Collins Farm Food Group Gathering

Below is an account of the Gathering held by the Collins at their farm and campground.


Collins Farm Tour, Sept. 23rd 2009
Our farm tour and meeting for the TTPA Food Group with Mike Lewis, was a success and well attended. Julie Clarke brought some more teachers as guests for the event, those being Sarah Williams, Stephanie Hopkins and Erin Watkins. The teachers were a great addition to our day!

Besides Bob and Ann Collins, we were later joined by farmers Vicki Lee, Bill Thomson “Farmer Bill,” and Bob Haynes. Generously helping with the meal preparation for our event, was agricultural apprentice Tuula Rebhahn from Eugene, Oregon. Tuula is working and learning at the Collins Farm. Ann and Bob Collins brought us together with some introductory remarks, then led us on the circuit of the grounds. Our tour took us first to the stables, where we could view the beautiful horses and the cute donkeys. Next stop was the pig pen, and below that the vegetable rows and greenhouse. The greenhouse was full of vine tomatoes, and in the garden row outside, were leafy vegetables, many ripening tomatoes, a pumpkin patch and stand of corn.

Beyond that along the fence line was a pretty row of well-laden apple trees. Past the apple trees is the meadow where the horses and donkey grazed, once released from our inspection. {;- 0

The farm dogs and our youngest tourist, who was entranced by the chickens and turkeys, kept us amused with their playing. Our tour led us into a calm and mellow grove of old-growth trees, with two First Nations mask faces high on the trunks. After that we wound along the river bank, but just before we disappeared into the trail, a hawk appeared to circle above us and case out our party. Wonder what he made of us?

Finally we came back up the hill past some most comfortable and well-appointed cabins for visitors to the farm, and some campers with tents and RVs, and fishing poles! The set-up for these people gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “happy campers.”

After a tasty and substantial dinner, Mike called the meeting to order and introduced the three neighbouring farmers as part of a panel. Mike began by talking about the farming situation in the Alberni Valley, the needs of farmers and their support from the community. I’m afraid some of the details will have to wait on Mike’s report or Edna who was taking notes. First up afterwards were the farmers. Bill Thomson spoke about the importance of consumer demand, to enable local farmers to grow crops and raise animals in larger volumes, and achieve better economies of scale.

Bob Haynes explained his experience from years in marketing and farming. He observed that what is important is to find a niche were a larger amount of product can be sold. He also noted that once a contract is made, supply must be consistent, including available backup. Vickie Lee praised the Farmer’s Market which happens Saturday mornings at Harbour Quay. Vickie has been taking her produce there for decades, and finds a growing customer base. Jen Fisher-Bradley contributed her quip that organic products and home gardens are becoming more trendy. Let’s hope so, it’s something we all need.

Bill Thomson and Julie Clarke discussed the nutritional needs of the students at school, and Bill noted the change in the district from about a 60% involvement in agriculture to maybe 1%. This is true in much of Canada of course. We were once a rural country.

Members agreed that a trend is and must be, to return to rural and local farming roots, as transport and massive agri-business downsides factor in more in the near future. This is sometimes called the ‘Slow Food’ movement.

Colin mentioned that matter of the Canada Food Inspection Agency, but Bob Haynes assured us the farmers are well apprised of how to deal with the government. My other notion, of a small marketing board or ombudsman for the Valley didn’t go over in a big way with the farmers, however. { ;- ^

Vicke Lee mentioned that Corky Evans will be returning to speak on farm issues and advocacy, in the Coombs area later this year. Maia Lewis told us about a Kamloops farm marketing association, which could serve as an example for the Alberni Valley.

Remarks by Ann and Bob Collins, and the three other farmers that local products should be valued enough, priced and distributed well enough to enable new generations of farmers to stay in the business, were well received by all.

Bill Thomson pointed out that Vancouver Island has only a two or three day supply of food, should the ferries and trucks stop rolling for any reason. That is the elephant in the room, a fact we might take more seriously. And could be the subject of our film choice, for the upcoming evening at Abbeyfield, something Gary Swann would also like to see. Well, OK that’s as much as rattles off the top of my flat head. For a better description we may have to wait for Mike Lewis. Or Edna. Or somebody.

Thanks to all who came out, you made our day.

Colin Frazer

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