Farming is receiving the respect it deserves during the fourth annual Farmers Appreciation Week. The BC Association of Farmers’ Markets (BCAFM) has a mandate to support local food producers and the markets where they gather to sell their products. They seek to raise public awareness around the importance of local food producers, and to support the farmers that sustain BC’s agricultural heritage. Between September 8th and 15th the Association urges consumers to make the conscious choice to visit a farm stand, farmers’ market, or buy local products at their grocery store. For some, it can be the first step in changing buying habits in the long term.
Local small-scale agriculture is an important component of strong communities. Being separated from the mainland, Vancouver Island is vulnerable to breakdowns in the food transportation network, so increased self-sufficiency is particularly important. Supporting local farmers reduces this vulnerability and our reliance on imported foods.
According to the BCAFM, farmers make up only a small percentage of BC’s population but produce almost half of the food consumed here. As the farming population ages there is an urgent need to recruit young people into the profession who can keep the province’s rich agricultural land productive.
The District A Farmers Institute, the preeminent agricultural organization in our region, represents over 600 farm families on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. Many of our farmers are aging and there aren’t enough young families to replace them, says Dave Thomson, District A President. While some new farmers are moving out of the cities, many face challenges in their new lifestyle so, “We’re there to give them a hand and help educate them so they can enjoy their land and get something out of it,” Thomson says.
This kind of support for new farmers, and engaging youth with the land, are keys to keeping our farming communities strong. Ashlee Sales of Good Nature Farms lives on her family’s land and chose to raise her young children there. She feels it’s important that they grow up with an appreciation of where food comes from and how things are interconnected with the land. This understanding attracts young farmers to keep working the land and reap the rewards that a life in small-scale agriculture brings. Those rewards include 100% of the profits when their products are sold at farmers’ markets.
Small-scale agriculture and farmers’ markets represent a significant contribution to the province’s economy. In November 2012 the BCAFM completed an Economic and Social Benefits Assessment Report in collaboration with the University of Northern BC. They found that, between 2006 and 2012 the number of farmers’ markets in BC increased by 62.24%, and the estimated total direct sales increased by 147.16%. In 2012 the annual economic benefits of farmers’ markets amounted to $113.69 million.
Vancouver Island is an active part of this economy with enough rich agricultural land to support numerous farmers’ markets. There are markets five days a week between the Cowichan Valley and Qualicum Beach, including Nanaimo’s popular Bowen Road Farmers’ Market at Beban Park on Wednesdays from 4:00 until 6:30 p.m. and Downtown Farmers’ Market on Fridays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The Northern and Southern Gulf Islands, including Gabriola, also host busy markets during the summertime. The BCAFM counsels its members to continue to grow and diversify, increasing the availability of markets and offering convenient hours to draw even more consumers.
You can take up the challenge and participate in Farmers Appreciation Week by attending a farmers’ market or looking for local produce in your grocery store. More information about the BCAFM is available at www.bcfarmersmarket.org.