Amara Farm owner Arzeena Hamir and daughter Amina tend to their stand at the Wednesday, June 19 farmers market in Courtenay. Scott Stanfield photo

Vancouver Island farmers upbeat about 2020, despite the pandemic

Coming off a record year for B.C. agriculture, Island growing season has been good

Record farming sales last year in B.C. indicate a solid foundation is in place to build a path towards economic recovery, says the Ministry of Agriculture.

According to farm cash receipts from 2019, the sector is growing with a record $3.9 billion in sales.

“COVID-19 has opened our eyes to the importance of our province’s self-sufficiency,” Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said in a news release. “I urge everyone to continue to show their appreciation for our farmers and support our local food system by making a special effort to Buy BC.”

Cannabis sales increased by nearly $300 million in 2019. Dairy sales increased $47 million, beef $25 million and field vegetables $17.5 million.

RELATED: Shortage of foreign workers costs Vancouver Island berry farmer thousands

On Vancouver Island, the sentiment is holding true as farmers have reached the mid-point of the season.

Neil Turner, who owns Amara Farm in Courtenay along with his wife, Arzeena Hamir, says weather has been a factor for both growing and sales this season. Rain and cooler-than-normal temperatures have delayed a number of crops. Blueberries, for instance, have been slower than usual to ripen, but the crops will likely produce more berries in days to come. Irrigation needs have been “way down” with the heavy amount of rain in early summer. The garlic crop is looking good, but Turner expects it to be delayed a week or two.

“As with most vegetable farmers, diversity is the way to insure yourself against crop failure, and to date we have only had one or two disappointments,” Turner said. “In terms of sales, we have focused on farmers markets, and they have been building slowly, affected by poorer weather and restrictions in attendance.”

If weather improves and demand continues to grow, he foresees a slight total sales gain over last year, perhaps 10 to 20 per cent. However, like most farmers, Turner won’t know until October as the summer months account for at least half of Amara’s sales.

Sales at Cottage Farm in Merville are about the same as last year, Paul Chalmers said at the July 15 farmers market in downtown Courtenay.

“Getting a few more customers buying from the farm because they don’t want to go to the supermarkets, especially the older generation. It’s been pretty positive for us. These farmers markets go year-round, so people keep coming back. We’re pretty much the same, if not a little better than last year.”

The downside, Chalmers said, is indirect costs associated with cleaning and with labour from out-of-country.

“Last year, we had WWOOFers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) on the farm. We can’t get them this year. It is harder for us that way, but it’s definitely busier.”

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Jill Lamberts, owner of Shorewolf Farm in Black Creek, said sales have picked up this month after a slow June.

“I’m really thrilled,” said Lamberts, who has been selling at markets and at roadside stands. “Every market, I’ve done the best that I’ve ever done than the week before.”

She said others farmers are also enjoying their best-ever season.

“They’re not even selling to restaurants, it’s just people buying,” Lamberts said.

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