March 24, 2008
The Local Grain Revolution
A network of farmers, millers, bakers and eaters, has formed to launch Canada's first Community Supported Agriculture project for grain.
An increasing number of Canadians are now wishing to adopt a more local diet. However, the overwhelming rise in demand in just this past year has left a large question mark hovering over the heads of many; where exactly is all this local food so many are demanding?
Farming and food production in North America have consolidated and industrialized with such vigour, that there is little infrastructure and few incentives for those interested to respond to this demand for local food.
While fruits and vegetables may be the most easily accessible options, grains are not often identified when seeking out foods grown close to home. When revealing which plant-based foods we're still missing out on, we can list off wheat, oats, barley, rye, spelt, flax, hemp, corn, beans and lentils. While most of these crops are grown on the Prairies or outside of the country, there was once a time when grains were grown from coast-to-coast.
One of these locations was the Creston Valley. The valley was once a significant producer of wheat, however, today the valley is home to fruit orchards, canola, a handful of small livestock operations, hay, and fallow land. Overlooking the valley, stand a few grain elevators, which harkens back to the time when it was economical to grow wheat and other grains.
That is about to change.
In August 2007, Nelson resident Matt Lowe participated in an Eat Local Challenge, which saw him devote one day a week to eating foods that originated from within 100-miles from his home. It was this that led him to begin thinking of the Creston Valley as an ideal place to grow grain. "After doing the 100-Mile Diet, I quickly realized that grain was something I was very dependent upon, and I couldn't get it locally" said Lowe.
Through his role with the West Kootenay EcoSociety, Lowe linked up with Brenda Bruns of Creston's Wildsight – another conservation group operating in the Southeastern corner of the province.
Both Lowe and Bruns clearly saw the reasons why grain to supply a local market was not already available: Creston farmers simply can't compete with the low-priced grain coming from Canada's prairies.
However, things have changed in recent years, and consumers have become far more willing to pay more in exchange for investing in a secure local food supply.
In response, Lowe and Bruns have chosen a model of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). "We chose the CSA Model because we didn't want to make the mistakes of the past, and that is to have bankrupt farmers," said Lowe.
The CSA model is quite revolutionary. It presents a more secure system that can allow for greater control and responsibility over our food choices.
A CSA involves members of a community linking up with a farmer(s) and becoming a member of the farm. Through membership, the farmer receives a financial commitment at the beginning of the year, and is ensured a market come harvest. This is substantially different from the more common scenario whereby farmers are paid at the end of the year, and only if they produce a good crop. In this case, the model passes on some of the risks of farming to the members.
For the Nelson-Creston grain CSA, the project is pretty simple: Three Creston-area farmers have committed to growing 3-4 types of grain in the upcoming season. Two-hundred member shares will be issued to area residents, and following harvest, members will hopefully receive 100lbs of whole grains. If members wish their grains to be milled, a miller in Creston and Nelson will be available each week to turn those grains into flour or flakes.
This is where the availability of local grain gets so exciting. Few Canadians are aware that virtually all flour available in grocery stores is rancid. Not long after a grain is milled into flour, the germ loses its vitamin E and nutritive properties found within the oils. Rancid flour is hard to detect because we've simply become so accustomed to it.
The future potential of this project is generating a lot of excitement. Without any advertising, most of the two-hundred shares have already been committed to, and a buzz is moving through the farming community.
One of the three committed farmers for this season is Drew Gailius, and he has already heard from many other farmers in the area. "There's definitely an interest," said Gailius. "For farmers, being able to sell [a crop] at a reasonable price is an issue, and the CSA is great for that. It's a real positive thing for farmers".
Deconstructing Dinner will be documenting the evolution of the CSA, and you can expect to hear more about this innovative project on the air and in columns to come.
Deconstructing Dinner is heard on radio stations across Canada and is available as a Podcast. More information on today's topic can be found at (www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner/thelocalgrainrevolution.htm).
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