Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Salt Spring Abattoir to Open For Business This Spring

A few years ago the government changed the Meat Regulations to require inspection of all facilities slaughtering meat in the province. The upgrades required were costly for many operators, so all around the province, and in the Gulf Islands, local abattoirs shut down. Animals needed to be transported off-island, since most Gulf Islands did not have licenced facilities. The off-island abattoirs available were often over-booked, creating bottle-necks or long waits. Based on surveys in 2004 and 2010, it became apparent that there was a significant decline in meat production on Salt Spring Island. The newly formed Salt Spring Agricultural Alliance prioritized the building of a Salt Spring abattoir, and decided on a mobile processing unit with an accessory modular cut and wrap facility. With a twelve person committee, the Alliance worked hard at fund raising to “Save Salt Spring Lamb”, one of the region’s most famous foods.
Is it on budget? Yes, with the help of donations, price discounts and recycled materials, the plans are becoming reality. At a price of $350,000, the fund raising efforts have been very successful and is very, very close to its goal.. The government is providing $150,000 in matching funds, and about $200,000 has been raised so far. The Salt Spring Agricultural Alliance was awarded $50,000 from VanCity’s enviroFund to increase local food production on Salt Spring Island. This helped push the project ahead in hiring a construction manager.
Is it on time? No, it was hoped that it would be up and running in the fall of 2011. A nine month delay was experienced waiting for the plans to be approved by the BC Centre for Disease Control. There were many changes required to the plans but they are now approved.
What is done so far? The selected location has industrial zoning, is flat and well drained and has good road access. The property owner is also a farmer , which will make his farm’s transportation to the plant just a walk across the field. The Islands Trust gave the project a Temporary Use Permit, which is good for three years and can be renewed once. At that point, the abattoir location will be reassessed. The Trust also required a riparian assessment to be done because of a pond and some drainage areas in the vicinity.
A new ecoflow peat filtered septic field was installed by Ken Byron. There is a travel trailer for a site office, lunch room and change area for abattoir staff. Three modular structures were framed in when I was given a tour by Margaret Thomson and Mike Robertson– the offal room for the guts, the cooler, the cut and wrap room which will also hold a freezer, along with the washroom and office for the inspector. The crew was working on the hide room when I was there. The CRD building department required each of the modules, which can be moved, to be ten feet apart so walkways are being built to connect the modules. The drawings have been prepared by Brent Baker, who is the construction manager. Brent is a principal partner in Shibui Design, and has been involved in cost effective planning and construction for over thirty years. Brent is also the son in law of Mike Byron, long time Salt Spring farmer who was one of the islanders who processed livestock for the community before the regulations changed.
Although the modules for the abattoir are being constructed on Salt Spring with local labour, the trailer unit which will be used for slaughtering of both red meat and poultry is being made in Coombs. Once the abattoir has its licence, hopefully in April, there will be two test slaughter days – one for red meat, and one for poultry.
The one detail left is to select staff to run the abattoir. The SSI Agricultural Alliance is now looking for “expressions of interest and creative proposals from individuals, groups or other entities who are interested in running ongoing operations of the abattoir as well as anyone interested in being part of the operations team for this exciting new local food venture.” They are anxious to receive proposals by March 15th so that they can be up and running this spring. To submit a proposal, contact Anne Macey annemacey@shaw.ca or mail to SSI Agricultural Alliance, 106 Old Scott Road, SSI V8K 2L6.
But if you build it, will they come? Already, based on a survey of poultry producers, there is greater demand than anticipated originally. Many red meat producers have been expanding their herds and flocks. Consumers, chefs and retail outlets have shown great interest in receiving a dependable supply of fresh local meat, truly in the hundred mile diet way.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Canada Geese invasion

Pender Island golf course on a January day
      I've written about this before, but it seems like there are more Canada geese than ever on our farm.  There is a golf course just down the road at the end of our valley, and we have big open fields, inviting ponds, and a very attractive place for Canada geese, it seems.  Sometimes there are so many of them it is a bit like an old Hitchcock movie.
