Hi Norm,

I read with interest your recent “Growing a Better Farm and a Healthier World” article on the Tidechange.ca website. I would like to thank you for contributing your boundless energy towards one of the issues that will define the character of the Comox Valley in future decades.

You asked for other perspectives on this important issue, so allow me to share my two cents’ worth. I moved to the Comox Valley a few years ago and purchased a few acres of land in a wonderful forested spot near Seal Bay Park. I feel I am in heaven. The only drawback is that the soil is basically alluvial till with a lot of sand, rocks and very little topsoil. This is not uncommon in a few areas of the Valley. The solutions suggested in your article will therefore work well in farms with good top soil, but will not quite be enough for people who have little or no topsoil. For anyone trying to grow crops for personal use or for sale under these circumstances, the options will require bringing in substantial amounts of topsoil that will then need to be deposited in raised beds with wood or cinder block perimeters. Others will also do this but will add a very large greenhouse on top so that they can grow tomatoes and other crops that can’t handle a lot of rain, cold or humidity.

Under those constraints, tilling the soil mechanically is probably not very practical given that the raised beds may be 1 to 3 feet off the ground. In addition, those of us who are attempting to use permaculture principles (a few examples of permaculture textbooks can be found at  http://www.seedseva.com/book_shop/permaculture.php) will try to do little or no tilling and will mulch and mulch and mulch as much as we can.

I was lucky to bump into David Wicklund shortly after I got to the Valley and he was then offering his teaching services as a gardening/farming guru. He taught us everything we needed to start growing vegetables from scratch, including how to build a raised bed on unforgiving soil. Last time I saw him a year or two ago I joked with him that we had built a shrine to Saint David Wicklund (patron saint of clueless growers) near the very first raised bed he helped us erect. I was joking, but not by much, as having him as a role model was priceless. We now have five raised beds, a number of fruit trees and some beehives.

Finally, I would like to talk about the economics of farming in the Comox Valley. I covered this topic in great detail in a previous article on the Tidechange.ca website (“On the Future of Agriculture in the Comox Valley”) that can be found at http://tidechange.ca/2015/05/14/on-the-future-of-agriculture-in-the-comox-valley-by-tony-de-castro/

That information is now just over two years old, but the issues are exactly the same. To sum up the article, making a living as a local farmer is tough work when competing against vast multinationals. Local buyers don’t always want to pay a bit more to buy something that is local and organic. Many people like convenience and would rather go to the local supermarket than swing by the Farmers’ Market. The price of local farmland is out of reach for many young farmers. Farmers who are retiring often find their kids do not want to go into farming, and real estate interests are quite keen to buy land being sold to turn it into non-farming properties.  And given that often farmers at the local Farmers’ Market go back home at the end of the day with unsold products still in their trucks, encouraging growth on the farming side needs to be accompanied by an increased demand for local products. Here the local municipalities could do a lot more to encourage a “buy local” mindset through their regulatory framework.

The last issue I want to mention is the need for some type of purchasing co-op for small scale growers where they could jointly buy farm inputs in bulk and get discounts. I am talking about the cost of topsoil, fish compost, basic farming tools, seeds, water pumps, greenhouse materials, solar panels, wind generators, rain barrels, etc.

I hope this provides an additional perspective on this vital issue.


Tony de Castro