Above: 📷 via www.atlascorps.org
By contributor Chantelle Spicer
There is nothing like farm fresh food bought from the market—potatoes and carrots with soil still clinging, strawberries juicy and ripe all the way through, tomatoes still warm from the sun. It’s a reminder of the heart of food—a gift, a life given for sustaining your life, something slightly miraculous. In the winter months, particularly this long cold one, it’s easy to forget these things. I go to Costco or Country Grocer to buy food that has been shipped from afar, food that resembles the plastic food my friend’s children play with in their play-kitchen—food that I cannot connect with as a product or part of a community in a real way.
Luckily, here on the Island, our winter months are usually short, and some farmers store fall root veggie crops (like carrots, beets, and potatoes) like jewels for our year-round market. You could even grow hardy leaf crops (chards and kales) in sunny cold-frames or over-winter fresh herbs on window sills. None of these, however, compare to the peak growing season, when farms and gardens explode with generosity and abundance. Now, as the weather starts to turn towards spring, I start planning and cleaning my garden, sowing hardy seeds, and dreaming of fresh berries and days on the farm. From what I have seen and heard in the markets over the past weeks, the farmers of the area have been hearing the call of the coming season for months now.
Our local farmers are integral to the sustainability movement. Not just a sustainable food movement, but the whole thing, is only in understanding sustainability as a holistic endeavour that we will find our way to its heart and change.
The current state of industrial agriculture, evolved out of the post-WWII era due to an over-abundance of chemical nitrogen, is not the answer to anything. The US industrial food system contributes to approximately 25 percent of the nation’s carbon footprint, accumulated through fertilizer, insecticide, pesticide, exposed or tilled land, and equipment usage. It is a practice rooted in entitled ideas (“control” over plants and nature) and, in terms of meat production, animal abuse for the sake of a food system. This form of agriculture swept the world during the 50s, boasted to be the solution to feeding the world’s hunger problem, replicating the problems of land and soil loss, as well as a dependence on altered seeds, wherever it went. In India, the small-scale farmers felt so disconnected from their ancient generational knowledge of land and plants that more than 20,000 farmers have committed suicide since “The Green Revolution.”
But there are some who hold onto old ways of knowing the land—using biology rather than chemistry to grow the people’s food.
In the Nanaimo area, many of these folks come together through a love of food, the land, and the local market communities. They follow in the footsteps of founding residents, such as Samuel Robins who developed the idea of “Five Acre Farms,” the original layout of Harewood—or the “Land of Wakesiah,” as it was then known. For decades, these lands were the bread basket of Nanaimo, but as the post-war era swept over, most of these fertile lands sadly shifted to become the subdivisions and shopping centers we see today. However, as with most parts of history, its former farm state does still linger through heirloom fruit trees, the shape of the land—and ideas!
Small urban farms are now at a precipice, with elder farmers being forced to make a decision to sell to developers or pass on their lands to a new generation. One farm, near Ninth and Park, is in exactly this position. Having been the site of a community-driven co-operative farm for the past two seasons, Five Acre Farm has been run through Foodshare Nanaimo, who understand the role it has in building healthy communities. Through an initiative of “Growing Opportunities,” this collection of people are working to train a new generation of farmers in regenerative agriculture and finding alternative local economies. The owners of the property are regularly approached by developers seeking to expand on subdivisions in the area—but the property owners wish to see the lands remain a productive part of the community, offering Foodshare the land for $1 million.
Purchasing the farm has been a project for the organization for the past 6 months, gathering the community together to brainstorm fundraising ideas and seeking support from the city. Craig Evans, WEST program trainer, explains this project as a dream—one that all cities should have, and that can come true with support. The WEST program, run through VIU, utilizes the farm lands and opportunities for training with students, showing the role the university has to play in supporting this project. The Harewood Neighborhood Plan, created in 2013 through the city, is a recognition of both need and support for this kind of alternative land use. Stating that though much of the Harewood area “consists primarily of single family and multiple family residential uses, the development of a sustainable food system that promotes food self-sufficiency through education, engagement and land use activities is integral.” This is all provided through Five Acre Farms, as the project includes a site for seed production, research plots, the capacity to teach, learn and take part in regenerative farming techniques, and organic production methods—with many other services hopefully to come, including local gathering places and alternative social services. As the farm moves into its third growing season, fundraising, volunteering, and further education are much needed. If you are interested in finding out more, please visit their website at nanaimofoodshare.ca, or call 250-753-9393.
Whether you are taking part in farming activities or supporting farmers through buying at local markets, you are making a difference in individual lives and on the land. Farmer Chris Brown, of the Farmship Growers Cooperative, explains farming as relationship building—whether that be with the soil, the plants, the community, or ourselves, it is the most inclusive and communal act we can take part in. This local food movement is asking us, as consumers and (hopefully) future growers, to shift our understanding of what farming is, how it is done, and how it can affect our lives.
I invite everyone to enjoy the summer season in a new way, celebrating local food systems. Happy growing and eating!