Farmers just 'hanging on'
Brian Wilford / The Star
February 20, 2014 12:00 AM
Barbara Ebell has grown specialty herbs and greens for restaurants for a quarter-century on the 23-acre Nanoose Edibles
farm in Nanoose Bay. Photograph by: BRIAN WILFORD/OCEANSIDE STAR
You may be under the impression that healthconscious people on Vancouver Island are buying more of their
food locally, from farmers' markets and farmgate stalls.
You'd have a hard time convincing Barbara Ebell, who for the past quarter-century, with husband Lorne, has
operated Nanoose Edibles, one of the Island's first and most-successful organic farming operations.
Sure, a lot of people seem to be going to farmers' markets, she says, but "a lot of them go for the
"Local food has a very small percentage of the market."
According to the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, in 2006 people spent about $5.4 billion on food on Vancouver
Farmers just 'hanging on' - News - Oceanside Star http://www.oceansidestar.com/news/farmers-just-hanging-on-1....
1 of 2 14-03-02 6:04 PM
That same year, gross receipts from the 2,855 farms on the Island were $163.7 million, about 3 per cent of the
In 1950 local farmers had 85% of the Island food market, Ebell says, and for years that market share has been
shrinking by about a per cent a year.
"We have nothing to be proud of," she says, and points to such promotional campaigns as the $2-million Buy
Local campaign launched by the ministry in late 2012. "We bring people to the Island as tourists thinking
they're going to experience something local and special and it's a cheat. We sell them packaged food from a
Island farmers are just "hanging on," she says, and it's too bad because there are many young people
interested in farming.
"There's lots of food being grown here," she says. "Our challenge is where to sell that food." Supermarkets,
with long supply chains, have become inaccessible
to local producers, she says.
"We used to bring substantial food to Thrifty's - $1,000 a week. Now we have to go and find that customer.
It's a much tougher market for the farmer."
Local purchasing has fallen to "almost nothing," Ebell says.
The average net annual income of a Vancouver Island farm, including everything from livestock to wineries to
restaurant specialty suppliers like Nanoose Edibles, she says, is a mere $20,000.
There are pockets of success on the Saanich Peninsula and in the Cowichan and Comox valleys, she says,
but there isn't the "leadership from a central core," the policies or the money for local food production to gain
any "real traction."
"There's every opportunity for a robust agricultural economy on the Island," Ebell says. "There's all sorts of
land that's not being used. But there's no market."
Changing that, she says, would require massive government intervention and millions of dollars, "and I can't
see that happening."
That's too bad, she says, because it could be "a $5-billion renewable economy that feeds the local
"It's kind of crazy that we don't value the Island for that."
© Oceanside Star