Cedar Isle Farm Visit (Part 1)

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June 3rd, 2009 by Martin

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It had been awhile since we last visited Jim in Agassiz, so we dropped by on Monday to chat and see first-hand how the grain was progressing. While it’s always a treat to visit Cedar Isle Farm, we were especially antsy to make it out there this time because 1) our new grain cleaner that we purchased with part of the CSA funds arrived 2) Jim warned us that the winter wheat is showing signs of rust (which had us worried) and 3) the weather has been so darned amazing lately that we knew the farm would look absolutely gorgeous (I think that alone is reason enough.) We have much to share from the trip, so we’re going to spread the visit over a number of posts.

First up, the grain.

Jim approached me awhile back with the possibility of getting the UBC Agriculture faculty to plant some grain test plots on his farm. The idea was to see how well certain varieties grow in Agassiz, since many of the “conventional” grain varieties grown in Canada have been bred for the much drier prairies and BC itself has a great deal of variability among its many micro-climates.  We never had time to organize a proper study with the University, but Jim went ahead and planted a few plots himself for comparison.

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Among the grains included are Marquis, Soft White Spring and Hard Red Spring (CDC Go). Just starting to make an appearance out of the ground, it’ll be interesting to see how they all fair by the end of the season.

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After examining the test plots, the first of the grain that Jim took us out to see was the Triticale.

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Compared to the winter wheat planted in the adjacent plot, it grows quite high (around chest height), which makes for a rather picturesque scene as it gently flows in the wind. We were happy to see the crop looking robust and healthy.

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By comparison, winter wheat grows much shorter. You can see the stark contrast between it on the left and the Triticale on the right.

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If you look closely, you’ll notice a yellowish tinge covering parts of the winter wheat. This is what Jim had warned us about before our visit. Commonly called “rust,” it’s a fungus that thrives in damp environments. winter wheat is particularly vulnerable for that reason because it has to overwinter. Although it shouldn’t prove disastrous, there is a chance that the crop’s yield will be significantly reduced as a result (since winter wheat is supposed to account for half of the CSA crop, this is especially worrying.) Jim said he’s hoping the good weather keeps up for most of the summer so the winter wheat can grow through it. We’ll definitely be watching it closely.

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We also checked out the fields at the opposite end of Jim’s farm where the rest of the winter wheat and the more recently planted Hard Red Spring is growing.

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All in all, I think the grain is looking pretty great. While the rust issue is certainly a bit disconcerting, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had initially feared — let’s just keep our fingers crossed for good growing weather throughout the rest of the summer.

(If you’d like to get a better sense of how the grain has progressed, check out our update from last month here.)

Stay tuned for Part 2 when we reveal the fancy new cleaning equipment purchased by the CSA.

Progress update from Cedar Isle

May 1st, 2009 by Martin

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I was delighted to discover some photos from Jim in my inbox this morning. They were all taken yesterday, the same day that Jim finished sowing the last of the hard red spring wheat (CDC Go variety) picture above. I believe that’s Mt. Cheam in the background.

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This is 2 acres of winter wheat (Buteo variety), which was sown on September 22, 08.

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Here’s the other half of the winter wheat (Falcon variety), which was sown September 27, 08.

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This is 1 acre of Triticate (Pika variety), which was sown on September 27, 08.

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Last but not least, this is the first sowing of the hard red spring wheat (CDC Go variety), which was sown on April 22, 09. As you can see in the second picture, it has hardly been a week and the grain is already starting to emerge.

Urban Grains is officially open for business!

April 22nd, 2009 by Martin

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After many months of hard work, planning and coordination, I’m delighted to announce that Urban Grains, Vancouver’s first community supported agriculture program for grain, is now underway. (Edit: The timing of this announcement feels rather serendipitous. Shortly after writing this post we were contacted by Jim, our grain farmer, to let us know that he had just today finished planting the last of the wheat.)

URBAN GRAINS: THE DETAILS

There will be exactly 200 shares, each consisting of approximately 20 kg of whole wheat flour, milled from three types of wheat: winter wheat, Triticale and hard red spring. All of the grain will be grown locally by one farmer, Jim Grieshaber-Otto, and his family at Cedar Isle Farm in Agassiz, B.C. Roughly 100 acres in size, the farm has been organically managed for years, but Jim is currently in the process of seeking organic certification, meaning the official status of the grain will technically be “transitional organic.” (While we believe the CSA model, which fosters a direct relationship between producers and consumers, renders the issue of certification moot, Jim said that this year’s program gave him the “kick in the pants” that he needed to finally seek certification.)

