Posted by: Silver | September 23, 2010

Growing in the Alberni Valley

Until fairly recently, Port Alberni was a company town. And that company was in the business of chopping down trees. So, the population largely became a self-selecting subset of people who thought this was a good idea. Then, when the bottom fell out of the Canadian timber market, the company abandoned the town, leaving many people without work.

Or, to put it another way, Port Alberni was presented to me as town full of penniless rednecks; not, you might think, the most fertile ground in which to plant the seeds of organic agriculture.

But, a surprising number of people are giving it a very good go.

My hosts in the Alberni Valley (organic farmers themselves, of course) were among five farms chosen to be part of a community farm tour in the valley – a one-day, free event inviting local people to come and see where and how their food is produced – and, thanks to a very kind friend of my hosts, I got the chance to see all five. One appeared to be pursuing fairly traditional monoculture farming, but all the others were, in their different ways, championing a more sustainable approach. The owner of the only organic grain mill on Vancouver Island explained the economic impossibilities of owning an organic combine harvester when there aren’t currently enough acres of organic grain to harvest, and his consequent attempts to encourage more people to convert (to be certified organic, grain must be harvested by a machine which is never used for conventional harvesting), whilst the local biodynamic farmer explained how to harness the powers of the cosmos in your soil: not necessarily the first thing you’d expect to hear within a week of arriving in a ‘redneck town’. My own hosts grew organic blueberries, and were in the process of doubling their number of bushes just to keep up with demand. Admittedly, everyone agreed that it was tough to try and make a living from local, sustainable agriculture here, but my experience on this journey so far has been that it’s tough to make a living from small-scale agriculture everywhere. And apparently, attitudes are starting to change a little in the town since the logging company upped and left, so my best wishes go to the beautiful Alberni Valley for a bright and sustainable farming future.

PS Port Alberni is also notable as the place I finally saw my first bear! Far from being eaten alive in my first week, it has taken over three months to even see one from a distance. And of course, just like buses, after all that waiting, two came along at the same time (well, nearly): the first really was quite distant – no more than a moving black blob without my friend’s binoculars – but the second, spotted as we were driving home from seeing the first, was only the width of the river away and really quite majestic. Fortunately, he appeared to have no interest in swimming across to say hello…

See! I saw a bear!

On the biodynamic farm, even the vehicles seemed to be part of the cycle of nature



  1. When my daughter was in Canada she was given advice that if she ever came face to face with a bear, she should stand her ground and make herself “look big”. Being small and very slightly built, she was never quite convinced. Personally, I think it would have worked – the bear would have just rolled over laughing.
    Worth a try, anyway.
    Take care!
    Love, John.

  2. HI!! See now do keep that repallant handy, remember the 3 buttons…..

    God to hear you are doing okay, my world here has just gone mental. My company’s CEO just resigned, so you can imagine the fun I am having now.

    Enough of this, I will no longer be a moaning old cow… poor B has to suffer badly under this.

    Take care

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