Rural Traditions - Seed for the Future

The community marketplace not only provides health benefits, it also contributes to the quality of life in rural settings.

Community marketplaces and related endeavours, such as farmers' markets, seed exchanges, and simple networking, are among the best features of rural life. Indeed, such amenities also produce benefits for city dwellers, as produce is frequently brought into urban settings to be sold country style. Vancouver's Granville Island is one of the most successful of such city marketplaces.

But, urban marketing methods aside, the community marketplace provides one of the greatest pleasures of living in the country or a small town. And simple pleasure is not the only motivation; small-scale organic farming, seed exchanges, and community marketplaces are all part of the growing need for a different way of doing things, for knowing what's in the food we eat, and to provide alternatives for those who object to eating the heavily fertilized, insecticide-treated, genetically altered, over-processed foods that have become increasingly pervasive.

It's not just a practical and healthy way of living-it represents an improved way of life for many people, both residents and visitors.

On Vancouver Island, where the Island Highway connects a long string of villages, and along roadsides on all of the remote islands located along the BC coastline, small produce stands have proliferated, each offering fruits and vegetables on home-made wooden display stands, much to the delight of tourists, who are unused to such sights and opportunities where they live. In addition to being a popular way to shop and to socialize, for tourists and residents alike, such cottage industries provide a welcome source of income in areas of low employment.

Supermarkets are not threatened by local marketplaces; shoppers who want to stroll past shelves packed with their favourite brand names, while wrestling with a shopping cart with that one squeaky wheel that always sticks, will still have plenty of choices. But supermarkets are not for those who enjoy the green-acres experience.

That experience is for those who want to know exactly what they're growing, eating, and selling or trading to others. And those who buy their food in community marketplaces greatly benefit from the farmers' attention to detail, since farmers usually take their own produce to the market, and can say exactly what was used in the growing of it. Martha Stewart would approve. So would HRH the Prince of Wales. Charles is well known for his interest in organic farming, and his concern over the effects of genetically altered crops.

His concern is shared by all those who want to know not only what's in the food they eat, but also want the assurance of being able to obtain seeds that are guaranteed not to have been genetically altered.

The costs of growing organically may be a bit higher, but this is at least partially offset by the lower costs of shipping, handling, and marketing.

Community markets are one of those welcome situations where the government has little to do with the process. The province applies no special regulations, and decisions, such as who can sell produce and what foods will they sell, are made at the local level by the market manager or a committee. But there is some help available from the BC Ministry of Agriculture. It offers two booklets (actually, fairly hefty documents of about 100 pages each): Direct Marketing: A Handbook for Farm Producers, and Direct Marketing: A Handbook on Farm Processing. The second of these is oriented toward "value-added processing"-making the produce more appealing to purchasers, especially tourists.

Cortes Island is one of BC's northern Gulf Islands, and it's fairly typical of the rural island settings that line the West Coast. These are settings that attract those who have a special interest in such things as preserving heritage plants-those fruit trees and vegetables that may no longer be on the cutting edge of evolution, but which once played an important role in local histories-and in exchanging seeds so the diversity provided by those plants will not be lost, and so they may be grown by others.

Seed saving is a popular pastime, and various organizations have sprouted in support of the concept. The former Heritage Seed Program operates as Seeds of Diversity Canada and offers more than 600 varieties of seeds to members. There's also a Seed Savers Exchange, and both organizations provide a listing of the growers who have seeds to offer. And there are several other publications available to those interested in organic gardening and heritage seeds, either for growing food for themselves or for selling produce in the marketplace.

One rural organization that takes its seed-saving seriously is the Lin-naea farm on Cortes Island. For 11 years, it has offered an eight-month Ecological Gardening Program to teach the disappearing arts of food cultivation and responsible land stewardship. Linnaea's potato co-op is in its 15th year, and in the fall, the farm hosts a Seed Swap Potluck, featuring a slide show from the Seed Savers Exchange. Recently, students in the Ecological Gardening Program began to set up their own seed exchange program, the Linnaea Seed Project, complete with a library of resource materials.

The Planting Seeds Project is a Vancouver-based network with a wider base of operations, counting among its members organic farmers from all parts of BC and Canada. Its stated purpose is to preserve viable seed for the world's food supply by returning lesser-known varieties of produce to the marketplace. Theirs is a collective effort, which makes field trips, complete with information-sharing workshops ,to Linnaea and other farms.

Another island alternative is Salt Spring Seeds, which offers untreated seeds, grown without herbicides, pesticide, or synthetic fertilizers. The advantage offered to coastal farmers is that these seeds will produce high-yield crops that are adapted to northern climates, and varieties that are not readily available elsewhere in North America. All of this produce is not for eating purposes; some of it is for medicinal or aesthetic purposes, and all of the seeds are certified organic by the Island Organic Producers Association.

* For more information, contact:

  • Planting Seeds Project, 1045 Commercial Dr, Vancouver BC V5L 3X1 phone (604)255-2326; fax (604)255-1788.
  • Linnaea Seed Project, Box 98 Manson's Landing, BC V0P 1K0; phone (250)935-6898; fax (250)935-6413; email:
  • Salt Spring Seeds 1998 Catalogue: Box 444, Ganges, Salt Spring Island, BC V8K 2W1; phone (250)537-5269.
  • To order: Direct Marketing: A Handbook for Farm Producers, and Direct marketing: A Handbook on Farm Processing: contact the BC Ministry of Agriculture, Blgd 20, 8801 E. Saanich Rd, Sydney, BC V8L 1H3; phone (250)655-5649; fax(250)655-5657; email:

* Feature sponsored by the Watershed Sentinel Development Fund, with special help from Friends of Cortes Island and Mountain Equipment Co-op.


[From WS December 1998/January 1999]


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