Dreaming of a Vancouver Island Diet

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

My life changed after my new book The Zero-Mile Diet was released in June. I was invited to speak to many communities around Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, which suited me perfectly because I was talking about a Vancouver Island Diet. By year’s end, after all my travels and many conversations, I’d gotten a good taste of what the Vancouver Island Diet looks like. So to cheer you up for the festive season, here’s a little sampler.

Arriving at the end of the lane onto Madrona Farm in September, the vision of the Blenkinsop Valley, covered by gently sloping fields of vibrant vegetables, brought tears to my eyes. It was year three of the ‘Chef’s Survival Challenge,’ a fundraising event in aid of the farmers’ survival challenge. In my mind, I saw the fertile valleys running the spine of Vancouver Island from Cowichan to Comox and beyond. My vision was of food growing in the fields, instead of hay.

In this era of ‘foodies,’ a ‘taste of Tuscany’ from our backyard makes a great incentive for travellers to visit here. Think how much we could benefit from developing an Island ‘Gastro economy,’ harvesting local seafood, berries, wild mushrooms, seaweed, artisan breads, herbs, vegetables, artisan cheeses, beer, wine and chocolate. We’d be creating food security for all of us. What an opportunity.

At the Wine and Culinary Festival at O.U.R EcoVillage in Shawnigan Lake, a representative of the Canadian Chefs Culinary Association, who had just finished travelling across Canada from coast to coast, informed us that Vancouver Island was streaks ahead of the rest of the country and if the Vancouver Island Diet was launched more substantially, Vancouver Island would be poised to benefit from an ecotourist bonanza. How inspiring.

More than 19,000 people live in Squamish and their Saturday Farmer’s Market, with 50+ local vendors, was truly amazing. The perfect gathering place for the community, it showcased baked goods from artisan bakers, produce, preserves and coffee, providing anything one’s heart could desire, right in the heart of downtown. How convenient.

My friend Susan told me how happy she was that she’d finally got an Oak Bay community allotment after waiting six years and that Oak Bay was going to double the current allotment size. Meanwhile, Rainey and Margot could not wait that long and planted up the boulevard instead, using public space in an urban environment to grow food for others. This had a transformational effect on the neighbourhood, bringing people together in conversations, encouraging others to plant food in their front gardens and boulevards and enabling local children to harvest fresh food for dinner and plant seeds. Imagine the upcoming revolution in horticulture when gardeners start growing all the beautiful food plants we have forgotten about again. Back to the future.

In the Gorge area of Victoria, the ‘Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers’ started out meeting in each other’s homes, but soon needed a larger venue after a hundred neighbours came together to produce food and promote food security. We don’t have to do it all; we can share the load of making the change with friends, family and neighbours. In a recession, there’s less money and more time, but perhaps it’s just what we need to rethink our ways – getting back to the land to feed ourselves and build community.

Eat well and have a delicious holiday season.

Carolyn Herriot is the author of The Zero Mile Diet – A Year-round Guide to Growing Great Organic Food. (Harbour Publishing). earthfuture.com/gardenpath/

Community agriculture vital for food security

Maximizing local food production will enhance food security and improve the nutritional value of food. Local food can be delivered to the tables of consumers faster than imported food, which loses a lot of its nutrients in transit. Public health will improve as a result of people eating more nutritious food and being more active as they engage in growing food. Biodiversity will increase as monoculture lawns disappear to be replaced with diverse plantings that provide habitat for wildlife. Having a ‘Community Agricultural Plan’ encourages development of more sustainable residential, commercial, institutional and industrial places. Additionally, there will be greater diversion of compostable waste from the landfill and an associated improvement of soils with the use of compost. Further, agriculture is an important strategy to mitigate the impacts of climate change.