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Growing Up Organic Salt Spring Island

Local Growing Up Organic Sites
Winnipeg, MB Perth-Waterloo-Wellington, ON Ottawa, ON
Salt Spring Island, BC

Project Update: April 15, 2010

Context

Salt Spring Island developed an area farm plan in 2008. There are 13,000 acres of farmland on the island with about 9,600 acres being actively farmed. The goal of Island Natural Grower's (COG ING) Growing Up Organic (GUO) project is to increase the percentage of land under active agricultural production, to improve production methods and their ecological footprint and to improve the Island's food security. More specifically, COG ING has been working with farmers on the island to develop a system of production and distribution to replace some of the imported food that has dominated the food services in area institutions. Since 2008, over fifty-three farmers, representing forty-two farms, have participated in the Growing Up Organic project.

The COG ING Growing Up Organic initiative has focussed on four key areas: giving local organic farmers the skills and training they need to scale up and improve product quality; developing the infrastructure for coordinated ordering and distribution; markets development and developing opportunities for value-added processing.

Recently, as part of a project funded by the Organic Sector Development Fund of the British Columbia Government, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Advancing Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food (ACAAF) program, and the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, the project has developed a business plan which was needed to map out a viable future for the project.

Below, we've outlined the main project accomplishments to date for each of the key focus areas

 

Farmer Outreach and Training

Since the project started in 2008, COG ING has organized eleven farmer meetings to discuss ways of increasing organic production, to develop and review operatoring procedures, explore value-added opportunities, develop pricing standards and to organize farmer training opportunities. The project hosted six farmer workshops  which have enabled 118 farmers to learn about post harvest handling methods, succession planting, running a farm business, general organic production methods, improving soil health and starting a new market garden. COG ING's focus on farmer training is paying off in terms of increased production and improved product quality. Organic production on the island is up about 15% since the project's inception and farmers are preparing to scale up even more for the 2010 production season.

 

Infrastructure Development

As part of developing a new business enterprise, COG ING had to develop the bookeeping, financial management, weekly ordering and delivery systems from scratch. An effective system is now in place where buyers place weekly orders in the same way they would for international deliveries and they receive one delivery, along with a single invoice that identifies the individual farm source for each produce item. A farm produce list that is updated weekly is made available to purchasers the week the order is made and buyers also receive profiles of each of the farmers. This Growing Up Organic project has spent a considerable amount of effort working with farmers to develop a wholesale price list that will enable farmers to make a profit (see business plan).

Farmers have been given fact sheets that synthesize topics discussed at the farmer meetings, including, farm practices, on-farm produce curing and storage, on-farm safe food handling practices, and handling produce for market. A centralized farm to buyer distribution system has been developed and implemented and feedback from farmers and purchasers suggests that this system has been effective and it has decreased the amount of time that farmers spend on these activities. The distribution system involves 37 farmers and has established regular deliveries of farm produce to Gulf Islands Secondary School, the Meadowbrook Seniors Residence and a selection of area restaurants. A new business plan has been developed which identifies funding sources to maintain the distribution network.

 

Institutional Outreach

To date, seven presentations have been made to the region's institutions and community organizations. Farm tours have also  provided an important opportuntity for institutions and island residents to connect directly with Salt Spring Island farmers. A six-week work experience placement was developed to enable high school students to explore farming as a career option and a school demonstration garden was established to help a larger number of highschool students learn about soils and organic production methods.

The Gulf Islands Secondary School teamed with COG ING in an effort to increase marketing opportunities for organic farmers and to provide local organic food for youth. Through this initiative, the school has implemented a new type of culinary program where only locally grown organic ingredients are used. Students learn the importance of locally produced goods and appreciate the fresh flavor. Students in the culinary program share their talents with others at their Secondary School by providing a full menu during lunch hour – ranging from daily soups, hot sandwiches, fresh veggies, fresh baked bread, and even dessert! Through the culinary program, students have hosted a number of community dinners featuring food direct from local organic farmers.

A first for  the national Growing Up Organic project, a  housing facility for senior citizens (Meadowlands) is now providing its residents with organic foods.

 

Value-Added Processing

COG ING developed a  value-added feasibility study in March 2009 in consultation with over 30 farmers participating in the local Growing Up Organic project. The goal in providing value-added opportunties to local organic farmers was to increase farm income, to diversify and make the best use of locally grown organic produce, and to contribute to the development of a stronger, more sustainable local organic food system. The need for more small scale food processing in the region was identified by the Capital region Food and Agriculture Roundtable.

Currently, only a very small number and volume of Salt Spring Island agricultural products are commercially processed, including organic Jersey milk, which is processed into cheeses, and apples, which are processed into pies and dried apple chips. A small quantity of herbs and other farm-grown products are processed at a very small scale into products sold at the Saturday market.

The study concluded that a collaborative venture makes more sense than many individual farms doing their own processing. It suggested starting slowly and developing and testing products using an incubator approach.

 

Project Update June 4, 2008

As “eating local” becomes a mantra in ever-widening circles of people in many communities we know that the demand for local food far exceeds the supply. In 2005, Island Natural Growers (ING), the Gulf Islands Chapter of the Canadian Organic Growers, conducted a study which showed that we are growing only about 5% of the produce that people on Salt Spring eat in a year (click here to get the study). In response, ING developed a series of workshops aimed at helping commercial growers to increase production.

To find out whether this series of workshops had any impact on production levels, we interviewed the growers to see if crop production levels in 2007 had increased since the baseline study was done in 2005.  We discovered that vegetable production had increased by an estimated 18% by weight without a corresponding increase in acreage, suggesting more intensive production and increased efficiencies (click here to get workshop report).

We are now embarking on the "Growing Up Organic" project. This summer and fall ING will be working with two institutions—the Gulf Islands Secondary School and Meadowbrook, a seniors housing facility—and farmers on the island to develop a coordinated and collaborative system of production and distribution for replacing at least some of the imported food that currently dominates the food service in these institutions.

Contact information:

Pat Reichert , GUO Project Coordinator
Tel.: (250) 537.4282

Sponsors:

This project was funded in part by:

 

 

Organic Sector Development Program Strategic Initiative

 

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