The snow from last month’s sudden storm may still be melting in the shadows of the Alberni Valley, but the Shelter Farm is already working on the spring growing season.
Farm staff and participants in the market gardener and youth community programs grow more than 70 different types of vegetables and herbs as well as berries and plums at the farm. These products provide food to the community in a variety of ways, says Guy Langlois, who oversees the farm on Franklin River Road. The farm is part of the Port Alberni Shelter Society group of services.
Food from the farm is distributed through the overdose prevention site on Third Avenue and Bute Street. Shelter Farm last year ran a community-supported agriculture produce box program that was well received. Island Health and Alberni Valley Transition Towns provided funding and administration, Langlois said. This year the farm will supply its own CSA boxes with the hope they will be able to include products from other farmers such as eggs, meat or grains.
(Shelter Farm is exclusively produce based at the moment, although long-term plans are to eventually incorporate chickens and goats, Langlois said.)
“We want to create a collective and collect food from other farmer to put in the box and distribute it. It takes cooperation. I think most people will be happy with it…It all works to grow a stronger farming community in the Alberni Valley.”
Members of the public will be able to buy full or half shares of the produce box, which will be distributed once a week for 21 weeks between June and October.
Shelter Farm is growing physically too. This year they are adding a food processing and production facility in a building on lower Third Avenue, which will include a small-scale commercial kitchen too. They have teamed with North Island College to offer a three-month Food Production and Processing program with Red Seal chef Vivian Cruise that starts March 8 and only had one spot left to fill in late February. The 15-week program will train applicants to work in the processing facility, including a six-week unpaid work placement.
“We want to be able to improve our service to the community and reduce the amount of waste from our farm and community food program,” Langlois said.
“This is going to be a community resource,” Langlois said of the processing facility. “Any farmers or market gardeners or our interns can make use of the facility.”
The Shelter Farm has been in discussions with the Port Alberni Port Authority over The Dock food hub on the waterfront, which features a commercial kitchen. The hope is to train people i how to use the commercial equipment. “The intention is to get or people trained so they can get employment there.”
The Shelter Farm will be selling plants and seedling kits at Spirit Square Farmers Market April 10, 17, 24 and May 1. To order a kit or to sign up for a produce box, call Langlois at 250-720-5177 or e-mail him at email@example.com.