In the days of our grandparents everyone had a garden. We grew our own produce and visited a neighbour for eggs or the rancher down the road for meat. We supported each other and only visited the grocery store for box goods and specialty items. The food we ate had more nutrients and less chemicals.

Today our children have more allergies and health issues than the generations before us. Society as a whole is heavier and less active. Life has become something to hurry through. Quick and easy is the order of the day. We spend more time behind a screen, whether that be of a computer, game, television, or car than we do enjoying the outdoors.

What does this mean for us? Here in the Fraser Fort George Region which runs from Valemount to Terrace, it means a dramatic decrease in farmers and ranchers. A recent survey of over 100 of the region’s farms revealed that the average age of the farmer was over 55 and a large number of them plan to retire in the next five years. Historically our region has supplied large quantities of BC’s produce, but sadly this is no longer the case. With local farmers aging and young people more interested in their electronics, the future of the local farmer looks bleak.

Seeing this trend two years ago, Community Futures started a program called ‘Beyond the Market’. The idea behind this program was to bring farmers, ranchers, and consumers together. People that wanted to buy local were able to obtain the meat and produce from local farms and ranches; getting a more natural product while supporting local suppliers.

Saturday Jillian Merrick project coordinator of Beyond the Market was once again in McBride. She facilitated a dinner and invited anyone interested in farming and ranching to come out and share information. Merrick was able to obtain approval and funding to continue/expand the program in the Fraser Fort George Region. Community Futures wanted to get to know the local farmers/ranchers, help to provide a network of support, and give access to a knowledge bank specific to the region.

Approximately three dozen local farmers and ranchers took Merrick up on her offer. Over three hours was spent eating, talking, exchanging ideas, and answering questions. Merrick had a series of questions posted on the walls, the attendees went around the room offering their input and asking questions of their own. This dinner was to be repeated in Prince George, Vanderhoof, and Terrace allowing Merrick to compile information pertaining to the entire region. The hope is to pull all the information together and put it into a fluid resource document.

Those that attended Saturday’s dinner were hopeful that with some help, more information, and publicity we could attract more farmers and ranchers to build up our communities. Several in attendance noted the region needs a comprehensive economic development plan along with community classes on how to grow, raise, and store in the Robson Valley to have a better chance of long term success.

In an interview with Pete Amyoony he expressed his pleasure in seeing an initiative like this coming to us.

“The Lower Mainland and Prince George get the majority of services; things only happen here (Robson Valley) every few years.”

“Bringing people together gives them a feeling of belonging and connectivity that in itself can give hope. We need to encourage young people to learn from us while we are still here and able to teach them the pecularities of our area.”

Amyoony said he was encouraged Community Futures was working to find a way to help the local farmers/ranchers.

“Building a local library on regional farming and ranching, getting us all together (farmers/ranchers), and listening to us is a great start.”

One thing is sure – the demand for fresh locally grown and raised products has never been higher in BC or in the Robson Valley.

Historically we have the land needed to supply a huge amount of BC’s needs, but can we get enough local farmers and ranchers to help meet the demands? Or is farming and ranching dying out in the Robson Valley? Such were the challenging questions asked.

A village councillor from Valemount who sells vegetables in Valemount and Jasper, a buffalo rancher from McBride and others present have no difficulty selling their product locally. Similarly the product in our local market sells out week by week. Pete
Amyoony our own master gardener and writer in this newspaper, now restricts his selling to Dunster and only brings a limited amount of his excess to McBride’s market. As I think back to my youth, everyone had a backyard vegetable patch. Yet today few of us practice the life lessons of our past. We neither learn the lessons or teach our youngsters the joy of producing our own food.
We don’t get the sun and exercise that is the healthy byproduct of doing more than the minimal in our yards. More important, the vegetables we eat come in a can or are frozen in plants far away.

Merrick’s message on Saturday night was simply to share the learning and the know how from our past and we can grow much of the produce, meat, eggs or chicken we need and get some exercise and social interaction along the way. The sharing and learning that was going on Saturday evening indicates there is potential and willingness to see this happen.

Chris Parker