Developing Cortes Island Food Security

Representatives from two of the island’s better known organizations were asked to speak at the May 5, 2020, Cortes Island Virtual Community Meeting. Loni Taylor is one of the Directors of the Cortes Community Economic Development Association (CCEDA); Tamara McPhail is the Executive Director of Linnaea Farm. Director Anderson asked how their organizations are developing Cortes Island food security.

Director’s Updates

The meeting began with the normal series of Director’s updates. 

  • Director Anderson said she is not aware of any cases of COVID on the island. This does not prove the virus isn’t on the island, but it does show it is not much of an issue. 
  • Some of Cortes Island’s business leaders hope/expect there will be a tourist season this year.  Gorge Harbour has a goal of 50% capacity in the campground and associated buildings and are no longer taking any bookings.
  • Every year the Strathcona Regional District allots Cortes Island $25,000 for Grants in Aid. This year Director Anderson has gathered the island’s non profits to “hear each other’s pitches, project proposal ideas, ask questions, challenge a little bit, see if there are opportunities for collaboration.”  They will have a week to deliberate and then vote on how they think the $25,000 should be allocated. Director Anderson will average out our proposals and submit those to the board. – “If this process works well, [in the future] it can be the kind of process that we can engage in either to the nonprofit sector or possibly out to the public as a whole as a way of prioritizing community projects …” 
  • At the recent Cortes Foundation meeting, the island’s non profits identified a number of priorities: (1) how to create processes where the public can meaningfully engage; (2) food security; (3) youth well being, activities, engagement; (4) mental health 
Developing Cortes Island Food Security
Loni Taylor, with her dog, in the garden

CCEDA’s Mandate

Loni Taylor said CCEDA is very close to introducing a platform that would “introduce them in a much more thorough way.” 

Much of it is an outgrowth of the Local Economic Action Plan (LEAP) that its’ predecessor, CIBATA, put together. 

The Food Bank & A Cortes Currency

She gave a little more detail about the proposed Cortes currency that CCEDA has alluded to in previous Cortes virtual meetings. 

The Cortes Food Bank is already dispensing gift certificates to the Cortes Market, Gorge Harbour store and Cortes Natural Food Coop in their food hampers. Desta Beattie is approaching the Squirrel Cove General Store about starting up this program.

The local currency could be a form of a food token, that would enable food bank clients to purchase local produce. 

“It would be a closed circuit, so the money would filter through the food bank and the growers would be able to trade it out for real cash …”

Food Security

Food security was an important component and the 2.6 acres that CCEDA owns in the heart of Mansons Landing could be used for food preservation and food storage facilities.

“Those are big projects and we want to be careful with our planning … That’s another process that is going to require funding.” 

While they are looking into short term solutions, especially for the food bank, it seems unlikely that a storage facility will open by next Fall.  

“I can speak on behalf of Good Libations. We have limited storage space, but have been able to use it for processing juice to sell for the Food Bank as a fund raiser.”  

Community Garden Plots

  • Gorge Harbour offered up a large garden that has not been tended recently, a number of people are now working there. 
  • Cortes Natural Food Coop has also developed some community beds in Mansons Landing. They have a shared potato bed, a shared tomato bed
  • Those plots have all been allocated, but there is still an opportunity to get involved in the Smelt Bay area. (She did not want to publicly say where.)

Next Steps 

Taylor listed a number steps that should be taken:

  • raise funding to hire a food coordinator, to liaison between all the moving components of Cortes Island’s food systems.
  • agricultural wages need to increase “ … but will be difficult on the small business side of things, so we are ready to be there to help those businesses adapt.” 
  • Create a network of people already working Cortes Island’s agricultural industry and bring them together with volunteers that can harvest different private landowners crops that are not being harvested. “asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes, herbs … but apples is the big one, we’re talking in the thousands of pounds every year.” There are at least half a dozen families that have not been able to find workers. Grade A foods could be given to food distributors, other foods would be given to processors. 
  • A loan program for greenhouses, that could grow food year round. 
  • CCEDA will be applying for a Grant in Aid to fund business training,  

Food Delivery

Loni Taylor has been exploring the idea of a shared vehicle for food delivery. Based on the numbers she has been seeing, it seems likely that the only Cortes exports would be value added food products, however there is a lot of excitement about importing food and deliveries on the island.

“I’m putting together a think tank around food delivery in a shared vehicle,” says Taylor.

