Posts Tagged ‘local’

Evaluating Farming Income Sources

As I’m nearing the end of my practicum program, and creating my own farm plan, I have been evaluating the different direct marketing streams that are the main sales points for small scale organic growers. I go through them here to compare and contrast the benefits and challenges.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

In a CSA model, customers typically pay at the beginning of the season for a share of the produce. Generally, they expect a certain number of weeks of produce, and the idea is that they share in the ups and downs of farming. This provides farmers with cash flow at the beginning of the season, when it is greatly needed, and an assured market. Since the customers don’t typically choose what is in their box, they are exposed to a variety of fruits and vegetables that they may or may not be familiar with. CSAs often result in longer term, established relationships between customers and farmers, and often include some aspects of engagement, like on-farm pick-ups or other activities to connect the customer with the farm.

Some of the challenges associated with CSAs can be the administration and logistics – preparing the boxes for pick up/delivery each week, arranging with customers who are not able to pick up at the allotted time, and collecting the bins back from customers each week. There is also some stress associated with having to meet the CSA requirement each week, no matter what’s going on at the farm. Generally, though, CSA is a good option for new farmers, because customers can be recruited from friends and family, and are often made up of supportive people who will cut you a bit of slack during your first couple of years. Longer term, though, it may not supply enough income to be worthwhile.

Farmers Markets

UBC Farm Market

UBC Farm Market

When people think local and organic food, they often think of farmers markets. The markets offer a great opportunity to interact with customers, and allow a farmer to sell whatever they have without having to meet specific quotas. They also allow farmers to charge top dollar for their produce, and can be quite lucrative. Plus, they’re fun!

The downside of markets is that they can take up a lot of time and travel. If the market isn’t right on your doorstep, then fuel costs have to be taken into account, and the time that the farmer spends at the market instead of at the farm is valuable. And if the farmer isn’t a people-person, it would not be as fun, and dealing with the same question 100 times an hour can get frustrating (See what questions not to ask!). And poor weather or a holiday weekend can seriously cut down your profit, making it less worthwhile to have driven all the way out there and spent the day at the market. There is also a lot more competition, and for a new farmer, it can be difficult to become established and well-known, as customers often have their loyalty to a specific farmer (which is why it can also be great once you have it!).

Restaurants

Restaurants can be an excellent source of income for local farmers, especially those restaurants that are focused on local, sustainable food. They often take produce that would be considered specialty items, will pay a good price for them, will buy produce that may have cosmetic deficiencies, and will order in large quantities, which reduces the labour involved in bunching or bagging small amounts. Chefs understand the value of high quality produce, and know what to do to make it taste great. Also, once a relationship is established, it can be a regular, weekly, assured sale.

A challenge associated with selling to restaurants is that there is high turnover among head chefs, and if a chef leaves, your relationship with that restaurant may disappear suddenly. Restaurants also expect that you will have somewhat more regular, predictable amounts and quality, which can be challenging in the first couple of years of farming. Also, it can take a lot of upfront work to establish relationships with restaurants.

Farm Stands

Three Sisters Farm Stand

Three Sisters Farm Stand

In many rural areas, especially along major roads, you often see farm stands at the driveways of small farms. These stands are stocked with what’s available from the farm (eggs, produce, flowers), and often use an honour system of payment, with a locked pay-box and a list of prices.

This kind of farm stand is great for saving labour, because no one needs to be standing there (although you should be close-by), and customers who know it is there can come when it suits them, instead of waiting for a designated time. It often capitalizes most on a local, committed customer base, who know that you are there and will come to you for their shopping.

The challenges are obvious, though. Theft and dishonest payment, not being able to keep produce looking its best, potentially losing sales if you are not there to restock when something runs out. It also doesn’t work if you are not easily accessible by road, or are too far away from town centres.

Wholesale

Selling wholesale to grocery stores, chains or distributors is one way for a farmer to sell a large amount of product, all at once. It also means that the produce is going to the place where the majority of people still buy their produce, which is the supermarkets and grocery stores.

