Plan benefits Island farmers

Program aimed at increasing, improving products to meet local demand.

Farmers in the mid-Island region will soon have a new tool available to help them take advantage of a growing demand for local food and diversify their products.

The Vancouver Island Coast Regional Agricultural Framework for Action, a collaboration effort between the province and Island Coastal Economic Trust, was announced last week.

Its goals are to strengthen farm organizations; recruit and support new farmers; reduce costs for farmers; improve the productivity of farmland; and expand consumer education and outreach while improving the marketing of regional agricultural products.

The plan will make $2 million available through grant applications, aimed largely for mid-sized farming operations with revenues between $10,000 and $100,000 annually.

For Island regions that have identified agriculture as a priority to help diversify their economies, the opportunity for increased productivity through improved land through irrigation and higher value crops will be more accessible.

“There is tremendous potential for agricultural growth in the Vancouver Island Coast region,” said Don McRae, provincial minster for agriculture, in a press release. “This report will help producers take advantage of those opportunities, which will build the regional economies, help families maintain their rural lifestyles and provide consumers with local products.”

Provincial statistics from 2011 show farms in the Vancouver Island Coast region, which begins north of the Malahat and includes the Regional District of Cowichan Valley, Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Clayoquot, Comox, Strathcona, Powell River and the Sunshine Coast, generate more than $118 million in activity annually.

Those farms produce a wide diversity of products including beef, poultry, tree fruit, berries, hops, grapes and medicinal herbs. Many of those products are used to create value-added foods such as cheese, wine, cider and spirits and honey.

Marjorie Stewart, chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society, said the assistance is welcome but farmers will have to wait to see how the application process plays out.

“The information about how to apply for the portion of the $2 million, which is not a huge amount of money, is not posted yet so the proof of the pudding is in the eating of the pudding, not in the pudding,” she said. “It’s very good news that the provincial government has made a strong statement in favour of local agriculture but we have yet to see how this works for the small scale intensive producers who I think are the future.”

Stewart added that money used to educate the public on local farming and the products produced here will be valuable.

“It’s extremely valuable when a program helps people doing the work to do the promotion because people doing the work are already very busy. They’re very good at doing what they’re doing, but they don’t have time to educate the public.”

To view a copy of the Vancouver Island Coast Regional Agriculture Framework for Action, visit www.gov.bc.ca/jti/ and click on reports and publications in the tab bar on the left side.

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