Possible Food Glut Next Summer

Christine Robinson reported a conversation from the social nonprofit meeting last week. A number of growers have planted far more than normal and this produce could flood the market in August and September. 

“Is there a way to think about food processing, canned or whatever, so that it can be used through the winter?”

“That’s part of the education we would be offering, how to preserve the bounty,” said McPhail.

Longer Term 

Another CCEDA Director, Basil, said they are also working on longer term projects that will require more capital. For example, growing food  all year round in “essentially, shipping containers.” 

Elon Musk’s brother, Kimbal, is doing this.

“This will create new types of jobs in the agricultural economy on Cortes, for the younger members who might be able to work in the more traditional industries. What we want to do is ask people who have ideas for businesses, not just food security but any types, to tell us about the things you are working on.”

Community Investment Co-op

“The Community Investment Co-op idea has been developed in British Columbia  over the last eight years. It was actually developed in the Kootenays, but there are examples all over the province. There is actually a small group that is having a collaboration on how we can work with the financial regulators and other compliance requirements to let a broad base of the population invest in things that would benefit the community.”  

“What CCEDA is doing, is we have invested some money in getting this started and want to offer it to the community. It also is an opportunity for the entrepreneur to have the possibility of accessing some of that capital.” 

The Linnaea Farm Food Security Guild

“One of Linnaea farm’s main mandate’s is education … We look at almost everything we do through the lens of sharing that knowledge” said Tamara McPhail.

On April 22 McPhail posted a notice for the new Linnaea Farm Food Security Guild in the Tideline

Guild membership, includes a membership for Linnaea Farm Society and is $40/annually. Mambers get first dibs on food sales. They are also invited to participate in work bees centred around: storage crops, composting, transplanting, weeding, rotational grazing and animal husbandry, seed production, harvesting, threshing and storing, plus so much more.

Tamara invites participants to bring their questions to these sessions, and take advantage of the opportunity to draw from years of experience with farm and permaculture systems in operation. 

Members will receive a weekly email, listing available farm goods and the work-bees that are scheduled. 

They have an option to support the food bank. or specific people. 

“We’ll also be doing workshops. Members will access to Linnaea’s certified kitchen and access to seeds, to manure, to compost and me. We’ve been revamping our agricultural library … guild members will have access to that as well, “ said McPhail. 

Fifty-five people signed up in three days. 

“We’re taking 27 to start with,” said McPhail. “We are going to start small and take on more members as we iron out the kinks.”

Linnaea’s Other Offerings: Seed Bank; Kitchen; Education. 

“Food security is definitely coupled with seed security and we’ve been saving seed at Linnaea Farm since before I arrived. We’ve been actively amping up our seed production over the last five years,” said McPhail

Linnaea is also stocking their kitchen so that it can be used for food production, dehydration, smoking etc.

They also intend to offer some more educational pieces through the year. 

Purchasing A Share Of The Crop

Cec Robinson suggested that professional farmers could let members of the community invest in the harvest. For example, they might say it would cost $5,000 to grow grain on so many acres. People can put as much money into this as they wish. They will be repaid by receiving a portion of the harvest. There is no risk for the farmers, they are prepaid “and take this on as their own project.”. 

“Those of us who are putting in $100 are taking the risk, but we are risking it with a neighbour we know and trust. We are willing to take what we get.”

In response to the suggestion that this approach be used for growing grains and oils, McPhail said Linnaea’s attempts to grow these crops have met with meagre results in the past. The exception is amaranth, which flourishes in the Pacific Northwest.

She added, “I love the concept of community members taking the risk with the farmer, because it is a huge risk. When we speak to low wages, we are definitely below the poverty line in terms of low wages” 

Virtual Helps For Home Gardeners

There is a Cortes and Quadra Island Garden Club, as well as the Facebook page Quadra Island & Cortes Island Gardens.

“It has been an incredibly abundant source of support and resources. People are taking pictures of plants, trying to figure out what they are. Other people are responding. There is a lot of virtual mentorship going on there,” said Taylor.

“The needs and offering platform would be a really great place to start a community. If you are interested in that, please follow the links on Tideline or reach out to me and I can show you where that’s at.” 

Adam McKenty added that CCEDA is considering a platform designed for Needs, Offerings and Jobs.  

“It will be a few weeks at least.”

Cortes Islanders will find an invaluable index of news and resources at Cortes

Contact Info

Top photo credit: Linnaea Farm Food Security Guild

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