Mixer evaluation question: Did you make new connections at the Mixer that will help you or someone you know?
Answer: “Oh yeah! From people who will come help me build structures to a possible date! Fingers crossed!”
On March 15-16, 2014 the Crawford Bay Elementary and Secondary School opened their beautiful building to Young Agrarian types from all over the Kootenays.
As far as we know, the YA Spring Farmer Mixer was the first attempt to gather our region’s young farmers, wannabe farmers, homesteaders, food lovers, and friends in one place. Over the two days, more than 100 people mixed it up in true Koot style – that special blend of deep mellow and effervescent chaos.
As a group made up mostly of people meeting for the first time, we did the fun and fragile work of early community building. The weekend was marked by farm dreams shared, farm struggles troubleshot, knowledge and skills passed, seeds exchanged, good food eaten, joyful music made, and friendships struck. The players were young and old (from 3 weeks new to wise and wizened!). Farm curious folks and novice and veteran agriculturalists mingled. Food systems builders and generous community resource people were on hand to lend support. The school building hummed with the energy of like minds connecting.
Telling the story of this kind of gathering is always a challenge, but reflecting back on the experience as event organizers, certain bits and pieces of what we all shared and what has happened since stand out in relief. Here are some snapshots from the Mixer for the record.
To any and all who took part, please feel free to share your own photos, memories, and post-Mixer anecdotes. Let us all know what the weekend meant to you!
Laura & Nigel
Kootenay YA Coordinators
1) East met West met Central
One of the early Mixer planning surprises was finding out just how territorial us Kootenay folks can be. Potential participants and presenters raised concerns about what it would mean to bring together people from the East, West, and Central Kootenays. There were practical worries about safe travel at a snowy time of year, as well as deeper concerns about how to define the Kootenay foodshed. But divided as we are by high mountain passes and deep bodies of water, when it came down to it, we were linked by love of land and the desire for thriving food systems.
Mixer participants from Argenta, Arrow Creek, Beasley, Canyon, Cranbrook, Crawford Bay, Creston, Fernie, Grey Creek, Johnsons’ Landing, Kaslo, Kimberley, Kootenay Bay, Krestova, Kuskanook, Lardeau, Lister, Lower Kootenay Band, Moyie Springs, Nelson, Riondel, Rossland, Trail, Winlaw, Wynndel, and parts unknown seemed to have no problem finding common ground.
2) Host community spotlight
We also learned about goodness going down at the Yasodhara Ashram from Paris Marshall-Smith who spoke about their Food Flow Internships and chef Steve Kruse who gave information on how the ashram partners with local suppliers.
Volunteers like Branca Lewandowski, Jaqueline Wedge, and Dana Gallinger were able to speak for the activities of East Shore Food Roots. The group organizes the local seed exchange, fall fair, and farmers’ market – among other projects.
Meanwhile, Scott East, Robert Agnew, Laverne Booth, and William Burnstick were happy to talk about the Crawford Bay Commons land cooperative.
3) Sharing knowledge and skills
A big part of the motivation for getting together was to learn new things!
Planned sessions included:
- Working with retailers and restaurants with panelists Joe Karthein (Kootenay Coop), Amanda Skidmore (All Seasons Café), Ella Markan (Sprouts Grocery), and Steve Kruse (Yasodhara Ashram)
- Selling surplus and value-adding on the homestead with panelists Shauna Teare (Tricycle Acres, Farm Food Fork, r-brand), Wendy Morrison (Basin Business Advisers program), Sylvia Caldwell (Naturally Grown Herb and Spice Producers Coop), and Jen Comer (King Creek Farm)
- Pathways into farming with panelists Sara Dent (Linnea Farm Program graduate), Michael Silver (Earth Temple Gardens), Christian Kimber (3 Crows Farm), Paris-Marshall Smith (Yasodhara Ashram), and Jessie King (WWOOFER and Full Cycle Food educator)
- Profitable, low-tech, no-fuel season extension with Marsha Semar of Cottage Gardens, an organic, off-grid, year-round market garden
- Permaculture profits with Andrew Bennett of Moon Gravity Farm, a permaculture-inspired, livestock-based spin farm
Open space sessions gave a chance for spontaneous dialogue/sharing and included:
- Land access with organic farmer and former BC Agriculture Minister Corky Evans
- ALR action with Nadine BenRabha of Kootenay Meadows
- Farming/Homesteading and childcare with awesome parents!
