Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers

At the Food Matter forum last week I met Gabe Epstein of the Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers. The group is very much the sort of thing I am very interested in, sharing of information about growing food and talking about issues related to food production.

Our Objective

We seek to promote and maximize food production and community food security in as wide a variety of settings in our community as possible, in as sustainable a manner as possible.

As such, we:

I can get behind that.

For myself the sharing of knowledge is the most important part. I lived in Lillooet for close to 10 years and that is where I did the majority of my gardening. Coming to the coast means dealing with a completely different climate and completely different pests. My first year here I lost all of tomatoes and carrots.

This summer will be my seventh one here in Victoria, but the first and the one 2007 were both lost causes because I could not really do much gardening. 2006 and 2009 were a lost causes for personal reasons. This means I am really only in my third year of gardening here and I have a lot to learn.

I have stuff in the ground already and I hope to get a lot more done this coming weekend.

The next meeting the the Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers is on April 18th.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Food Matters Workshop held today

The the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable (CR-FAIR) held their annual Food Mattera Forum at the Victoria Friendship Centre. I attended along with about 100 other people.

It was worth it for me to have gone because of some of the contacts I made there, but in general I am not sure it really accomplished much. I was in the morning session on research. The presenters were interesting enough, but the topics were very unrelated and all over the place. As interesting it is to hear about designing criteria for municipal approval of farm worker housing by Paula Hesje, it was not really germane to anyone there other Ryan Vantrieght.

The two guys from the Lifecycles project I think have done some interesting work, but it was presented sort of haphazardly.

Teron Moore, student at Royal Roads, talked about his research, Improving Food Access Through Collaborative Food Distribution. Not enough time for his presentation and I am not sure he got enough good data to really conclude anything.

Pat Reichert from Saltspring was the most interesting in a tangible way to me because she talked about the trends on Saltspring with respect to agricultural production over the last five years. Meat is down dramatically, but fruit and veg is up

One of the problems with the crowd was the disparate levels of knowledge of food related issues. The weakest area was with the economics of food. It is all wonderful to say "X" should happen, but if it is not economically sustainable, no one will do it. Most of the people there were from the soft left community NGO world. Great people, but often not really in touch with the bigger financial picture.

There were some interesting people there, Dave Friend "Mr Organics", Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May, Green Party of BC leader Jane Sterk, and Gabe Epstein of Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers. But as with many workshops and conferences, they did not allow for enough time for people mingle and talk.

I can see there is a potential here, but I also know that if I see a potential from the CR-FAIR and it is not happening, it is up to me to take part in the process and help it to be more than it is.

I will be posting about the Vantreight farm, there is some really interesting stuff going on there, and the Tillicum Gorge Urban Farmers in the next few days.

The cost was cheap and it included lunch. If you are interested in food (growing, cooking or eating) it is worth going to meet other people with similar interests.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


I have lived in the CRD for six years now, and for six years in the 80s, what I have never understood is why there are almost no orchards in this region?

My interest in Treefruits
I have had an interest in tree fruits since I was a child. I spent a lot of time in the south Okanagan. Some friends of the family, the von Hahns, owned an orchard just north of Oliver. My father was interested in agriculture, he had studied agriculture before and after the war. He was always interested to have Helmut von Hahn give him a tour of the orchard, I tagged along and learned about running an orchard.

As a teenager I worked a number of summers in the Okanagan picking cherries. In the early 80s I was the lone anglo working with a bunch of francophones. I paid attention to the economics of what it took by Brian Hardmann to operate his orchard in Naramata, the business side of it appealed to me.

Between 1999 and 2004 I worked on a number different projects looking at the economics of agriculture in some areas of the interior. There is a lot of land in various locations in the interior that is good land for growing stuff, but no one is using it. I worked with owners to come up with possible ideas for what could be grown.

I also owned a property with about 50 fruit trees, 40 of the prune plums. I produced enough plums each fall to flood the Lillooet market for plums. I could harvest as much as 8000 lbs of plums a year, though no place to go with them.

In the interior the problem was finding a market for what you grow, that is not a problem in this region.

No matter what anyone says, the agricultural lands in the CRD are not really the greatest. They are uneven and in a lot of areas have major drainage problems. Not ideal for commercial production of many things.

Land that is uneven can support trees. It is less work that berries or market garden crops and in the case of apples is not labour intensive to harvest. Why do we have so few orchards in this region?

Apples make economic sense

Apples can produce in the range of 20,000lbs per acre and if grown organically can be sold for $1.50 a pound without too much difficulty. We have enough venues to sell the fruit through, so there would be minimal need for storage. the volume of fruit purchased in the CRD is dramatically more than what we produce.

A ten acre apple operation should be able to gross $300,000 a year selling wholesale. If you plant it in differing varieties, especially heirloom types, you can ensure the harvest season can run from late July through to early November. About 16 weeks total harvest time.

