Helping island farmers get to market

Artisan cheeses from Salt Spring Island and Hornby Island jams sell like hotcakes at farmers’ markets.

But what are the challenges and opportunities for B.C. Gulf Island farmers and food producers to get their goods to market?

To find out, six undergraduates from the Faculty of Land and Food Systems (LFS) explored the nuts and bolts of local food distribution as part of their community service learning project. The student team focused on 13 Gulf Islands between B.C.’s mainland and Vancouver Island, along with Cortes and Quadra Island.

The project turned out to be a major highlight of their third-year “Land, Food and Community” course, say team members Victoria Elliot, Amanda Hunter, Keely Johnston, Kim Lucas, Catherine Montes and Brianna Stewart.

“Combining hands-on learning with research was an amazing experience,” says Hunter, a nutritional sciences major. “It gave me a better understanding of food marketing and I feel like I have an insider’s view.”

To gather data, the students sent out surveys to more than 100 farmers this past winter. They received a response rate of 30 per cent. Results showed that most of the farmers on B.C.’s Gulf Islands see a need for better food distribution.

Currently, the farmers sell their products mostly at the farm gate, followed by local farmers’ markets and retail outlets. Their most commercially successful products are vegetables, fruit, eggs and bottled products such as jams and pickles, along with meat products and hay.

“A major theme was the desire to expand upon cooperative transport and food distribution networks through collective efforts,” says Lucas, a third-year dietetics student.

For example, 79 per cent of survey respondents expressed a strong interest in a growers association or co-operatives. Other recommendations include a transport system with central distribution points and warehouses, and a small-scale box program which requires consumers to pay the farmer a set price in the spring in exchange for a weekly box of produce through the season.

“Farmers are looking to sell their products more effectively, especially at off-island markets,” says Lucas. “However, they face major logistical barriers such as cost, marketing, time, regulations and ferry prices.”

As part of their project, the student team also helped Don and Shanti McDougall, owners of Mayne Island’s Deacon Vale Farm, look further into their dream of starting a local store. The couple aim to sell their own and other farmers’ produce as well as grocery items and products such as chutneys and jams.

Applying theory to real-life situations was invaluable, says Stewart, who’s in the applied biology program. “We got to have conversations with people actually involved in the food system, outside of the university context. This project made me realize that I have a passion for the marketing side of food.”

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UBC Reports | Vol. 57 | No. 6 | Jun. 2, 2011

Kim Lucas (left) and Keely Johnston (right) loved the hands-on learning in their third-year "Land, Food and Community" course. Martin Dee Photograph

Kim Lucas (left) and Keely Johnston (right) loved the hands-on learning in their third-year "Land, Food and Community" course. Martin Dee Photograph

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UBC Farm Market

The adventurous buy garlic scapes or Jerusalem artichokes. Others stick to staples like organic eggs, peas, chard and kale. The UBC Farm Market on UBC Vancouver’s South Campus has become a popular destination for Saturday shoppers who like their produce locally grown and organic – not to mention great tasting.

Difficult to believe then that UBC Farm Market began as a class project at the Faculty of Land and Food Systems. In 2001, Rosy Smit and Barb de Cook, third-year agriculture science students, received approval from the Faculty and their profs to develop a small market garden at UBC Farm. They succeeded.

Over the years, the garden-scale project has grown to the production-scale operation it is today. As a working farm that integrates teaching and research, UBC’s Centre for Sustainable Food Systems now hosts upwards of 60 courses and dozens of research projects. UBC Farm produces more than 250 varieties of vegetables, berries, herbs, fruits, flowers, eggs, honey, and agroforestry products through its 24-hectare mosaic of cultivated fields, orchards, pasture for cattle and chickens, apiaries, teaching gardens, and forest stands.

Mark Bomford, director of the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, notes that, “Last year, sales were 30 times higher than what they were in 2001 when Barb and Rosy started the first on-farm market.”

UBC Farm Market Hours

The UBC Farm Market runs
Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
from June to October.

UBC Farm Market Campus Days

Market sales on campus take place in front of the UBC Bookstore on Wednesdays, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

For more information, visit: www.landfood.ubc.ca/ubcfarm

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