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What buying local food in the Lower Mainland actually looks like

Posted by: Trevor

January 16, 2012

Over the past few years we've been trying to buy as much of our food from local, organic producers as possible. Yes, we produce a large portion of our own food (meat, eggs, and so on) --- but there are still quite a few gaps.

Thankfully we live in an area where growing food is relatively easy, and therefore eating local food is very possible (not like our friends who live up north, whose local choices are limited to wild game and the like).

Living where we do (in the central Fraser Valley) there are a number of things that do well in our climate and land-base, that really make good sense agriculturally.


The Sumas flats in Abbotsford are very agriculturally productive.

Number one, the flat parts of the Fraser Valley (ex. Abbotsford all the way out to Richmond) are excellent for growing vegetables in the warmer months. While only a small portion is currently being used to grow organic vegetables, still there is some availability of organic produce. This is where canning or freezing comes in handy because once autumn rolls around, vegetable production falls off (unless you buy greenhouse produce, which personally we don't favor as much as outdoor).

Two, the mountains of the lower Fraser Valley are ideal for grazing and tree crops. Hillside farming (which is what we do on our farm, since we are on a mountain) is exciting because it really, in our opinion, represents the future of farming. The world is mostly made up of hillsides, not flat arable land. But the challenging thing about hillsides is that they only support no-till farming (plowing on a hillside leads to rapid soil erosion). That's why mountainsides are more suited to the kinds of agriculture which don't need a plow.

In our climate, the grazing/foraging livestock species which do quite well are cattle and pigs. So do certain breeds of sheep (just the breeds which tolerate long rainy periods) and goats --- although the meat from these species is not as popular as beef or pork.

Pigs, in particular, thrive in our climate. They love foraging, especially in the woods, and really are ideal for the hillside topography that skirts the lower mainland. Cattle do well too, but they need quite a bit of space --- and very few farmers with large, flat arable land holdings will graze cattle --- instead they find it more profitable to grow hay or cow-corn and the like as inputs for their barn-dairy operations. As such, putting beef cows out to graze means putting them on the mountains to forage --- which is fine, cows do well on hillsides --- the Swiss have been experts at this for hundreds of years. Here on our farm, our beef cattle thrive on the mountainside.


This is a Swiss cow, grazing a Swiss mountain. Source: Wikimedia.

The tree crops that do well in the lower mainland are apples, pears, plums and hazelnuts. I'm sure there are others that do well too, but these are the main ones. That being said, to grow organic apples down here means you're probably going to have scabby fruit (this is due to all the rain we get --- apples tend to get scabby in a wet climate). The non-organic producers are able to deal with this problem by spraying chemicals, but of course that's not what we want. The solution: eat scabby apples. They won't hurt you. They taste delicious, even with imperfect looking skins. But they also juice wonderfully, and as long as you have a freezer, you've got apple juice all year.


One of our apple trees, and a plum tree [left].

Four, berry crops. This is one of the joys of the lower mainland, all the summer berries. We are so grateful that there are a few local organic producers of blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.

Five --- some may be saying "Hey, what about fish?" True we live in a region where we should be eating loads of seafood (as the Natives used to) --- but the problem is water pollution, so we've become reluctant to eat that much local seafood.

Six, if you are willing to include the Okanagan as "local" (it's not really local) then you can even source organic local bread products. Certain grain crops grow well in the Okanagan and if you look hard enough you can find the handful of organic farms who are producing them, but you'll probably need to go there (this is something we do in the summer). Of course, if you are there in the summer, you can load up on organic peaches too (something we do, and then can them so they last the year). Again, not really local, but so many families travel there in the summer that if you're already going there, load up the cooler.

The big thing in all this is also owning a freezer. That's not always easy if you live in the city. But if you can manage to fit one into your space, it really opens up more vistas to you. This morning (it's the middle of January) we had organic strawberries and blueberries at breakfast --- from the freezer of course. We loaded up the freezer with local organic berries this past summer.


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