Green harvest: Awareness is growing for farming in Delta
While the Lower Mainland has exploded in development over the past few decades, South Delta's corn and potato fields are once again basking in October harvest sunshine.
The rich and fertile sunbelt of Ladner and Tsawwassen have been preserved in the Agricultural Land Reserve, providing nearby urban areas with delicious, fresh, organic, environmentally-friendly choices for their dinner tables.
Leading the way in agricultural education and preservation is the Earthwise Garden Society, located in Tsawwassen since 2007.
The Society runs a 65-space community allotment garden, provides an ecological demonstration garden, and farms a two-acre certified organic field, which they're busy harvesting for cucumbers, squash, and other veggies.
"Basically the purpose of the farm is to reestablish where our food comes from and inspire young people in careers that are food related," says Patricia Fleming, executive director of the Society.
Both the garden and the farm are used for teaching horticulture and pollination to children in the Delta School District.
Kids take field trips to do hands-on activities that helps them learn and connect to their environment.
And although they produce like a real farm, the primary goal is to help people learn about farming.
"Awareness is really growing," says Fleming. "We've found a lot of interest in our organics."
People are becoming more aware of agriculture commodities and what it takes to put food on the table of British Columbians, she adds.
The Society has a volunteer-run Farm Store open Wednesdays from 3-6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10-2. Proceeds go to support education programs.
"The comments we get from people visiting the food store is how good everything tastes."
Becoming bee aware
The Society benefits local farmers as well—their signature Feed the Bees program started due to the interest of farmers.
Bee populations in North America are on the decline, even though demand for pollinators has increased. Bees are imported during certain times of food production to help with pollination, but if a food source isn't provided year-round, the bees can die off.
By having homeowners plant with bee habitat in mind, it will keep the pollinating colonies intact, says Fleming.
"People are a little afraid of bees but the reality is most people don't get stung. They're just focused on their work."
Earthwise works with the Delta School District to provide a high school credit called "Sustainable Resources Agriculture" which includes bee education.
And Fleming says they're looking to provide a bee garden tour of South Delta homes next spring.
Lauren Munden, communications manager with the Corporation of Delta, says Delta has a Mason Bee Box program to promote pollination.
The Corp implemented a mason bee demonstration project at municipal hall in 2010, and have since added three more at Rotary Park, Ernie Burnett Park and Diefenbaker Park, as well as one in the Delta Nature Reserve.
"We see this as very important, too, and many of Delta's existing natural areas, parks, and landscaping, and our rain gardens, have plants that support these native bees," says Munden.
The Delta Chamber of Commerce and Earthwise Society went before council in the spring to ask the Corporation to look into ensuring that the parks department plants bee-supporting species of flowers.
Education on agriculture
Delta is seeking permission from the ministry of education to purchase 20 acres of farmland on 56th St. on the former site of the Tsawwassen School Reserve for $1.2 million. The site is currently being leased by Snow Farms for soil-based organic farming.
The Corporation will put a restricted covenant on the property to maintain its purpose.
Delta's agricultural plan was approved in October of last year with the help of an agricultural advisory committee.
"The purpose of that was to help support agriculture in our community and integrate farming more closely with the community," says Munden, adding that plan is still in the implementation phase.
The plan includes promoting active farm use on land within the Agricultural Land Reserve, provide mentorship opportunities, improve irrigation, and undertake public education and awareness initiatives.
The Corporation has also included the environmentally-sensitive Burns Bog wetlands into the Delta School District curriculum for Grade 7 students.
Sharon Ellis, owner of Westham Island Herb Farm, also sees her business as an educational opportunity.
"I wanted people to know how it comes out of the ground and not just off the shelf," she says.
Ellis' organic farm was opened in 1994, a break from the traditional farming her family has done on the island since 1916.
Prior to 1994 she sold pumpkins in front of her house each October and made the display a little bigger every year.
"I realized I could only sell pumpkins one month out of the year so I decided I better expand," she says laughing.
She opened a greenhouse in 1994 and started with herbs, vegetables and fresh cut flowers.
The first year Ellis was lucky if she'd sell one vegetable plant. Now, it composes 50 per cent of plant sales in the spring. People are changing their lawns and flowerbeds into vegetable gardens.
"What I've really noticed in the last two years is people growing their own food," she says.
Ellis is always trying out new crops and ideas. Some ideas work and some don't. When she started growing artichokes she didn't know what to expect, but they've taken off.
And although farmers still use pesticides, she thinks organics are more popular now. As an organic farmer, she takes the good with the bad. Meaning some crops will be eaten by pests.
That's part of the education process, as well.
"I know everybody can't farm the way I farm, but if I can get the person who goes to the grocery store to think about that, it's important.
"It gets people onto the farm, they see it growing, and maybe some of it sinks in."
Ellis also participates at Delta's annual Day at the Farm event, which educates people about the importance of agriculture not only for food production, but in preserving habitat for wildlife.
Indeed, not only is Westham Island home to some of the richest diversity of bird species in Western Canada, Great Blue Herons can be seen waddling through farmers fields.
Her business thrives because it's close to Vancouver and the Reifel Bird Sanctuary. But she's not in it for the money.
"The land is worth so much money here. I can make a go at it but I'm not getting rich."
Ellis keeps farming for many reasons.
Born and raised on the island, she loves her job and wants people to see how important it is to keep farmland in the ALR.
"And we're going to lose it if we don't," she says.
"This is the greatest agricultural land there is. And to see it paved over... that wouldn't be right."