Processsing/Distribution

After the grain has been harvested in the late summer/early fall, it will be cleaned on-site at Jim’s farm and then shipped to Anita’s Mill in Chilliwack for milling and bagging. It will then continue on to Vancouver where it will be dropped off at a central, convenient location (still to be determined) for pick-up by CSA members.

Cost

Each share will cost $80 ($1.80/lb), plus an additional $10 to raise money for purchasing cleaning equipment for the CSA, bringing the total to $90 per share. A full $1/lb of every purchase will be paid directly to Jim, the grower. A per-pound rate like that is practically unheard of in the grain industry. Given that this program is a pilot project supplying a product that is nearly impossible to find in Vancouver at the retail level, we think that this price is quite fair.

We’ve even done some comparison shopping: bulk, organic, non-local whole wheat is currently selling for roughly $1.99 per lb or $88.44 for 20 kg. If you’re purchasing different kinds of wheat in smaller, bagged sizes like we are providing, you can easily pay more than $120. That means that for the price of a share in Urban Grains members get organic, local flour, for about $1.50 more than you would pay at the store for bulk, AND they are supporting regional grain growing by the inclusion of the equipment fee. We are very proud to be offering such competitive prices.

For anyone who cannot afford the $90 or is unsure of their ability to fully use 20 kg of milled flour (remember, 10 kg is typically the largest size one finds in a grocery store), we highly recommend they split the share with another friend or family.

Also Included

Included in the CSA package will be a certificate indicating the member’s involvement in Vancouver’s first grain CSA, the opportunity to visit Cedar Isle Farm in Agassiz during the summer to meet Jim and see the grain in person (additional, reasonable costs will apply for transportation), as well as on-going updates from us at Urban Grains regarding the progress of the CSA throughout the year on this blog.

THE CSA MODEL

CSA stands for community supported agriculture. We selected this model because we believe it is ideal for fostering a strong consumer/producer relationship — something severely lacking in conventional agricultural systems — and for supporting local agriculture. This is especially true in regards to local grain – production in B.C. has fallen dramatically in the past half-century and our support is needed to make grain farming a viable option.

It is important to be aware that the CSA model has a degree of risk built into it. As a customer paying the share cost before a finished product is delivered, an investment is being made in the entire process. It is quite possible that because of uncooperative weather shares will not measure a full 20 kg following a sub-par harvest. For example, in Creston, BC’s 2008 grain CSA the recipients expected to receive 100 lbs of grain, but ended up receiving 81 lbs. This risk is inherent to the model – by accepting this condition you are sharing in the uncertainty that farmers face every day as they watch the skies.

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NOTE: As we made clear at the outset, CSA shares are being offered to mailing list subscribers on a first come first serve basis according to the order in which they signed up. Sales are not open to the public at this time, so please do not contact us to sign up if you have not received an email with a specific offer to buy.

It’s been a great deal of work to make this all happen, so we are obviously very proud to finally announce the launch of the program. Thank you for your interest in the CSA and local grain — your tremendous support has been truly inspiring.

Meeting Our Grain

March 28th, 2009 by Ayla

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When Jim Grieshaber-Otto, a farmer located in Agassiz, originally contacted us in the winter about his interest in our project, we immediately began to dream of the many possibilities he might bring. In the months that have since passed, we’ve cultivated a relationship with him over e-mail and via long phone calls, learning about his farm, his family and his enthusiasm. Over the phone, we agreed that he would be the man to grow the grain that would supply Vancouver’s first locally sourced flour distribution system. And over emails, we discussed details like what exactly he would be growing, how much he’d get paid and who would mill it. Planning progressed smoothly, yet all of these decisions were made without us ever having met in person. So this Wednesday morning when Chris pulled up outside of our house to pick us up, we were eager to make the drive out to Agassiz to finally meet our wheat, and the farmer who would raise it.

