Salt Spring Island is a 180 square kilometre (70 square miles) land mass in the Salish Sea, between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia Mainland. The Island is dotted by small farms, 45 percent of which are less than 10 acres.
While Salt Spring farmers grow at least ninety different kinds of vegetable and fruit crops, and produce livestock, local food production makes up less than 10% of the available food on the Island and the rest is brought by ferry.
The community became concerned about a potential rise in food insecurity during the Covid-19 pandemic. They decided to mount special efforts to keep agriculture running as an essential business, markets well supplied with affordable and nutritious food, and island residents safely supplied with food despite movement restrictions and income losses.
The Salt Spring Island Agricultural Alliance, a network of organizations promoting local healthy food, developed a Recovery and Response Plan to address challenges presented by Covid-19 in March 2020.
Fourteen groups came together to contribute to the plan including the Salt Spring Island Agricultural Alliance, The Salt Spring Island Farmland Trust, Salt Spring Island Farmers’ Institute, The Community Market Society, Tour Salt Spring, Country Grocer, Salt Spring Chamber of Commerce, Transition Salt Spring, Transition Salt Spring Enterprise Cooperative, Community Economic Development Corporation, Island Natural Growers, the Poultry Club, Island Trustees, and Capital Regional District Local Area Representative. Plan implementation was financially supported by the Salt Spring Foundation, the Capital Regional District, and Community Evolution.
A group effort
The Tuesday Market Society took the lead on creating and maintaining a website for any local farmer to sell their products. Over 30 Salt Spring small businesses joined the website immediately and consumers have been able to order online for convenient pick-up at the Tuesday market.
The group also came together to ensure six in-person Farmers’ Markets happened safely, in the early season, from April to June 2020.
The local newspaper the Gulf Island Driftwood presented farmer profiles informing the community about access to local produce amidst the global pandemic.
The pandemic resulted in a number of silver linings for the agricultural community on Salt Spring:
- Vegetable box program subscriptions showed a 157% increase in 2020 over 2019.
- The Food Bank saw an estimated 35% increase in produce donations. Four farms consistently gave large amounts of food, many dedicated gardeners dropped off weekly donations.
- A Mentor Gardener program was established in an aim to increase food security and home garden production. At last count, the program had 26 mentors connected to 38 mentees (new/beginning gardeners). It appears to already be making a real difference in beginning gardeners’ successes and confidence.
Solid footing for the future
The Agriculture Response and Recovery Plan has resulted in unprecedented concentration of effort leading to improved awareness of the local food system. The work has been effective at bringing community partners together in collaboration to share resources and problem solve together. This collective action strengthens the agriculture sector and sets a solid footing for the future including the Salt Spring Island Area Farm Plan Renewal implementation.
A major benefit of the response and recovery work has been to better understand what everyone is doing and what their needs are so we can see if there is something collectively we can do to move things forward. Some new avenues opened up by having these conversations. Coming together resulted in more positive outcomes.