Fun, locally grown food, and educating yourself about the benefits of local farms are behind Family Farms Day.
The free family event takes place on Sunday, Sept. 15, and involves a tour of 11 farms throughout the Alberni Valley.
“This is an opportunity for local residents to tour some of the local farms and connect the food they eat with who grows it,” said Parks and Recreation spokesperson Karen Freethy.
Parks and Recreation is one of four partners who organize this three-year-old initiative. The other partners include Alberni Valley Transition Towns, Coastal Community Credit Union and the Vancouver Island Health Authority.
The farms are located all over the Alberni Valley but are mostly concentrated in Beaver Creek and Cherry Creek, Freethy said.
The event has grown from five farms participating three years ago to 11 farms today.
Farms still fall within the parks and rec mandate, Freethy said.
“Our mandate is healthy living and farms fit within the food focus of that.
“They are part of the whole quality of life.”
Farming also fits within parks and rec programs about food preparation and preservation. Freethy added.
Former parks and rec employee Diane Mayba initially brainstormed the project then worked with Freethy doing public outreach and partner advocacy, Freethy said. “She was really passionate about local food.”
Jan Carter has operated a sheep farm in the Alberni Valley since the 1990s, and sells her goods from the farm and at the Port Alberni Farmers’ Market. Buying local is important to Carter and she buys her meat and dairy from other local farms, she said.
Carter has been aware of the Family Farms Day initiative since its inception but only joined for the first time this year. “It’s an opportunity to show people farms so they realize what they are and what they provide,” Carter said. “People need to be aware that food is available and that it is good quality.”
Increased food awareness is leading to a resurgence in farming, said Jon Bell, the president of the BC Farm Markets Association.
“Anytime there is an issue with food then people become aware of it broadly and quickly through media,” Bell said. “Everyone these days wants to know where your food is from, who grew it and how it was treated.”
An aging farm population and high land cost have thus far dissuaded younger people from taking up farming, but that’s beginning to change, Bell said.
“There’s a whole new generation that is starting to look at farming as a lifestyle they would value,” he said. “It’s like the back-to-the-land movement of the 1960s and 1970s but it’s another generation that’s doing it.”
The association added 25 more farmers markets to its rolls – most of them in urban areas, a testament to an increase in the popularity of farming.
“I used to say it felt like I was riding a wave but it’s turning into a tidal wave,” Bell said.
Brochures and maps for the Family Farms Day can be picked up at Echo Centre, Coastal Community Credit Union, the Port Alberni Health Unit, Naesgaard’s Farm Market and the Saturday Farmer’s Market.