By selling wholesale, farmers sell more product, but receive a lower price per item. There are also a lot of costs (and waste) associated with packaging and shipping, with standardized expectations for each product that must be taken into account. Distributors and wholesale buyers also want to have a regular and predictable supply, and be able to buy large volumes from one source, instead of many shipments from smaller sources.

In reality, most small-scale farmers don’t sell wholesale, because of the difficulty in administration, not enough production, and the lower prices. But there are certainly larger scale farms that make this a successful marketing avenue.

Other Avenues

Other farms are successful at using variations of these marketing avenues, such as co-ops, group buying clubs, made-to-order CSA shares, full-diet CSAs, online buying, and many other ways to sell directly to the customer. Marketing is only limited by imagination!

Conclusions

For me, and the farm I envision, I imagine that my marketing will be a combination of CSA, farmers markets, and restaurant sales. If my farm ends up in a location that is favourable, I would love to have a farm stand one day. What’s important to me is that I am able to make my farm financially sustainable and successful, that I can connect directly with my customers (and they with me and my farm), and that in the end, my farm produce goes to feed people in a healthy, environmentally friendly way.

Green Wedding Planning Details

Obviously, in the course of the last few weeks, writing about everything that is going on has fallen to the wayside. But I still want to document it all, if for no other reason than so I remember it all later! So here is a roundup of all of the details I haven’t written about so far. I have found much inspiration from the Offbeat Bride site, as well as collecting images on my Pinterest board.

Photography

Practice photo session, Shari Riley Photography

Practice photo session, Shari Riley Photography

Photography is a super important part of a wedding, and having been to a number of weddings where the photography has been either amazing and very well coordinated, or interruptive and distracting, I knew this was important. For M and I, as a lesbian couple and neither of us in love with having our pictures taken, we needed someone who would make us feel comfortable, while leaving us with great pictures at the end!

I was really pleased that a book club friend of mine, who photographed another friend’s wedding (while also being a bridesmaid!), agreed to be our photographer. Having someone we know makes us both feel more comfortable, and we love to give someone we know the business. Shari Riley Photography.

Officiant

Similar to the photographer, we would have really liked to have someone close to us be the officiant. It is such an intimate yet public thing, saying marriage vows in front of your family and friends. Unfortunately, unlike in much of the US, it is not legal in BC for a friend or family member to get ordained to perform a wedding. But as a second best option, the mother of one of my oldest friends is a judge, and she offered to perform our ceremony. So although it is not a close friend or family member, at least our officiant is a woman, and has at least known me for a long time. She also had some lovely selection of vows, which was perfect for us, who wanted something personalized but didn’t feel up to the task of writing our own.

ShoesKaruna Shoes

Here’s what I was looking for: eco-friendly, purple flats. My partner is 5 feet tall, to my 5’6″, so heels were out of the question. Purple is our signature colour – M is wearing a eggplant-purple shirt. And of course, eco-friendly, which generally meant I was looking for recycled or low-impact matarials, vegan, and locally made.

It turns out, this was a fairly tall order. I even just started looking for any old purple flats, and came up empty handed. The only eco-friendly shoe store in Vancouver is Nice Shoes, and they had nothing that came close. M did get her wedding shoes there, though.

With some trepidation, I turned to the internet. Luckily, I stumbled across the perfect shoes. Karuna Shoes, although not local, are vegan, eco-friendly, the soles are made of recycled tires, and are hand-screened. The small company is in Columbia, and they were very helpful through email, and the shoes arrived in great shape and in lots of time!

Collected accessories

Collected accessories

Accessories

This was my chance to be a little bit funky. First came the earrings, which M found at a fair trade store in Gibsons. Recycled wire bicycles will hang from my ears, matching a pin on her vest. My necklace was sourced at Make It! Vancouver, a local craft fair, and is made of wood by Mana Jewelry Designs. I also found some hair pins at Make It!, vintage style, by Flight  Path Designs. I may not be the most coordinated of brides, but I love it all!

