Heather Shobe, from left, Nancy Roussel, Kirsty Allen and Ann Marshall (background), Alberni Growers Collective members at their Spirit Square Farmers Market booth. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

PROGRESS 2019: Collective wisdom grows in Port Alberni

Small-scale growers take advantage of group dynamics to ‘grow’ business

MIKE YOUDS

SPECIAL TO THE NEWS

Small-scale agriculture is gaining ground in the Alberni Valley, responding to a growing interest in locally produced food, greater awareness of food security and the TLC of more than a few green thumbs.

The popularity of farmers markets is one sign of this healthy trend. Another is the emergence of urban growers collectives in Port Alberni and elsewhere in B.C. Unlike co-operatives, which are legally constituted, collectives are small and informal groups.

Alberni Growers Collective formed in 2018, the initiative of four local women who share a similar outlook.

“We just started tossing around ideas and it really has evolved organically,” said Heather Shobe.

Producing revenue from small-scale growing is hard work, she noted. Part of the collective advantage comes from the varied crops members grow, enabling them to offer an attractive array of produce weekly.

“We all have a slightly different forte,” said Shobe, who operates Eden Tree Farm and Gardening. “I guess it has really simplified our marketing process and expanded our resources.”

They’ve opted to keep the group small and manageable, learning as they went. A formal structure for tracking sales makes it manageable.

“It’s really important that you have clear communication with each other and good dynamics as a group,” said Shobe. She also works to support valley growing in her other job as an agricultural advisor with the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD).

“I was really happy to hear about another collective starting up,” she said. “We only have so much capacity. We have encouraged other people to start similar groups.”

“Gardeners are social,” said Kirsty Allen, another Alberni Growers member. “We give each other guidance and share the work. It’s a super fun group.”

Uptown Urban Farming Collective (UUFC) is an offshoot of the local advocacy group Women’s Food and Water Initiative. Flooded farms in the U.S. Midwest this spring prompted discussion of climate-related food supply impacts at the group’s AGM.

“I thought, why can’t we form a collective,” said Jen Fisher Bradley. “I think we are ready.”

Jen and her partner Stephen are ready, having operated Mirabel Farm on Fourth Avenue for the past dozen years. In recent years, they’ve adapted to changing conditions, notably a drier season, by adopting permaculture methods and collecting locally acclimatized seeds. Through WFWI, they lobbied for the city’s urban market garden bylaw, which allows the sale of backyard produce. Each spring, WFWI hosts Seedy Saturday, a seed swap and shrub sale based in part on a belief in the importance of genetic variety.

A single urban residential garden wouldn’t be enough to fill a table at every weekend farmers market, but four “urban farms” working and planning in co-operation can, said Fisher Bradley. They share resources, whether in the form of materials or knowledge.

“And this year is a bit of an experimental year because we’re seeing how we do together,” she said. “What do we produce and how much? Each of us has limited space.”

Over the last 30 years, urban farming has evolved into a global movement that seeks to reconnect city dwellers with their food supply in the age of the factory farm. In the face of declining crop yields and rising prices, the cause has assumed greater urgency.

“We’re making a statement,” Fisher Bradley said, a statement about the vulnerability of a food system that is increasingly threatened by climatic extremes.

“We want to be ready, and of course, we want to inspire others to take similar action because every little bit of food we can grow here is food we don’t have to bring to the Island. That’s mitigation, but it’s also adaptation because we’re readying ourselves for the inevitable.

“Before, I didn’t think of it as an emergency, but now we’re in an emergency,” she added. “It just felt like it was the right timing. I suppose we’re becoming a little bit more serious about it.”

•••

Mike Youds is a Port Alberni freelance journalist and a member of the Uptown Urban Farming Collective.

Just Posted

Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District approves one cannabis store, denies another

Stores would have been located across the street from one another in Cherry Creek

UPDATED: Taylor Flats wildfire in the Alberni Valley under control

Fire is located close to Highway 4 near Sproat Lake

EDITORIAL: Plastics ban needs to start from the top

The more people talk about the plastics ban, the more it may catch on elsewhere…

West Coast Amateur in Port Alberni a success

Top overall winner, with a gross score of 140, was Derek Reid from Arbutus Ridge

ARTS AROUND: Last call for cruise ship vendors

Last cruise ship arrives in the Alberni Inlet on July 6

VIDEO: Sproat Lake Fire Department demonstrates sprinkler safety

Demonstration only took 3-5 minutes to create a deadly scenario where no one could survive

B.C.-born Carey Price brings young fan to tears at NHL Awards banquet

Anderson Whitehead first met his hockey idol after his mother died of cancer

Licence issue delays boozing while cruising on BC Ferries

Planned June launch for alcohol sales delayed

Nanaimo a prime market for new plane, Air Canada says

Vice-president previews Airbus A220, praises Nanaimo’s growth in passenger numbers

B.C. school mourns after 13-year-old killed by fallen tree on field trip

Teenager died after being struck and pinned by tree while on a field trip near Sooke

RCMP deploys special unit in Comox Valley to combat organized crime

Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit spends four days targeting organized crime in Courtenay

B.C. temporarily halts resource development to protect caribou

The caribou population in northeastern B.C. has dwindled over the last two decades

Students disciplined after anti-LGBTQ signs posted in Kamloops high school

Vessy Mochikas, SD73’s principal for inclusive education, called incident a learning opportunity

Most Read