Saturday, December 09, 2006

History speaks- let us answer

“The Mainland Guardian” a Journal Published out of New Westminster in 1872 notes that “A minimum yield of from thirty to forty bushels of wheat to the acre is the ordinary average yield in the districts of Kamloops, Okanagan, Sumas, Chilliwack and the lower Fraser. Between the town of New Westminster and the mouth of the river, a yield very much exceeding this is often obtained.

In 1892, Thomas A. Sharpe, the Superintendent of the Dominion Experimental Farm in Aggasiz, B.C. sent his annual report to Ottawa. This report, the fourth in a series of annual reports, noted the successes and failures of certain crops and planting procedures at the farm in Aggasiz. The experiments with Spring Wheat, Barley and Oats yielded quite well on plots 1/20th of an acre in size. (Sessional Papers, 1893l 56 Victoria).

With Spring Wheat at the rate of 90lbs per acre, Red Fife Campbell’s White Chaff and Campbell’s triumph all produced upwords of 65 lbs per plot. Campell’s White Chaff was the highest yield, producing 81.5 lbs per plot in 108 days. Goldenthorpe, Duckbill and New Golden Grains Barley, sown at the rate of 96 lbs per acre show an average yield of 70 lbs per plot, taking 105 days to ripen. Giant Cluster, Improved Ligowo and Early Gothland oats, sown at about 110 lbs per acre, produced an average of 110 lbs per plot, taking 109 days to ripen.

The Second Report to the Ministry of Agriculture of BC for the same year (1892) reports on certain crops for specific regions. Many of these regions noted are included in our local bioregion and the experience and recommendations of local farmers are reported alongside a general overview of the agricultural productivity of a region. Sorting through the agricultural history of specific regions looking for grain statistics is taxing and it is suffice to say that the report is lengthy and detailed. For our purposes here, I will provided some excerpts that I feel support our case at hand.

In the region of Delta “[m]ost crops and fruits do well, and it is needless to say that the yield is enormous, and large quantities of wheat, barley [and] oats…are grown”. Mr. E. Hutchenson reports that approximately 6000 tons of grains were produced and recommends Red Fife and Democratic wheat as well as Peerless Barley and Banner oats (788-789). A compilation of other personal testimonies show that Red Fife wheat is the number one recommendation with Banner and Gypsy oats as well as rough barley being the top recommendations accordingly (790). In Langley, Mr.Rawlison claims that there was approximately 1000 tons of grain produced and Fife Spring Wheat, Hulless barley and Mane oats are recommended (805). In Chilliwhack, Mr. Webb reports approximately 1500 tons of grains produced. Red Fife wheat and Colorado Spring Wheat, Swamp Spring wheat and Campbell’s white chaff wheat are all endorsed. Banner oats and rough and six-rowed barley are also recommended (814-816).

Statistics Canada reported approximately a 70 percent increase in B.C. grain production over 75 years (1921-1996). Wheat production rose approximately 2.2 percent and barley production rose approximately 20 times, from 5, 786 acres in 1921 to 111,483 acres by 1996. Rye and Oats are also produced. In 1921, B.C. had approximately 110,000 acres in grain. By 1996, B.C. had approximately 295, 000 acres in grain. (Statistics Canada- Catalogue No. 93-358-XPB; 42-43).

About 85-90% of B.C. grain is grown in the Peace Region with the balance occurring in Vanderhoof, Creston and Armstrong. This is helpful to know when seeking out grain in the province, but is still far from offering us in the south a local, or sustainable source for grains. There is a small amount of grain produced in the Fraser Valley.
In terms of the area we are concerned with, the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture reports that in 2001 in the Lower Mainland/ South Western B.C. region, grains and oilseeds produced only 0.05% of the province’s total farm income and that farms producing these crops were only 0.21% of the province’s total farm force (www.agf.gov.bc.ca/stats/regional/mainland.htm). If grain production could successfully provide even 1-2 percent of this area’s agricultural output the option of local grain would be there for interested parties. In terms of higher costs to the consumer, local grain growing and production costs will simply have to be accepted and supported by those concerned and commited to increasing the demand for local products.

The prophecy of local grain II

"....And the message will be the same again and again- local food has its limitations but without experimentation we cannot write off grain production. The fear of land slipping to industrial uses is real, the possibility for grain farming discarded because of notions of grandeur. And this fixation on the 'massive' and the 'uniform' will lead us away from our history. The seeds that were scatered by human communities ten thousand years ago were a meeting point-an intersection of food and society. The time to find a new meeting place is upon us. Local, small scale grain systems can lead us there. Ask the people to think for a moment about their relationship to cereal crops. There are many who desire to renew that connection to history, to community to bread. Find one another for the time is now."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

One loaf can go a long way

For those of you who thought that I have abandoned my bread making- think again. I am here but have been keeping a low profile- trying to figure out a way to link this loaf of bread with community. There is one way to share a few loaves of bread with a 150 people. It takes the form of holy communion in my church. The bread becomes part of an ancient sacred drama which links people together through common ritual. If there is a better way to have this many people whom I care about share in this bread I would love to hear it. As far as I am concerned, this is what my bread was meant for- sometime in the new year. Since time is short, I will have to mill these grains by hand and get on with the baking.