Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Gulf Island Farmers Profiled in Western Producer

A few weeks ago Barbara Duckworth, the Calgary-based reporter of Western Producer, contacted Island Farmers Alliance to arrange for some farms on the islands to visit. I arranged visits with three farms and one cooperative group that typify the unique style of Gulf Island agriculture. Western Producer is a well known newspaper in farming circles and is read by 57,000 farm families each week. Each of the latest four issues profiled one of the farm operations, emphasizing the unique island climate and culture that encourages a break from traditional agricultural methods.
The Olive Consortium on Saturna Island is a group of individuals who were inspired by Pender Islander Andrew Butt to encourage the growing of olive trees in the Gulf Islands. They imported 180 trees last year and 500 this year, and are hopeful that the varieties selected will thrive in our Mediterranean-like climate. Olive trees compliment vineyards, but require milder winters so would not grow everywhere grapes grow. The Gulf Islands are perhaps the only place in Canada that the trees will grow and produce. There has been a lot of interest from different islands so far. The Olive Consortium is Michael Pierce and his wife Juliet Kershaw, Mark Timmer, Charlie Burlem and his wife Nettie Adams.
Jacques Campbell of Saturna Island was also profiled in a separate issue. Campbell Farm, started by her dad Jim and mom Lorraine, is known for having one of the few licenced slaughter facilities on the Gulf Islands. It was upgraded to meet the new provincial meat regulations, and serves the farm community of Saturna Island and also some on outer islands (our farm included). This facility is an important component that makes the annual July 1st Lamb Barbeque possible. The Lamb Barbeque is a tourist destination and celebration of Canada Day, with traditionally prepared barbequed lamb and entertainment. The Saturna Lamb Barbeque began as a school picnic in 1950 on the Campbell's farm at Saturna Beach and is now held at Winter Cove. It is the main fund raising activity of the Saturna Community Club, an organization that funds activities and services such as health care, ambulance, library, a singing group, groundwater protection, children's Christmas party, and school-end festivities.
Both Cambell Farm and the Olive Consortium are part of 31 Square Saturna Eats, a group that promotes and shares food among the 31 square kilometres of Saturna Island which is home to 350 people.
Besides raising sheep and beef and producing good grass for pasture and hay, this year Jacques is also involved in a research project with the Canadian Sheep Federation. Campbell Farm is one of two farms in BC participating in a study to evaluate radio frequency identification tags (RFID) as a traceability and management tool for producers. For the trial, Jacques is testing an electronic wireless scale head and tag reader and two types of RFID tags to evaluate the tag system. And if that wasn't enough, Campbell Farm is also going to host an Inter Island Sheep Breeders Association field day on July 24th, and will give a tour of the farm and abattoir and a demonstration of the RFID system. Sheep producers are encouraged to attend and can either contact myself at firhill@gulfislands.com (or 250-629-3817, or 3819) or Jacques' sister Nan at dglogan@shaw.ca or the farm at 250-539-2470.
Two of the Western Producer visits were to Salt Spring Island farms. Harry Burton is known as the farmer behind the Apple Festival on Salt Spring Island each fall. Harry, along with other apple producers on the island, host an event elevating and celebrating the apple, taking the production of apples a step away from just another commodity. Thousands of visitors attend each year. Harry nurtures 200 varieties of apples on his small acreage and is a self-described “appleholic”. Apple Lucious Organic Orchard is also home to plums, grapes, plum-cots, and apricots.
Margaret Thomson of Windrush Farm was also profiled in Western Producer. Margaret is the co-author of the recent Salt Spring livestock report and represents the livestock producers on Salt Spring who are working to bring a mobile abattoir to the island. She also raises rare breed Cotswold sheep and heritage turkeys and is very involved in more than one farm organization, including Rare Breeds Canada.
Each of these four profiled food producers represent the type of agriculture on our islands that takes into account our unique climate and culture. Each is community based, but also embraces the potential to introduce the visitor to agriculture, Gulf Island style.

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