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Inspiring Initiatives Going Down at Sandown

Updated: Jan 5

Cowpeas, fresh from the vine, grown by Lisa. 📷: Jess Barton

We as a collective - Ariel, Jess, and Anna Maria, had the privilege of going to visit Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture last week to meet with Farm Folk City Folk’s Vancouver Island Seed Security Coordinator, Lisa Willott. We also ran into farmer friends who had attended our Small Scale Farmers’ Gathering earlier this year, and met a graduate student researching different land management practices and their impact on food quality.

But the real reason we were there was to visit Lisa and to see the unique crops she was trialing based on our suggestions of culturally relevant crops that could potentially grow in our climate. The beauty of working with resourceful farmers who are connected to various regional seed networks is that we can make a suggestion, and they will find someone in the community who grows a locally-adapted variety, or start the process themselves. Based on our suggestions, Lisa grew one variety of cowpeas (black-eyed peas), and two varieties of chickpeas, a variety of amaranth cultivated for grain, and we also discovered that she had had a small watermelon harvest as well!

Cowpeas drying on the vine. 📷: Jess Barton

Cowpeas are commonly used in West Africa for cooking, fixing nitrogen in the soil , and watermelon, which was brought over to Turtle Island with colonizers and displaced African peoples, originated in southern Africa as a valuable source of water in the desert. Amaranth has been cultivated in Central and South America and was regarded as a divine food by the Aztecs, and is now commonly used both for its grain and its nutritious leaves in cultures around the world. Chickpeas are some of the oldest cultivated plants in existence, primarily from Mediterranean, Middle East and African regions, and today are commonly used worldwide.

It is fascinating when growing certain crops to see the yields from each plant. From a season of growing, and entire rows devoted to each crop, at most there will be around a few cups’ worth of edible food parts from each variety Lisa planted. It’s a confronting demonstration of the need for certain crops to be cultivated at scale, even for a single household’s personal use. Despite the amazing work and Lisa’s mindful tending to these plants throughout the season, the yields are not huge.

Lisa sharing her growing experience with Cowpeas. 📷: Jess Barton

This is due to the nature of the yields that typically come from each plant, and also taking into account that these plants are typically grown in climates with longer, hotter summers, and we are only beginning the process of adapting them to our unique west coast Mediterranean climate. But the intention wasn’t to get yields to feed the people - part of the intention was to experiment with how these crops would fare in our climate, and in that sense, Lisa learned some great lessons that she can now share with interested local growers and consumers.

Additionally, we were so impressed to see that Lisa and the other Sandown farmers were growing food on the lands at all - the soil had lots of rocky fill and had been heavily compacted and degraded from its previous iteration as a horse race track for over 50 years, and the farm/demonstration site has only been operating for the past three years. The fact that the plots were as abundant as they were speaks to the experience of the farmers in building soil and building relationships with their food crops.

We are so grateful for the opportunity to connect with these significant food plants up close, and to our partnership with Lisa. We see this as one thread of our Community Supported Agriculture web, which comprises many other growers and producers. We’re humbled to witness their generosity in sharing about their years of experience, and their ongoing commitments to create a more equitable local food system for the benefit of people and the planet.

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