awarded the initial contract. I, a permaculturalist, became an Agricultural Support Worker for my regional government!
Here’s the thing: farmers need support. I know first hand the difficulty in starting an agricultural operation. Running the business end of it while developing soil and performing the required manual labor is hard enough. The endeavour becomes even more daunting when you add the tasks of marketing, processing and delivery. There is, however, hope and huge potential for the sector. Collectives offer the terrific promise of a shared workload and currently, government interest is high in providing support for initiatives that increase a community’s resilience and help farmers to succeed.
Young agrarians, take heart! While it can be frustratingly slow and the budgets are sometimes painfully small, in many communities, local governments are making headway towards supporting local food sovereignty. Island communities are proving that government funded collaborations for health, food security and the support of agricultural producers and processors are on the agenda.