Cedar Isle Farm is located in Agassiz, BC, down Highway 1 about 20 minutes past Chilliwack, or about an hour and a half’s drive from Vancouver. We lucked out and had a gorgeous day for the trip – the brightest sunshine we’ve had in weeks – which I’m inclined to take as something of a good omen. As we pulled up into their driveway, Jim and his dog Sheila welcomed us. After a quick introduction to the hens and cows, we were taken out to a field covered with 4-inch high grass.

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If you didn’t know what you were looking at, it would be easy to ignore this field. We knew, though, that in just a few months these short sprouts would yield up to a tonne of winter wheat, ready for milling.

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Back at one of his barns, Jim had set out buckets containing cleaned and uncleaned wheat for us to run our hands through, giving us a real idea of what would be harvested from those fields. We got a tour of the beautiful old equipment that serves him for most of his processing needs, including the turn of the century (the last century!) fanning mill and combine from the 1950s pictured below.

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Over a delicious lunch prepared by Jim’s wife (who apparently chastised him, “You can’t walk around the farm and cook!” before she put it in the oven that morning) we sat around the table working out details of the production and processing that will happen this summer.

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Much was discussed during the few hours we visited, and when we said goodbye we left feeling quite good about the direction we’re heading in.  After months of planning, this Urban Grains project is finally beginning to look like a reality. Soon, we’ll be emailing members of the mailing list with details on how to purchase a share.

Urban Grains CSA: February Update

February 19th, 2009 by Martin

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Much has happened since the last newsletter for our local grain project went out in January (you can sign up here) – we’ve moved in leaps and bounds, in fact. As many of you know, we held a meeting in December with a small group of farmers who are growing grain in the Delta region, primarily either as a cover crop or wildlife set-aside. Although the meeting was quite encouraging from the point of grain availability (there is no question, these farmers have grain for sale), we were confronted with two key hurdles: 1) our original vision of a CSA model, similar to the one in Creston and Nelson, would not work in Delta. It became clear that if we were to base the program in Delta, we would be forced to adopt a more conventional distributor role requiring significant start-up capital and a less direct consumer/producer connection; 2) the region was lacking the necessary infrastructure. Before grain can be milled, it has to be cleaned, and we were unable to find any individual or business nearby with the capacity to clean for human consumption.

Unsure where next to turn, we were contacted by a part-time farmer living in Agassiz, who is keen to become involved in the project. Jim Grieshaber-Otto, together with Diane Exley and their two children, manage a community-minded family farm that has been growing small amounts of grain for several decades. About 100 acres in size, Cedar Isle Farm partners with a neighbouring dairy farm to produce silage and hay (for both cows and horses), and pastures Angus beef cattle, layer hens, and free-range broiler chickens.The farm grows a few acres of grain each year – mostly oats and wheat – which is either used as animal feed or sold to friends and neighbors. This year the farm has three acres of fall-sown winter wheat and one acre of triticale (a cross between wheat and rye), and will soon be planting two acres of hard red spring (bread) wheat, for harvest this autumn. Jim estimates that, given a decent growing season and harvest conditions, they will have enough grain both for the CSA and for their own on-farm and local use. Although not certified, the farm has long operated under organic principles and is in the process of seeking certification.

Despite there still being some questions about infrastructure, our partnership with Cedar Isle Farm places us in a relatively strong position. The farm has a well-maintained 1958 combine (pictured in the attachment) and a functional, heritage (circa 1901!) fanning mill for cleaning grain. While the current cleaner should work in a pinch, we’re trying to track down a better piece of equipment, possibly paying for its purchase through funds raised in the first year of the CSA. We have spoken with the people at Anita’s Organic Grain and Flour Mill in nearby Chilliwack, and they appear willing to custom mill the relatively small quantity of grain we would need. We have also identified a small-carbon-footprint transportation and distribution option; an Agassiz-based delivery truck operator has agreed to add wheat and flour to his regular delivery trips into the Vancouver area.

That’s all to report for now. While we do have some other exciting plans to announce, they are all rather tentative, so you’ll have to wait until the next newsletter. We hope to be visiting Cedar Isle Farm sometime in March to check on the progress of the grain, and then determine the logistical details (price, size per membership, delivery schedule, etc.) for the CSA program. At that point, if all goes well, we will start accepting memberships.