Music

This is the piece I am perhaps most nervous about. To save some costs, and also because the venue doesn’t boast a giant dance floor, we decided to put together our own playlist for the wedding. We have tried to get the right mix of new and old, upbeat dance and slow music, with hits from the 80s and 90s that will hopefully appeal to our 30-something friends, classic oldies for the parents, aunts and uncles, and some recent pop for the clubbers and 20-somethings. Given the venue, still not sure if people will really dance, but hopefully with enough beer in them, it will happen!

Countdown

I am now only a few days away from the Big Day. Out of towners start arriving tomorrow. Although I feel confident that things are together, the part of me that hates event planning is still sweating the details. Mostly, I just want it all to be fun, for M, for me, and of course, for the 55 friends and family joining us this weekend. Bring on the party!

Eco-Friendly Wedding Rings

I’d just like to start with this statement: Diamonds are not a girl’s best friend. I have many, probably pretty obvious, ethical issues with diamonds. There is, of course, the issue of conflict (“blood”) diamonds. But even conflict-free, supposedly eco-friendly Canadian mined diamonds have their issues, as does any mining activity, impacting greenhouse gas emissions, water quality, and habitat destruction.

But aside from that, I’m just not the type of person to have a rock on my finger that catches on clothes, scratches, and then of course I would probably lose, because that’s what happens to me.

Before even the hint of wedding planning, our rings were sourced. I was sitting on the bleachers at my end-of-season softball tournament, and I overheard a conversation behind me from one of the girls on another team, talking about her family business of wooden ring making, For the Love of Wood Rings. These beautiful, unique rings are made from sustainable materials, harvested from scrap bins and from trees on family property. They are made in North Vancouver, so we are able to support a local business and nullify long-distance transportation. Each type of wood represents different things, so we were able to select what was meaningful for us.

As one of the enduring, physical objects that will remain long after the wedding is over, we were so happy to find rings that matched our personalities and our ethics.

Rings

Connecting with what you eat

Food is a huge part of sustainability. In this article on The Tyee, where the topic of obesity and “informed dining” is addressed. Although the article does not talk about sustainability, I think that health and environmental sustainability are inextricably linked. The Slow Food movement, a reaction to the prominence of fast food and loss of traditional food knowledge, demonstrates how taking time to source good food, cook at home, and support local traditions has benefits for health and community.

I recently watched a Passionate Eye episode about chocolate and child labour, and it really emphasizes for me how disconnected we are, as a society, from our food chain. For the most part, people don’t know where their food has come from, how far it has traveled, what its carbon footprint is, or even what is in it.

In the video below, I talk a bit about how to connect more with the food we eat. Local food is a big part of that, supporting local agriculture and reducing our carbon footprint. But there are a lot of things we can’t produce here, chocolate being one of them. I love chocolate, so I try to always buy organic, fairtrade chocolate, to reduce the impact.

I am not a video specialist! The extreme windiness today made filming this short clip on my simple camera difficult, occasionally drowning me out. I hope you’re able to get what I’m trying to say!

Top ten easy changes you can make towards sustainability

Change can be hard. Trying to break old habits and form new ones does not come easily. But it can be done! Here are my top ten changes everyone can make on their journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

1. Make smart commuting choice

  • Do you really need to drive there?

    Biking on Salt Spring Island

  • Try walking, taking the bus, biking. It might take a bit longer, but you get exercise, it’s cheaper, and no road rage.
  • When you’re ready, try giving up the car entirely. If you live in Vancouver, it is so easy to get around by public transit and bicycle, and when you really need one, there are loads of car shares available (car2go, Zipcar, etc)

2. Switch to 100% recycled products

  • You might be really proud of yourself for recycling, but if you don’t buy recycled products, then where do you think all of that recycling is going?
  • Toilet paper, paper towel, notepaper are easy examples of paper recycled products that are just as good as the non-recycled kinds. And no rainforest gets cut down.
  • Some clothing is made from recycled plastics. MEC carries such products. There are also things such as chairs, tables. This leads into my  next point:

