Guy Langlois, instructor with the new market gardener training program, at Shelter Farm off Franklin River Road. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

New farm program in Alberni serves as model for sustainable agriculture

Partnership between Port Alberni Shelter Society and North Island College will grow young farmers

BY MIKE YOUDS

Special to the News

While an old acreage off Franklin River Road remains buried under six inches of snow, Shelter Farm is about to bear fruit.

A market gardener training program, a partnership between Port Alberni Shelter Society and North Island College, will be turning what was a fallow field into a productive farm in the coming months. Instructor Guy Langlois has all but filled the class with local students, youths who may be green at farming but keen to join a new generation of farmers.

“Yes, they’re going to change the world,” said instructor Guy Langlois. “They’re going to change the community. We’re going to increase food production exponentially.”

The training program was established last year with a $94,600 grant from BC Rural Dividend, which assists rural communities of 25,000 or less. More than a dozen youths (age 15 to 29) have enrolled in the eight-month course, and will begin classroom training March 18.

“This is the first university college to offer this,” Langlois said.

Before the program could get off the ground, they needed to set up a farm to provide the hands-on experiential learning beyond classroom instruction. Craig Bowerman leased the 15-acre property, fallow since he bought it 15 years ago, for the nominal sum of $1 a year. A $110,000 test grant from the Vancouver Foundation has helped to bring the farm into operation.

“What they look for is projects that will bring change, system change initiatives,” Langlois said.

“The system we’re trying to change is agriculture. Youth are not engaging in food cultivation as they once did. Farmers, averaging in their late 50s in Canada, are aging out of the field, often with no one left to run the family farm.”

This greying of agriculture was identified as one of the biggest challenges in the ACRD’s agricultural plan, completed last year. The training is designed to identify and overcome barriers confronting young agrarians. While it’s open to everyone, youth participants can have their tuition fee covered.

Langlois will give a talk on the social enterprise and horticultural therapy at Alberni Valley Seedy Saturday on Saturday, March 16 at Char’s Landing.

“We’re looking at small-scale farming. B.C. has a lot, but market gardening is a different way of looking at crop growing using micro plots,” he said. “You’re maximizing yield over a smaller area.”

He cited the example of Jean-Martin Fortier, a Quebec farmer, educator and author who has inspired others to growing organic and biologically intensive cropping practices. Fortier earns $150,000 a year from 15 acres. Les Fortiers, a reality-based TV show, has popularized his example.

Langlois had no problem selling produce from the first season’s trial plots. Local restaurateurs were happy to snap up his fresh produce — tomatoes, turnips, carrots, radishes and greens. This year, his students will be selling the produce at local farmers markets. As future entrepreneurs, they could be eligible for low-interest start-up loans through the business development bank, providing the necessary means to start their own farms. They also have access to mentors through the program.

“The opportunity is fantastic,” Langlois said. “Everybody is excited about it. I know this is a huge opportunity for the community.”

He plans to document the program and develop online learning opportunities as well. Other campuses in Courtenay and on the west coast are watching the Port Alberni initiative unfold with an interest in starting their own market gardener training.

“We’re going to develop farmers here, but they’re going to be ambassadors as well.”

The acreage, an ancient peat bog that was tilled for generations, contains highly productive soil due to 65 percent organic matter.

“It’s the best soil in the valley,” Langlois said. “From our trials last year, everything grows phenomenally.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Social media a blessing and a curse during time of crisis: B.C. communication expert

‘In moments of crisis, fear is very real and palpable,’ says SFU’s Peter Chow-White

COVID 19: Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, other First Nations mobilize resources

Some Indigenous communities are enacting emergency measures to cope during pandemic

North Island College brings marine training to Port Alberni

Marine Training instructor Captain Harry Johnston joins NIC team

COVID-19: Isolation exemptions to frontline workers a danger to patients, say Island Health employees

Staff exempt from self-isolation upon return from international travel according to Island Health

An ongoing updated list of Alberni Valley events affected by COVID-19

Has your event been cancelled or postponed? Check here

Evening world update: U.S. restrictions extended 30 days; NY deaths near 1,000

Comprehensive world update, with the latest developments in the COVID-19 crisis

‘Nothing concrete’: Tenants, landlords lack details after B.C. unveils COVID-19 rental aid

Single mom in Golden says she’s already going to the food bank after being laid off

Canada will make sure masks sent by China meet quality standards: Trudeau

Chinese Embassy tweeted that China was sending 30,000 medical masks along with gowns, gloves and goggles

B.C. issues guidelines about distancing, reusable bags to grocery stores amid COVID-19

Hand sanitizer and markers to keep lines two metres are apart are needed, province says

No plans to call in military right now to enforce COVID-19 quarantine: Trudeau

Trudeau unveils $7.5M for Kids Help Phone, $9M for vulnerable seniors amid COVID-19

QUIZ: How much do you know about the Olympics?

Put your knowledge to the test with these 12 questions

B.C. is seeing the highest rate of COVID-19 recovery in Canada, and there’s a few reasons why

British Columbia was one of the first to see rise in COVID-19 cases, and has also switched up testing

Most Read