Archive for October 16th, 2009

Growing opportunities

By Tom Read

Here's a photo I took today of some thriving White Russian Kale in our garden. We bought these plants as seedlings from Carolyn Heriot in August. This open-pollinated kale variety is very cold-hardy and we find it quite satisfying in salads, stir-fry and even pesto sauce!

Here's a photo I took today of some thriving White Russian Kale in our garden. We bought these plants as seedlings from Carolyn Heriot in August. This open-pollinated kale variety is very cold-hardy and we find it quite satisfying in salads, stir-fry and even pesto sauce!

A few weeks ago I posted some thoughts here on the agricultural potential of Texada Island, based on a document just released by the Powell River Regional District (PRRD). Texada Island is Area D within the PRRD. In that previous post I mentioned several strengths that support the idea of a positive agricultural future for Texada, such as favourable climate, soil, water, and proximity to markets.

This week I’d like to follow up with a few thoughts about agricultural  opportunities, starting with a general statement from the PRRD report, entitled “Powell River Agricultural Plan — Economic Development Discussion Paper,” by consultant Gary Rolston.   Here’s a summary of the paper’s comment on agricultural opportunities for individuals:

It is difficult, if not impossible, to identify opportunities for individual operators without knowing the individual or the resources they have available to them. This has happened in the past. An “opportunity” is identified to a broad audience. Several people get into the business at the same time and the market is saturated before the first product is available for sale. Opportunities are created by people who have the ability to evaluate trends that suit the resources they have available and can have products available for market when demand is strong. [my emphasis]

The paper goes on to identify three possible “opportunities” for individuals in our region: developing an abattoir or food processing facility, creating value-added products from local produce, and starting a vineyard/winery. Hmm. If you’re interested in making value-added products, wouldn’t that require some kind of food processing facility? Would it be cost-effective for an individual to create such facilities?

As for making wine, I’ve noticed that our region, including Texada, already has affordable custom wine-making services available, and it’s not that difficult to ferment your own, either. Since wine is a discretionary food purchase (unlike, for example, vegetables, grains, and other food staples), and given the many imported wines I see for sale at Texada’s grocery stores, perhaps that market is a bit “saturated.”

So, are there any opportunities that don’t require a large up-front investment in processing facilities?

One possibility not mentioned in Rolston’s paper is growing winter salad greens and vegetables. As about fifty of us heard from Carolyn Heriot at a Texada Garden Club-sponsored workshop in August, almost all greens and vegetables are currently imported into our region during the cold months of the year. She lives near Victoria, and claims to have found a strong demand in her area for fresh local vegetables that can be grown and harvested all during the winter — because the imported stuff isn’t so fresh and is rather expensive as well. Carolyn is author of a best-selling BC coastal gardening book, A Year on The Garden Path, and also sells coastally-adapted seeds (see her website at http://earthfuture.com/gardenpath/Lectures.htm for more information).

Admittedly, our rural island isn’t quite as affluent as the urbanized Vancouver Island market that Carolyn sells to, but it would be a huge accomplishment if local farmers could meet Texada’s needs for fresh produce in the winter. We could also export fresh produce to Powell River if the cost of distribution and marketing could be kept reasonable.

Which brings up another type of opportunity: cooperation among local farmers and eaters in the financing and operation of local food processing facilities, including possibly an abattoir. Texada has few land-use regulations that would get in the way of setting up a small-scale food-processing facility. But do we have the entrepreneurial spirit and financial resources capable of competing with the industrial food system? And could we do it in a way that wouldn’t endanger the livelihoods of our neighbours who work in our local grocery stores?

Food for thought, as they say.


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