Small farms require “eaters’ support,” says organic farming pioneer and author Michael Ableman.
The farmer behind Sole Food Street Farms in Vancouver will bring his insights about small farms to Langley next Saturday as part of a workshop designed to encourage people who own small parcels of farmland to use them to grow food.
While the vast majority of Langley’s farmland is in the Agricultural Land Reserve, the average farm size is 10 hectares (24.7 acres), with almost half of all farms under four hectares, according to the 2016 agriculture census.
Farming on a small parcel close to an urban centre can be challenging, said Ableman, who has decades of experience working on small farms, but it is also a “spectacular opportunity.”
The key is to build both the farm and the appetite for local food.
“One of the things I see happening is that people put too much emphasis on production without developing the market. Farmers need to be good at making connections and educating people so they have a market,” said Ableman.
The farmer’s 120-acre Foxglove Farm on Salt Spring Island produces a wide variety of fruits and vegetables that are sold at farm markets, through community-supported agriculture (CSA), and to restaurants.
But determining the formula for agricultural success “doesn’t happen overnight,” said Melanie MacInnes, another speaker at the workshop organized by the Langley Sustainable Agriculture Foundation (LSAF).
While there is opportunity to sell directly to consumers in Metro Vancouver, small farmers need to work together to figure out what is in demand and how to avoid overproduction, she said. “Having a plan is really important.”
As they establish their Langley farm, both MacInnes and her husband must work at other jobs.
“If you’re going to be a farmer, you have to have a ridiculous belief you’re going to make it,” she said.
The couple decided to focus on permaculture, including apple and hazelnut orchards, barley, hops, free-range chickens and honey bees. They hope to be able to bring the public onto their farm to demonstrate beer-making and teach them about pollination.
They’ve also learned that their farm can be more profitable by producing value-added products, such as jams, breads and sauces that can be sold to consumers.
“Right now, we are hustlers,” said MacInnes.
The goal of the workshop is to inspire people to farm, but also to provide opportunities to connect with people who are already growing food.
“Good returns on small parcels is possible, but you need to be focused on marketing and in touch with what the market demands,” said LSAF president Dave Melnychuk.
“You need a good product and you need to be a good business person. But the opportunities are there.”
The workshop happens Saturday, Nov. 23 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Fraser River Presentation Theatre, Langley Township Hall, 20338 65 Ave., Langley. Tickets can be purchased through www.brownpapertickets.com.
CLICK HERE to report a typo.
Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email email@example.com