Thursday 9 February 2012

Growing Young Farmers

We are awfully lucky in this little corner of the world.  Our valley is located within Canada’s only Maritime Mediterranean climate zone.  The average temperature here from June until August is 23˚C (73˚F).  December to January, it’s 6˚C (42˚F).  We have 155 frost free days a year.  In addition to our mild weather, we are blessed with good soil, plenty of sunshine (more than any other area on the island), and enough rain to help our crops to grow and flourish.

The Cowichan Valley is home to many small holding farms, producing a wide variety of foods ranging from beautiful asparagus to water buffalo milk for mozzarella.  We can dine on locally made cheeses, pastas made entirely from local ingredients, locally made balsamic vinegars, locally produced sea salt.  We grow tea in our valley and barley for island-distilled Scotch whiskey.  We are the second largest wine producing area in the province.

Despite our wonderful growing conditions and the variety of foods we produce, farming in our area has declined sharply in recent decades.  In 1969, Vancouver Island produced almost 70% of the food its residents consumed.  Now we produce less than 5%. So little that, if we were cut off from outside supplies, we would be able to feed ourselves for only three days. 

Food security is a big subject of discussion in this community.  We want to move towards increasing food production but the politics surrounding the subject are complex.  I don’t pretend to understand them all.  What I do know is that we have a dedicated group within our community who are working toward the goal of improving our food security.

Last week the Islands Agriculture Show took a step towards encouraging farmers in our area.  It was a tradeshow covering many aspects of farming from start-up through production and business management, through to the process of ensuring smooth succession from one generation to the next.  It was fascinating to me.  There were exhibits from the ministries of agriculture and environment, from banks and accountants, from fertilizer companies and organic growers, tractor companies, feed sellers, large holding farmers and small holding farmers.  

There was a good turn out for the show—about 1500 people—and a huge amount of information on offer.  I picked up so many brochures that they’ve provided me with hours of reading this week.   What struck me most, though, was the number of young families and school children in attendance.  I found it encouraging to see so many kids.

Seeing so many young people at the show made me particularly interested to learn about the Growing Young Farmers Society.  The society’s goal is to encourage programs in which children grow health-friendly food, in food growing areas within the school grounds or within easy walking distance of their schools, as part of the school’s regular curriculum. 

Growing Young Farmers seeks to involve youths in the growing and production of food on a substantial scale, in a structured, supervised, and mentored program.  Mentors are experienced farmers or gardeners who also have experience in supervising or teaching school-age students.

Although the Growing Young Farmers Society is newly founded, requests from school principals and teachers who wish to have their students participate in the program are increasing in number.  In order for the programs to grow and flourish, the society is in need of a number of things: 
  • Volunteers – The society is in need of grower-educators and volunteers to fulfill various other roles within the program
  • Sponsorship from local businesses
  • Assistance with grant applications

If you are interested in helping out or would like more information about the society, Dave Friend—the founding chair—has a website at  You can contact Dave by phone at (250) 704-6602 or by email at

The society’s address is:
Growing Young Farmers Society (#S-0058820)
7159 Wallace Drive
Brentwood Bay, BC
V8M 1G9

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