One Cool Island: Initiatives aim to boost homegrown food supply
By ANDREA PALFRAMAN
Transition Salt Spring
On any sunny Sunday, especially now, town can seem so quiet. It wouldn’t seem out of place to see tumbleweed rolling down Fulford-Ganges Road. Visitors might be wondering, “Where is everybody?”
Well, you’d find a lot of us in the garden. From community gardens on Rainbow Road, in the Fulford Valley and at every school on the island, to the hundreds of backyard veggie patches, and homesteads aiming for self-sufficiency, small-scale agriculture is in full flower on the rock.
The explosion in home gardening is a nationwide phenomenon, and Salt Spring is no exception. Call it an unexpected positive outcome of an otherwise horrible pandemic. Nursery operators at Chorus Frog Farm report a surge in sales of one-third over their best year ever. Eagle Ridge Seed maven Marsha Goldberg has tripled her retail and mail-order seed business. And many Salt Spring CSAs — farms providing food box programs — are entirely subscribed.
Part of the phenomenon is simply organic. But part of it also comes from people starting to connect the dots on what we can do with spades and trowels to respond to climate change.
Many people might be surprised that here on Salt Spring — as net importers of food — between 20 and 37 per cent of our island carbon footprint comes from what we put on our plates. From petrochemical-based fertilizers to the lengthy journeys from field to plate, agricultural practices are responsible for over 70 megatonnes of carbon emissions annually in Canada. That’s a whopping 10 per cent of the annual total. While that’s a staggering number, it’s one that we have the power to change.
According to the Salt Spring Climate Action Plan, transitioning to local food resilience is one simple, powerful way we can break free from fossil fuel dependency and adapt to a changing climate. We can foster food security for everyone by building inter-reliance in our community, so that more of us can produce and enjoy local food, regardless of where we live.
Healthy and equitable food systems also require affordable housing, and it’s here that the links between climate action, food, agriculture and social justice stand out. For example, due to the housing crunch, it’s extremely challenging for growers to retain skilled field workers to keep farms and market gardens viable; that has consequences for us all.
Since the first Climate Action Plan in 2005, here’s what our community has achieved:
• A new Farmland Trust program pairs new farmers with landowners to bring underused farmland under cultivation.
• An allotment garden for home gardeners, a Community Services community farm, and food gardens at all local schools.
• The birth of the Salt Spring Abattoir (2012) and The Root (2020) — local food storage and processing facilities.
• The addition of a Tuesday Farmers’ Market.
• Harvest Kitchen farmers market coupon program and distribution of the harvest from Burgoyne Valley Community Farm to low income folks and families.
The recent recognition of the farmers market as an essential service is one of many signs of cultural shifts — like the blossoming of Indigenous learning and stewardship of wild plants and sustainable wild harvesting taking place at Xwaaqw’um (“Burgoyne Bay Provincial Park”).
We’ve done a lot, but because we still import about 90 per cent of our food, Salt Spring’s access to food is highly vulnerable to external shocks. Our dependency on food from California means that what happens to the climate there impacts cupboards here at home.
Building a food system that can handle higher temperatures and disruptions to rainfall patterns includes planting more diverse crops, integrating livestock together with crop production, growing varieties that tolerate variable weather, and collecting, conserving and storing back-up water.
The Salt Spring Climate Action Plan recommends developing a community composting facility — turning food waste into fertilizer — which is likely to become a reality thanks to the folks at the Farmland Trust. To conserve ever precious water supplies, the plan also recommends widespread rainwater catchment in ponds, restored marshland, and water storage tanks, and removing barriers to using greywater for gardens. We currently ship most of our septic system and treatment plant biosolids to Vancouver Island by diesel truck. Instead, we could join other communities, like Sun Peaks, who compost theirs to create a valuable fertilizer. Scores of municipalities across the country turn biosolids into an organic fertilizer for everything from food to forests.
If you want to help expand support for increased on-island agriculture and local food production, join Transition Salt Spring. We are dedicated to advocating to the government for the changes we need to grow an island-wide, robust local food system that reduces emissions, fosters social justice and builds the kind of community inter-relatedness that is essential to surviving — and thriving — in challenging times.
Check out these upcoming free One Cool Island events:
• Let’s Beef up our (Food) Security: Building a Healthy Abundant Food System for a Low Carbon Future (Wednesday, May 19, 7 to 8:30 p.m.): Join three Salt Spring agri-food leaders to discuss solutions to lowering Salt Spring’s carbon footprint through improved food and agricultural systems. Sign up to attend this free by donation event here: www.tinyurl.com/SSIAgriculture
• Let’s Grow Together! Victory Gardens for Climate Resilience (Wednesday, June 7, 7 to 9 p.m.): Come hear from the island’s best and brightest green thumbs to help us all grow more food in ways that are nourishing for body, soul, pocketbook and planet. Sign up to attend this free or by-donation event here: www.tinyurl.com/SSgrowsfood
Check out these directories for our local farmers and farm stands on Salt Spring:
• www.saltspringmeats.com: Where and how to purchase locally grown meats.
• ssifi.org/farm-directory: Organic farmers of Salt Spring.
• saltspringmarket.com/farms-stands-studios-map: Farm Stands and Studio Maps.
One Cool Island is a regular series produced by Transition Salt Spring on how we can all respond to the climate crisis, together. Andrea Palframan is a TSS director and communications lead. More information: transitionsaltspring.com.