Urban Grains Update – New Years Edition

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January 8th, 2009 by Martin


photo by David Bradbeer (there are more great local grain photos in his flickr set)

We’re excited to be back from a nice holiday break, and to continue working on our Urban Grains project, aimed at providing Vancouverites with access to local grain. This update (also sent out as a newsletter to those on the mailing list) brings two pieces of news: a recap of the exploratory meeting we held in December with farmers from Delta and an update on our vision for the project.

First, a bit about the producer meeting (I am not able to cover all of the details in this limited space, so I will try to convey the overall atmosphere and outcomes.) With the generous assistance of David Bradbeer from the Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust, and the Canadian Wildlife Service who provided meeting space, we met face to face with four Delta-based farmers who are currently or have recently been growing grain. If you’ve met many farmers, you’ll know they can be real characters, and these were no exception. They threw plenty of questions at us, as well as twice as many answers to ours. The meeting was highly illuminating, and we walked away with a much better understanding of the situation these farmers are typically in.

What we learned: if you’re a farmer growing grain in the lower mainland, you’re probably not receiving much for your grain – it likely gets sold at a very low price as animal feed, considered to be of inconsistent quality when measured by the rigid standards of the Canadian Wheat Board. Most of these farmers grow grain not for the money, but because its incorporation into crop rotations is beneficial on their farms. Others are paid small stipends by the Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust to plant “wildlife set-asides”, areas intentionally left untouched for a season or two to provide key habitat for migratory bird species.

It appears to be the case, as we were told when we started talking about the local grain idea, that despite the unavailability of local grains on the market, quite a lot of it is grown within a 45 minute drive of our home. What is lacking, however, is a clearly articulated marketing and distribution system (which is where we believe Urban Grains can play a role.)

Overall, the farmers were definitely interested in the idea, if a little weary. Some even offered to sell us grain on the spot. Some skepticism was to be expected, as we were presenting life-long farmers with a novel approach to marketing something they are used to treating as animal feed. The possibility of increased income from a previously under-valued piece of their operation was clearly an enticing idea, however, and it seems clear that any of them would be willing to participate in some capacity.

After that meeting which loaded our minds with new information, we are now in a much better position to plan where to go from here. Now that we’ve made contact with a few keen farmers and know that we have access to local grains, our next step is to decide on the best organizational approach for distribution. A lot of details come along with that, including where we will get the grain milled, how to transport it, and how, when the day finally comes, physical distribution will work. A business plan will be developed in the next month or so, and we will be seeking start-up financial assistance from governmental and non-profit sources that support local agriculture and local economies. We remain committed to the idea of farmer-consumer connection, and hope to organize a field trip or two out to Delta for interested customers so that you can see for yourself the farms where your grain is growing.

Thank you all for following this process and for spreading the word. We are still collecting names for our mailing list, and are interested in hearing from you, too. Please feel free to contact us at martin@rocksandwater.ca with questions and comments.

We’re looking forward to a great 2009, and dreaming of tasty, local grains in the Fall.

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