We often hear that the average age of Canadian farmers is increasing while the number of farms decreases, suggesting a growing trend of farms being consolidated and a decline in young farmers either taking over the family business or starting on their own. And while the structure of the family farm has shifted in Canada, there are examples in Creston and District of new trends emerging: new investment and new systems being created to make farming a viable livelihood in our region.
Here in Creston we have many examples of family farms and orchards. The next generation, often my generation, is stepping up to take on the responsibilities of growing food, seeing the potential in what we have in the Creston – the heritage and the future.
Within the Fields Forward network, some of the young producers who are either taking over or are extending their family’s legacy include these three: Ada Browne and Jessica Birdsall – Herbada Farms, Money Smagh and Vic Herr – Kootenay Krisp Cherry and, Peter Martin – The Loca Orchard Juicing company.
I had the pleasure of working with Ada Browne last month for the Rapid Market Assessment of the Farmers’ Market. We spent the day asking people to share their Farmers’ Market habits – how often? when did they start coming? how much do they spend? – all as part of an effort to better understand the value the Market brings to the broader community. When mom Lisa and sister Jessica stepped into our booth, I had a brief conversation with Jessica about participating in the forming Regional District of Central Kootenay Food Policy council. Jessica’s experience in helping her family run the farm, her vision for how to support farmers in the region are the type of voice we need representing producers in the region – an important voice who is trying to balance being a producer and finding time for community.
This growing season, like the last several, has been a series of unexpected events – heat in June, rain in July and lots of wind and some hail in between. With each burst of rain during those weeks in July, my thoughts went to orchardists and what I imagined as the tension of making decisions about how to proceed: weighing the calculations of budget over potential loss and attempting to determine the risk. Having managed a small orchard, I am aware of the precarious nature of fruit growing, the challenges involved. Listening to the cherry-copters fly overhead and seeing the lights on late at night for the picking, I was curious about who is willing to make the commitment to grow these tender fruits.
So when I got a call from Vic saying that he and his family orchard wanted to contribute to what Fields Forward was working towards, I was interested to find out more about Vic and his cousin Money. Through conversations, I have learned that they are young people like myself who see the potential of food and farming as a means of engaging with community and are willing to commit time and energy to building local wealth and opportunity.
You may not know Vic Herr, he comes and goes from Vancouver with his family. You are more likely to know his cousin – Money Smagh, who lives here in Creston, grow cherries and have been busy renovating the home on Erickson Road this past summer. When I met first met with Money and Roop (his dad) Smagh, they were responding to the request Fields Forward put out to the community for a piece of land to put up a temporary campground to house orchard workers. When asked why they were interested in participating in this project, Money Smagh explained that although they contract their workers from Ken Shukin, they are investing further in Creston and see Fields Forward as an opportunity to learn more about how to do that well with the community.
Two weeks ago, the Fields Forward Labour Market group reviewed the efforts and lessons of the season. Money Smagh brought Peter Martin, another young orchardist who is building his cherry juice company – The Loca Orchard. Peter Martin says growing food is in his blood. He sees the potential of the Valley and is looking to expand his orchard and cherry juice operation.
This is where Fields Forward can be useful.
Fields Forward is interested in supporting food producers to add value, generate wealth and create jobs in the region. The Fields Forward Network can do this by investing in food processing equipment (fruit press, dehydrator, nutrition testing etc.), spaces (cold & dry storage, packing facilities) and systems (marketing and distribution) that can be communally used at a fraction of cost and an increase in efficiency compared to individually owned equipment. The long-term plan is to build a food venture collaborative that can serve the region as a whole.
Fields Forward is currently investigating the viability of purchasing and operating a mobile fruit press for the region. One came to the region last year from the Okanagan and was used by two local orchards to produce a shelf stable product that enabled them to sell juice in the spring. The press is able to work with almost any fruit or vegetable (we are starting with cherry culls, apples, pears, plums).
If you are interested in having your fruit pressed, please let us know. In order for the project to move forward, we need to know it will be useful to the community – if you are an orchardist (any size is fine) wanting to add value to your fruit, a pig farmer interested in using the leftover mash as feed, a packing house that wants to dispose of your cherry culls for free (ie. no tipping fees), have space for winter storage or are simply curious about what this is all about – please be in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org or 1 855 660 5432 ext. 423
Our goals are that the press will:
- build strong diverse social enterprises that respond to regional food and agricultural need
- create 5 new jobs: 2 permanent, 2 seasonal and one consultant
- support value-added innovation by offering a low cost service
- provide opportunities for community investment and input
- divert a significant amount of culls from bio-waste stream
- contribute and provide balance to annual food need
- provide long term core funding for Fields Forward