North Island food! The bounty harvested from gardens, forests, and seas around and on the northern third of Vancouver Island. Barbecued salmon, sauteed wild mushrooms, mashed potatoes, huckleberry sorbet, wild blackberry jam, garden salad, fish and chips, honey, vegetable soup… What’s not to like?
Interest in local food is undergoing a resurgence. There are a number of reasons why: taste, nutrition, health, community building, climate change, culture, history. Plus, increasing local food production and consumption is one easy way to improve the local economy. A regional approach to local food suits the North Island because when it comes to factors affecting our food supply — climate, weather, soils, transportation — this region is united. And despite our many micro-climates, when it comes to growing food, our communities have much more in common with each other than with anyone else. We know this from our experience, which is verified by readily available facts documented by Environment Canada in its climate normals statistics (1971-2000 averages).
They tell us much greater excess rainfall and generally much lower temperature and sunshine defines our difference from the rest of the island and the Sunshine Coast. This is very significant for how, when and what we grow and harvest.
The key to increasing and improving local food production is local knowledge — sharing the large body of existing knowledge and building on that knowledge with experimentation and innovation.
In contrast to local knowledge, we are reminded of the approach taken at a meeting some years ago. An expert from the interior agricultural mainland was sent (at considerable taxpayer expense) to tell us in eloquent and painstaking detail how to convert a piece of fertile, flat grassland with deep soil into a garden. Everyone was too bemused or too polite to point out that our land was either forest, with a hummocky surface produced by fallen trees, or bulldozed post-extraction land with subsoil at the surface more often than not.
Perhaps we thought that this was all part of the complete lack of knowledge or understanding by the powers that be of the North Island environment.
In this column in the upcoming months we will hit the road to explore and share local knowledge about local food. We will learn from the groups and individuals who are actively working to re-create and sustain a healthy, vibrant, local, shared food culture.
One such initiative is the North Island Farmer’s Market — formerly the Port McNeill Farmer’s Market — founded in 2012. It’s a great place to get involved as a seller or consumer. Do you have the space and time to grow something to sell at the market? Now’s the time to plan and plant for it. Not growing your own food? Plan to stop by the market this spring and summer and pick up fresh locally produced vegetables, fruit, herbs, eggs, bread, jams. This year’s market dates and times will be available soon; check their Facebook page for the latest information and an ongoing discussion about food security.
North Island food sovereignty, it’s the bee’s knees!
David Lang and Dawn Morehead are founding members of Grassroots Garden Society.