Over 16 weeks at two farmer's markets a week, you can sell 30,000 to 50,000 lbs of apples without too much difficulty. If you hit the right market that can be more like 65,000 to 80,000 lbs. With organic heirloom varieties, you can sell the apples for $2 to $2.50 a lb fairly easily. Grossing over $150,000 at the farmers' markets is reasonable.

This still leaves about 140,000 lbs to sell wholesale for about $1.50 a pound, a total of $210,000.

Total gross income is $360,000.

This operation is small enough that one person can look after everything to do with it from November 7th to July 25th of each year. In the harvest season you need to pick an average of about 1800 lbs per day. To move this volume you need to hire one picker to work part time for the whole season.

If you are an organic farm, you can WWOOFers to come help. WWOOF is the Willing Workers on Organic Farms. It is a homestay program for young adults interested in organic farming. You provide them with a place to stay, they offer you work on the farm. Youth from around the world do this, you meet some very interesting people if you host WWOOFers.

So, it seems to me that the economics make sense for an organic apple orchard in this region, I am just not sure why there are so few in this region.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Veggie Gardening

I put in part of veggie garden over the weekend. It feels odd to be doing it so early, I spent years in the interior and early May was the earliest I was out there planting.

I put in two long rows of scarlet runner beans, some spinach, dill, long white radishes and mixed lettuce. I will be doing more this coming weekend, specifically I am going to planting peas in some areas that are not doing well at the moment.

I would like to turn a lot of the verge into garden beds, but the soil is simply dead. It is full of rocks and has limited amounts of the humus I want to see. I suspect it will be a several year project to take them over and get something thriving there.

The Victoria Compost Education Centre will be having their annual plant sale on May 15th, well worth attending.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Food Matters Workshop

I will be attending this event, I hope that it will be interesting

Food Matters!

Friday March 26, 2010
9:15 am-2:30 pm
Victoria Native Friendship Centre
231 Regina Avenue (by Tillicum Mall)

CR-FAIR invites you to an annual food and farm networking event and celebration of Regional Food Security Champions


  • 9:15-9:30 Registration ($10 includes program and lunch)
  • 9:30-11:30 Workshops
  • 12:00-2:30 Celebration Lunch and 2010 Awards

9:30-11:30 Workshops:

1. Social Media and the Web

Part A: Promotion and Education: Demystifying New Media and its ability to help us reach and engage with our audiences and each other.

Workshop leaders: Katie Shaw, YouthCore, Fiona Devereaux Feasting For Change and Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities Indigenous Foods Network, Christopher Bower, Videographer .

Part B: Farm and Food Business Promotion and Web Based Management Tools: Workshop leaders will look at how websites, Blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, are helping them reach their audiences and how web based tools such as a portal for e-commerce is enhancing their business.

Workshop leader Susan Tychie: Share Organics, Farmer, TBA.

2. Cooking Together: the Re-invention of Community Kitchens: Together let's explore the current Community Kitchen landscape in Greater Victoria. Community Kitchen leaders and participants will share their experiences and inspire you to start a kitchen in your community.

Workshop leader: Tracy Horner-Cullen, Vancouver Island Health Authority

3. Emerging Local Research on Food and Agriculture Issues: Come and hear about important community based research that is not only informing our work but making change in the process:

· Pat Reichert, Salt Spring Island, Researching local food production quantities and greenhouse gas impacts.

· Peter Papagiannis LifeCycles, Food Organizations and Projects Sustainability Survey

· Teron Moore, Royal Roads, Improving Food Access Through Collaborative Food Distribution

· Paula Hesje, Community Council, Farm Viability, Focus on Issues and Potentials Farm Worker Housing in Central Saanich

12:00-2:30 Celebration Lunch and 2010 Awards

Welcome and Networking — Learn who’s who in the food and farm sector

Keynote address: Dr. Gilbert Wilkes (Holder of the Ralph Klein Chair in Media Studies at Mount Royal University, Calgary and Assistant Professor at Royal Roads) will focus on Demystifying New Media: how media can help us reach and engage our audiences and each other.

Over lunch we will Celebrate our 2010 Food Security Champions with the presentation of our annual awards.

We will wrap up with a game of “Food Jeopardy!” that will test our knowledge of current issues and trends in the Capital Region.

Videographer on site! During the day make a short clip about your project, issue, story, or business to link to your site, download, email and /or distribute to your audience! See Christopher at Registration to sign up for your timeslot!

Registration Details:
$10 will cover your lunch and workshop fees. Lunch will be catered by Kitchens of Distinction and the Victoria Native Friendship Centre. (Victoria Native Friendship Centre members will receive a complimentary registration).

***Please note that there is no parking in the VNFC parking lot and you must find parking on the street nearby. We encourage you to take the bus or carpool!

PLEASE RSVP: There is limited seating in the workshops so please make sure to register early.

Questions? Email above or tel. (250) 383-6166

Lunch, travel, or childcare subsidies are available by request.