- Co-operatives with Zoe Creighton of the Upper Columbia Cooperative Council
- Pruning with Gregoire Lamoureux of the Kootenay Permaculture Institute
4) Sharing resources
The Mixer was an opportunity to highlight some of the projects, initiatives, and resources that exist to support Kootenay agriculture.
Featured efforts included:
- Basin Business Advisors Program
- BC Seeds Cooperative
- Community Futures
- Creston Valley Food Action Coalition
- Farm Food Fork
- Kootenay Boundary Grizzly Bear Electric Fencing Project
- Kootenay Local Agricultural Society
- Kootenay Organic Growers Society
- Kootenay Permaculture Institute
- Kootenay Producers Cooperative
- Naturally Grown Herb and Spice Growers Cooperative
- Passmore Pluckers (Organic Abattoir)
- Young Agrarians
5) Sharing stories
Nadine BenRabha of Kootenay Meadows/Kootenay Alpine Cheese, an organic dairy and fromagerie in the Creston Valley, gave a heartfelt “keynote.” The farm has become an icon of what small family farms can do to help feed our region. Opening up about the ups and downs that she has experienced, she set an example of speaking our farm stories with honesty vulnerability, and positivity.
6) Local, seasonal, healthful foods
Lee Reidl was a superstar local, seasonal food procurer, chef, and volunteer wrangler. Her crazy vibrancy and skill meant that we all ate incredibly and that most of us helped get the food to table in one way or another. Overflowing gratitude to Lee and to each that helped to get us so well fed.
Donations and other generosity allowed us to sample foods from: Canyon City Farm, Chuckleberry Community Farm, Earth Temple Gardens, Full Circle Organic Farm, Full Cycle Food Program, King Creek Honey, Kootenay Coop, Kootenay Meadows Dairy/Kootenay Alpine Cheese, Meadowbrook Farm, Mozart Bakery, Root & Vine Acres, Saltspring Island Coffee, Silverking Soya Foods, Tarwell Farms, Troy & Katie Penzer’s homestead, Yasodhara Ashram. Egg donations were too many to name!
7) Including the youngest agrarians
To us, anyhow, it feels like a key charge for those wanting cultivate new agrarian culture is ending the tradition of turning our youngest generations away from the land. After decades during which so many farmers have discouraged their children from growing food for livelihood it is empowering to see young farmers striving to include and inspire their children in their work. Having so many little people with us for the weekend added extra craziness to the Mix!
8) Home with seeds to sow… literally
Everything wonderful should be said about Patrick Steiner and Colleen O’Brien and the magic they make at Kootenay Joe Farm. Patrick and Colleen were over the top the generous with the Mixer crew… they gifted huge amounts of Stellar Seeds to participants.
We smile thinking of plants growing strong and Kootenays bellies growing full thanks to this kindness!
9) Re-energizing a waning project
The library, which was set up through a Columbia Basin Trust grant, is made up of tools and equipment suitable for small-scale farming. It includes fruit presses, commercial dehydrators, hoop benders, root cleaners, and several BCS tractors plus plowing, tilling, flail mowing, seeding, and harrowing implements. The library has seen minimal use over the last few years, and Andrew gave an impassioned plea for volunteer engagement and public support.
Since the Mixer, young agrarian volunteers from different parts of the Kootenays (Trail/Rossland, Creston Valley, Slocan, Kalso) have been actively collaborating to revive the library. Two workshops have been held and the equipment has already been seeing more use!
10) Farm love in the air
More beautiful still? Witnessing those connections at work in the time since the Mixer. It has been great to see people who met at the Mixer reconnect like old friends at events like Farm Food Fork and inspiring to see Mixer hook-ups strengthening advocacy efforts like the fight against Bill 24.
We even happen to know that a very agrarian romance budded at the Mixer. Yay for the two lovebirds and for the farm planning happiness they are up to these days… that’s what this is all about!
To see the full photo sets from the event on FLICKR please go to: https://www.flickr.com/photos/115874593@N05/sets/72157644229508679/ and https://www.flickr.com/photos/saradent/sets/72157643042072963/
A final thanks to our sponsors for the Mixer: Columbia Basin Trust, Kootenay Co-op, Kokanee Chalets, and the East Shore community!
Kooteneers: If you want to host a Young Agrarians farm tour and potluck, or some other type of event this year get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to work with you!