    Prior to the 1960’s Canada geese sightings were rare treats but now they are commonly seen year round, and are more numerous each year. In the period from 1965 to 1995, the Canada geese in the Christmas bird count in the Fraser Valley increased 50 fold. Where no more than 200 Canada geese were seen in Victoria in the 1970’s, now over 5,000 are counted each winter. I can easily count over 200 Canada geese on our farm alone in the winter. The resident non-migratory geese made up 18 per cent of the North American total in 1970; now they account for 67 per cent. So what has happened?
      Since the early ‘70’s Canada geese numbers have been increasing significantly due to a perfect storm of events. A successful conservation program was launched across North America in the 1960’s by various wildlife agencies to restore numbers of geese reduced through years of hunting and habitat loss. The program was also intended to boost Canada geese numbers for recreational hunting purposes. In Canada there are 11 subspecies of Canada goose and eight of these live in B. C., but the two subspecies that were introduced through this program were resident, or non-migratory, geese not common to this area. The parallel increase in growth of urban and suburban communities with manicured lawns, golf courses and airports and lovely ponds made for the perfect Canada goose habitat. When we add restrictive hunting and firearm regulations and a lack of predators we have indeed created the perfect storm of events.
       It shouldn’t be a surprise that farmers view Canada geese as pests. Forage producers watch as hay and grain fields are demolished in a feeding frenzy by these foragers, which consume up to 4 lbs. of grass each day, depositing 2-3 lbs. of fecal material. A few years ago we spring-planted two fields with oats and millet, and watched as hundreds of Canada geese ate the crop while it was trying to grow. The geese kept the area stripped clean and the only crop we ended up with were thistles. After a lot of work dealing with thistles and re-working the fields with a fall-plant of rye and grass I hope our goose problem will not repeat itself. It takes daily visits to chase the geese off, though. Some farmers use dogs, balloons, decoys, barriers, fences, and propane cannons to keep them from eating crops.
      Not just grass and grains can be affected. Crops like leafy salad greens, cabbages, potatoes, carrots, corn and blueberries are also eaten by Canada geese. It is estimated that the annual damage to all farms in the Saanich Peninsula and Metchosin area is $300,000 per year.
      The ground next to the ponds is compressed and especially lacking in vegetation. This is only compounded by the fact that the federal government has been encouraging farmers over the past few years to dig more ponds to enhance our water storage.
      Now, some might suggest that golf course managers might think a bit about working with these lawn mowers with wings, since they produce fertilizer and keep the grounds manicured. But they are in fact viewed as an unappealing nuisance since the fertilizer tends to be slippery underfoot and muck up the golf balls. Recently our local golf course has placed two lights that flash all night to keep the geese from resting overnight on the course. I noticed that the geese still are on the golf course during the day, but they did seem to vacate the area near the lights in the evening. The bad news for us is that I think this might just move them down the valley to our farm. Perhaps we should try some strobe lights and other deterrents as well, because the geese are very noisy at night on our farm.
      There are also public health concerns since Canada geese can contribute to Giardia, Cryptosporidium and Campylobacter outbreaks. As I walk our farm each day checking the new lambs, I can’t help but notice the incredible amount of goose droppings and the effect on our grass growth.
So what can we do? Increasing populations of Canada geese have prompted several communities to control resident flocks. The CRD is currently developing a regional Canada Goose Management Plan because of the effects on our recreational areas, airports and farms. The federal Wildlife Service has produced a handbook for Canada goose management and population control. The handbook has several good suggestions that can be used to discourage Canada Geese through the understanding of their biology. Some methods do not require permits. In the 1970s, the Wildlife Service began to issue permits to property owners whose crops were being ravaged by foraging Canada geese. Some resourceful individuals have killed two birds with one stone, so to speak, by gathering and eating Canada goose eggs. Southern BC allows for more than one hunting season for Canada geese. With resident Canada geese populations growing at a rate of 12% or more per year there will most likely be a peak and leveling off of goose numbers at some point, but not before they go from nuisance to serious problem.