Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sooke News Mirror

Agriculture in focus at farm forum

How does smoked tuna loin stacked on pickled beets sound? How about wild mushrooms on squash cakes or roast leg of pork braised in mead?

These are just a few of the mouth-watering entrees being prepared for those who take part in the Farm Forum Feast on October 25.

The Farm Forum is all about community and the need to develop an agricultural plan for the region.

“It is three events in one day,” says event organizer Robert Thompson. “The feast is a major component.”

Chefs who have worked or grown up in the area are returning to be a part of the home-grown feast.

Sooke and area is well-known for its scenery and wild places, but it is also a place where people grow, sell and harvest the bounty of the land and the sea. Scattered throughout the area are small farms where farmers strive to provide fresh, local produce to those who appreciate the homegrown qualities. People want to know where their food comes from, especially with all the concerns about sustainability and food security.

“The country market has doubled and there’s actual lineups,” says Mary Alice Johnson of ALM Organic Farm and Full Circle Seeds. “And Ragley Farm is just hopping.”

There are concerns about the loss of old farms and farm land and how the threatened land can survive amidst development growth.

“There are young people who want to farm. In the area there are 70 small producers of food — many of them are families,” said Johnson. “It is surprising that most of the food producers in the Sooke area are not in the Agricultural Land Reserve.”

Along with the increased awareness and support for local growers comes a movement. The Sooke Region Food CHI has grown from a few concerned people to over 100 involved in the movement in some way. The Juan de Fuca Economic Development Commission and the District of Sooke came forward to see how they could help promote the agricultural aspect of the region.

“It’s a neat partnership of all three groups,” says Phoebe Dunbar. “It’s economic development really.”

These three groups are presenting the Farm Forum Feast at Edward Milne Community School. What is exciting about the event is not only the harvest feast but also the family aspect of the day. Organizers have planned interactive displays, talks and presentations on food issues and fun things for kids, like zucchini races, and scarecrow and pumpkin art. Kids can squeeze their own apple juice, win prizes and tap their toes to country music.

The community is in focus at the Farm Forum and Harvest Feast. Attendees can browse through displays set up by a number of organizations and individuals. Michael Jansen-Reynaud will have a wild mushroom display, composters, ocean harvesters, alpaca spinners, pumpkin carvers and all manner of gardeners and cooks will be on hand to share their information. The Sooke region Museum will have historical displays of farming as it used to be.

The serious side of the day is the Farm Forum. A facilitated discussion on building a sustainable future for agriculture and food security in the community is at the top of the agenda. Three communities from the area have been invited to discuss their experiences and progress of their separate agricultural area plans; these include Salt Spring Island, Comox Valley and the Cowichan Valley.

Representatives from other communities that have agricultural advisory committees will also be in attendance, as well representation from the First Nations communities in the region.

“You don’t have to be a farmer or a supplier to attend,” said Thompson. “Just come, have fun and learn.”

The three-stage festival begins at 9 a.m. with the Farm Forum and continues throughout the day until 4 p.m. (lunch is provided to forum participants). The festival begins at 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. These two events are free. Between 4:30 and 5:30 there is a free concert in the theatre.

The Harvest Feast is a sit-down dinner taking place in the school’s common area at 6 p.m. Tickets are available in advance at Peoples Drug Mart, Shoppers Drug Mart and EMCS. The organizers have arranged a “family” tickets price for two adults and two kids under 12-years-of-age.

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