This summer, I met with ten local farmers and left many fighting a lump in my throat. More than half are talking about getting out of farming. Fires, floods, wars, broken supply chains, pandemics, trade agreements, and inflation all threaten local, healthy and sustainable food. Gas prices have meant they think twice about starting up the tractor, the situation in the Ukraine means that the world’s largest supply of potash (potassium in fertilizer) has ground to a halt, and what there is out there is double the price from just five years ago. The cost of land has made farmland out of reach for most, the housing and labour shortage means farms can’t get help, and the pandemic prevented the import of seasonal workers that typically make up for the lack of local labour. The price of grain, feed, and every other input and tool is through the roof. BC’s chicken farmers are making next to nothing if they’re in a quota contract that set their sale price a few years ago. Many are on the verge of losing everything.
50% of the commercial farms on the Sunshine Coast have sold in the past 5 years – some were bought by new farmers, others are now estates, airbnb’s, retreat centres, or growing cannabis instead of food. As more local farmers – on the Coast and around BC – decide it’s just too hard to make it work, we slowly rely more and more on that precarious supply chain to bring food over the ocean from South America, China, and Mexico, which makes us even more vulnerable.
When young people want to get into farming and growing – and there’s an inspiring movement toward this – they have few choices. They either become a cog in the big wheel of Big Ag business, or they put everything on the line to buy a multi-million dollar farm, invest in hundreds of thousands for buildings, livestock, machinery and equipment, with no guarantee of a profit, are at the whim of climate change and every other hurdle, can’t take time off, and can’t put braces on their kids. They take all the risk to provide our dinner. I don’t know how many carrots and peas one has to grow to cover a million dollar loan, but it’s not adding up.
The farms that are in operation here on the Coast now grow some of the most beautiful meat and produce in the world! We just need MORE of it, and we need our farmers to thrive, because when they thrive, so do we.
There are ways we can get creative and build our resiliency.
Here are a few projects we’re taking on right now.
Our One Tiny Farm project, as cute and colourful as it is, is actually a pilot project for a “Farm Commons”. Our idea of a farm commons is that we’re given the use of land either as a gift or through a long term lease, and we use our charitable status as a funnel to build the infrastructure we need to get growing – barns, refrigeration, water systems and equipment. Then we can employ startup farmers, and give them living wages, vacations and benefits. They can be creative and crop plan together, and they can actually take time off when they’re sick, because there are others to feed the animals and harvest the carrots. Some will do well enough that they leave and buy land. Maybe we build a means for the farmers to actually co-own their share of that land over time. The point is that we have to think outside the field.
Growers tell us that they could be so much more efficient if they just had certain equipment. So we’re opening the Sunshine Coast Tool Library focused on farm & food, so that people can borrow tools and equipment to hatch eggs, pump huge volumes of water, juice 1000lb of apples, prepare a new section of land, plant thousands of seeds in an afternoon instead of over days, and preserve the fruit, veggie and meat bounty when it comes all at once with a big harvest.
When a local farm wants to do eggs, they have to order chicks or pullets from elsewhere in BC. It means a full day, truck, live birds in transport cages with heat, rain, and unreliable ferries. The Tool Library now has small incubators for your back yard (30 eggs), and a large commercial incubator to support actually creating a local supply (almost 300 eggs). Maybe just knowing that these kinds of tools are available to borrow might make someone inspired to take a chance on growing or foraging or canning their grandmother’s secret recipe, and using the Tool Library as a launch pad.
Maybe this also inspires others – maybe you – who have garages full of stuff used once a year. Maybe it makes more sense to donate those tools and equipment to the Tool Library, still use it whenever you want anyway, but then so can your neighbours, making our communities a little more sustainable.
This project brings together farms, food creators and you, where a dozen farms partner to get you your fresh produce every week. This summer we’ve packed up over 1800 boxes of food… most customers have pre-paid at the beginning of the season, which gave “seed money” to farmers to invest in infrastructure up front – irrigation, wash stations, greenhouses, equipment – so that they can scale up and grow more. Others are paying what they can, or none, and are picking up their foodboxes every week along with their neighbours, with dignity and equality. No separate lineups or programs just to feed their families, and no one knows if you were subsidized.
We can do so much when we team up and use our unique talents and skills and connections to accomplish great things.
We’re seeking funds to help build and scale up all these programs and more, and we’re looking to raise $100,000 in the next year so that we can bring in matching grant funds. The work we do isn’t for One Straw. it’s for you. It’s for your kids and your parents. It’s for our bellies and our planet. Please watch for more info, and you can donate here any time you feel inspired!
Because we operate grant to grant, consistent monthly revenue helps us be able to plan ahead, gives more security to be able to retain staff and pay the insurance, and makes our work more viable overall. Small monthly donations make all the difference in our work together! Join us here.
Thank you! Thanks for being here with us, and for jumping in where you can to make all this possible. It’s such an honour being able to do all this with you.