Christine Armstrong selects a bunch of radishes from Good and Plenty Produce while at the Salmon Arm Farmers Market. File photo

Promoting homegrown food

Group wants to make unused farmland available to people who want to farm.

The Shuswap is abundant with agricultural opportunities waiting to be cultivated.

Members of the Shuswap Food Action Co-operative (SFAC) see those opportunities and are keen to dig in and see them come to fruition.

SFAC member Jim Kimmerly, who also chairs Salmon Arm’s Plan4Prosperity citizen organization, says only an estimated 60 per cent of local agricultural land is being utilized for agricultural purposes. SFAC has wheels in motion to change that. One of the first steps is connecting owners of agricultural property with people who want to get into farming but can’t afford the land.

“We have a lot of land available for farming that’s not being used…,” said Kimmerly. “So I looked at that and thought there’s an opportunity here to get young farmers into the business – which is very difficult for them because they can’t afford a farm, it’s very costly.”

SFAC reached out to approximately 300 agricultural property owners. Kimmerly said 40 farmers replied, expressing an interest in leasing out their land. A seminar is tentatively planned for November in which those who are interested in leasing their land can learn how to proceed.

“So they come to the seminar, they learn about that and we try to match them up with young farmers – we have a pool of them out there, we know who they are,” said Kimmerly. “It’s a group called the Young Agrarians. There’s a lot of people in that group that are interested in starting up and farming, but the same problem for them is they could never afford buying into a farm.”

This matching of young farmers to land owners is part of a larger vision to see more food grown and processed locally, all to specified criteria encapsulated under a recognizable brand name such as Shuswap Grown.

“What we’re trying to do is if you look in the grocery stores, with the import products, we’ll call that ‘good,’” explained Kimmerly. “And then, if you look at the other end with the organics, we’ll call that the ‘best,’ but not everybody can afford organic products, so we’re trying to find something in the middle, so we’ll have ‘good,’ ‘better’ and ‘best.’ We want to be the ‘better.’”

A means of getting there that the SFAC is exploring is with the development of in-ground greenhouses. An SFAC member is in the midst of constructing his own, to use as a test case.

“The kind of greenhouses that we’re looking at, and would recommend after we’ve gone through the process, are in-ground greenhouses with a south-west exposure so you get the winter sun and a sloping roof,” said Kimmerly. “So you don’t have all that heat loss in the winter time, and they’re relatively inexpensive to build because you’re digging a hole, basically, and you’ve got your covering structure. It’s probably the more efficient way of running a small greenhouse operation going through the winter months.”

SFAC chair John McLeod sees a local greenhouse industry as a real possibility, but acknowledges funding opportunities are limited. He also supports a major marketing plan that would include management and processing. Local government buy-in, in the form of a food policy, is also something he’d like to see.

Kimmerly says his role with SFAC is to find ways to raise the profile of local agriculture and get more people interested in eating locally grown food.

“I’m not a farmer by the way – I’m a person that sees opportunity and I try to find a way to get people to take advantage of the opportunity,” said Kimmerly.

The SFAC will have a booth at the Salmon Arm Fair, Sept. 8-10 at the fairgrounds. Kimmerly and McLeod invite anyone wanting more information to stop by and visit.