3. Reduce! Stop buying things in plastic!

  • Do you still drink bottled water? Here is an excellent video stating, in 3 minutes and 30 seconds (in an entertaining way), exactly why you should NEVER DRINK BOTTLED WATER. Ever.
  • Besides that, look to buying things in bulk, like beans, rice, nuts, and all sorts of other things. Save-on-Foods usually has great bulk sections. So do some of those mom-and-pop shops on Fraser Street.
  • Bring your own containers and bags. You do not need styrofoam containers for that little bit of leftover Chinese. You do not need that plastic bag for those 3 products. Get one of those little pouch bags you can keep in your purse/pocket, and have containers every time you go out for food.

Not good for turtle digestion

4. Support local food systems

  • Some potatoes and greens grown right on our tiny patio.

    Buy from your local farmers market or food that is locally grown. It reduces food miles, and thus carbon footprint.

  • It supports people who work pretty damn hard.
  • Food tastes better when it’s picked and consumed within days, instead of traveling across the globe.
  • When you can’t buy local – and I know, it’s tough – choose organic and fair trade.

5. Give good gifts

  • Give experiences. Tickets to a sporting event or theatre, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
  • Choose things that last a long time, not something that will break right away.
  • Get things that people actually want and need, not just something random because you feel like you’re supposed to get them a gift (no one needs another bath set or scented candle).
  • Edible or otherwise consumable gifts are great – a bottle of nice local wine, some excellent fair trade organic chocolate, some homemade cookies or candles show that you spent more than just money on the person.
  • Don’t wrap it! Seriously, how pointless is wrapping paper and ribbons?

Green Angel campaign from Metro Vancouver

 

6. Save power

  • It’s good for the environment, and it saves you $$.
  • Turn off you computer, turn off the lights. Seems so simple, but it can make a big difference.
  • Did you know that your electronics still draw power, even when the power is off? You cell phone charger, your laptop, your TV, are all drawing vampire power, even if you think you’ve been diligent and turned everything off. Easiest thing to do is plug everything into a power bar, then turn that off at night. BC Hydro tells us, “Standby power can use up to 10% of a home’s energy consumption.”
  • Hang dry your clothes. A dryer is a serious waste of energy.

7. Save water

  • In a rainy city like Vancouver, water seems endless. But we don’t harness the power of the rain in most places, so it’s important that we are conserving water, so that we have clean water sources for generations to come.
  • Take shorter showers, and lower water use in toilet by putting something solid in the toilet tank (i.e. a filled water bottle), which will reduce the amount used when flushing.

8. Compost

  • Food waste rotting in landfills is a major source of greenhouse gases.
  • You might be thinking this isn’t very easy. But it actually is. If you’re lucky, you live somewhere with curbside pickup. But most of us don’t.
  • You can get a worm composter, which is small enough even for small apartments. The City of Vancouver even offers subsidized bins for residents.
  • Drop off your food scraps at the Farmers Market. The Winter Farmer’s Market at Nat Bailey Stadium collects them, and I hope to see all the farmers markets this summer doing food scrap collection.

9. Eat less and choose better animal products

Happy cows in Agassiz, BC

  • Raising animals for food has huge impacts on the environment, considering everything from waste, land use, feed, and greenhouse gasses.
  • Eat less meat (try Meatless Mondays)
  • When you do eat meat, try to choose happy, healthy meat – grass fed beef, organic free-range eggs and chicken, oceanwise fish. Why? Watch this fun video.

10. Support green initiatives

  • Lots of local and international businesses are trying to reduce their carbon footprints. Support businesses that are doing that, and tell them that’s why you’re supporting them.
  • There are lots of great local green businesses in Vancouver. The Soap Dispensary lets you fill your own shampoo and detergent bottles, and Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co. offers sustainable food and social initiatives (not to mention fantastic pizza), to name just a couple.

Soap nuts are my own choice for laundry detergent

 

So, to sum up, there are lots of things you, as a single person, can do to make small changes. And once you start to make a few, you will start to realize it’s not so hard, and we can all create a wave of more sustainable lifestyles!