Prosperity project helps bring farming back into fashion

Group looks to meet growing demand for fresh food from visiting ships

Kristen Miskelly leads a tour through her Saanich Native Plants nursery

Kristen Miskelly leads a tour through her Saanich Native Plants nursery

There’s no place like the Saanich Peninsula for growing food in B.C.

The land is within close proximity to one of Canada’s major cities, and the growing season runs all year round.

But a lot of the land sits fallow, up to 40 per cent, according to one estimate. Which is why agriculture is one of the eight focuses for the newly created South Island Prosperity Project, which will act as an economic development agency for the region.

Three members of SIPP – executive director Emilie de Rosenroll, board member Craig Norris and board chair Bill Bergen – were recently guided through farms of the nine-acre Halliburton organic community farm with Saanich Couns. Susan Brice and Fred Haynes.

The visit prompted several discussions about how to engage new farmers, and make it a viable career choice.

“We chose the name prosperity because of what prosperity means, not just more jobs but secure jobs,” said Bergen. “Youth entering the workforce want to know, can I take up a career as a farmer and have a predictable income for my family?”

The SIPP representatives are literally on tour, meeting with stakeholders across the region.

In terms of finding a way to increase the number of working farms in Saanich and the Peninsula, that will remain a challenge. To start, Norris says there’s a need to meet the high demand for local food from the high-end yachts visiting the Inner Harbour.

“These are chefs who want local food for the private yachts, many of which are valued at $10 million and above,” said Norris, who’s the managing director for the new Victoria International Marina. “The demand is the equivalent of three fully stocked, large-scale grocery stores of food each summer.”

“That’s a bare minimum. Right now they’re asking, where’s the best chickens, where’s the best carrots, and they want local,” Norris said. “They want to feature local and showcase the best of the best.”

The geography of the Pacific Rim is helpful as Victoria can be the end of the line for cruise ships, where kitchens are stocked and gas tanks are fuelled before major crossings, Norris added.

“We don’t want to bring them to a small farm and take all their stock, we want to take them on tours and create a process to bring them into the community.”

In addition to the yachts, Haynes questioned if local food and goods could be better delivered to the many visiting cruise ships.

“Can we plug into more opportunities,” Haynes said. “What can we do as a centre to make sure it’s an easy thing to do for them when they get here?”

During their 90-minute walking tour of Halliburton, farmers guided the members of SIPP and Saanich council through the process of growing.

The key is to grow a variety of crops and not to lean heavily on one type, said Colleen Popyk of Darn Tootin, one of eight farms/nurseries that make up Halliburton.

“To replicate something like Haliburton would be incredible,” said Linda Geggie, executive director for the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Round Table, who also joined the tour.

Saanich paid $109,157 to SIPP in 2016 and will provide $184,634 each year until 2020 for a total of $848,000. By 2020, SIPP will have a bankroll of $9 million to begin investing into regional growth.

SIPP started in January as the South Vancouver Island Economic Development Association, which was a placeholder name. The new SIPP board of directors selected de Rosenroll, of Saanich, as the executive director.

SIPP will focus on eight initial sectors: agriculture, agribusiness and aquaculture; clean technology; ocean technology and marine space; aviation and aerospace; advanced education; advanced manufacturing; sport and culture; and construction.