Tag Archives: British Columbia

Transgenic Trangression

Sooke Harbour Salmon

So, fish. Let’s talk about their current situation. Wild fish good; genetically modified fish not so good. Pretty simple. Lately I have been receiving a smattering of emails, requests to sign petitions, and Facebook group membership suggestions all relating to the Wild Pacific Salmon, now being considered as BC’s symbol of strength, resilience, and culture. Seems reasonable as Pacific Salmon can be found on almost any menu, in any museum of BC history or culture, and was once found in every river. It also seems reasonable, because the wild population of these beautiful creatures are in a bit of a pickle and in need of some more serious recognition and protection. With the introduction of farmed salmon, and now transgenic species of the fish escaping from the confines of lice-infested, waste-riddled, open-net cage farms, the wild stock is in serious danger. More so than ever before. A friend of mine who has been in BC for most of his life, closely connected to the population of all things edible, has written to me that there are hardly any fish this year, noting also that he has been involved in the fight to save the species for decades. Yes, global warming, over-fishing, and contamination of our waterways all contribute to the threat, but in the past several years, genetic engineering is rearing its even uglier head, beyond the scope of the endless fields of corn, wheat, soy and cotton, brings this problem to a whole other level.

It is generally franken-salmon, a relative to Atlantic Salmon, being raised on the Pacific Coast in net-pens along the coast of BC. But as Les Blumenthal writes for the Washington Post, “by some estimates, 400,000 to 1 million Atlantic salmon have escaped into the wild from the 75 or so net-pen operations in British Columbia. A Purdue University study using a computer model — and widely criticized by the biotechnology industry — showed that if 60 transgenic fish bred in a population of 60,000 wild fish, the wild fish would be extinct in 40 generations.” I don’t know how you might feel about this, but from what I understand, anything that becomes extinct leaves a trail of consequences that is impossible to predict. Predators and prey both challenged by the void.

This introduction of a genetically manipulated acquroversy has lead me to ponder the situation closer to home.

Delicious Smoked Wild Salmon

I have been trying to figure out whether there is any difference between what’s happening in the rivers and ocean of the west coast, and our very own Great Lakes. I am a huge fan of Splake. It’s a cross between a lake trout and a brook trout, which I have written about ad nauseum. I love its flaky, orange flesh, it’s tiny little scales and clear bright eyes. I love the way it holds up on a grill and cooks evenly from the outside inwards on a hot pan. I adore the delicate flavour and not-too-overly-fatty mouth feel that seems to melt on the tongue, requiring little in the way of chewing or teeth. But what, prey tell, is the difference between that of our local fish scientists introducing such a mule to our waters to repopulate the lakes and the genetic engineering of salmon in BC? This intervention seems less than favourable when dissected and deboned. Perhaps the trout is in cahoots with the zebra mussel mafia and is quietly planning yet another unwelcome and prolific invasion. Perhaps the few native fish we have left in the lakes will be bullied and picked on by the new kids, who generally grow faster than their predecessors, and will give up the fight, only to be devastated by the conquerors. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of research on the subject, and I shy away from quoting Wikipedia most of the time, so I will leave the question open. But to me, the use of the terms “man-created hybrid” when associated with a species of any organism, is a red flag (http://members.shaw.ca/amuir/splake.html). Does anyone out there have any idea if my fear is valid?

There are ways for us to fight upstream with the government and protest bogus policy and sustainability-washing certifications, that eco-organizations are doling out like candy so that companies can sell more product to unsuspecting salmon eaters. Alexandra Morton, who has done extensive research on salmon stocks, private and public policies has sent out the letter following this post. If you feel particularly strongly about the remarkable power that massive acquaculture companies have over our environment, our governance, and our food system, please take the time to read and react to Alexandra’s call for help.

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BC Beauty and Bounty

I have just finished a fabulous course at Foxglove Farm on Salt Spring Island on Growing for Market. Having been inspired by the magnificently beautiful surroundings, enthusiastic and passionate participants, and the expertise that Michael Ableman, Jeanne Marie Herman, and Josh Volk possess, I am quite certain that growing food is something I just have to do at some point.

Foxglove Farm, Growing for Market

Foxglove Farm, Growing for Market

I have had the pleasure of touring around Vancouver Island and Salt Spring Island to meet farmers, chefs, family, and make new friends who just seem to get “it”. There are definitely many obstacles to a smoothly operating local food system that could support the demand in the area, but it seems as though there are also many projects that are really progressive and making serious and positive change happen.

Haliburton Farm is one such example. A handful of growers in a residential community in Saanich have come together to create a community friendly space to grow food and show people what is possible in urban settings. The individual growers come together to co-market their products at the on-site farm stand, and take their stunning products to the Moss Street Market in Victoria on Saturdays. This co-operative relationship between small growers is making it possible and sustainable for the people involved to remain and thrive in agriculture.

Food Roots is offering Pocket Markets in many different forms in neighbourhoods around Victoria making sure that small local farms are prioritized as suppliers and helping to distribute their beautiful food. Food Roots has also just started a wholesale produce outlet for food service and retail operations in the city to access truly local and sustainable food. Lee Fuge was very generous with her time to show me the projects and to discuss the similarities and differences between FoodShare Toronto’s Good Food Markets and the Pocket Markets of Victoria

Lee and Ramona showing me Rayn or Shine Community Garden in Vic West

Lee and Ramona showing me Rayn or Shine Community Garden in Vic West

The Land Conservancy, although just having gone through major changes on the Board of Directors and some staff changes, strives to protect land in British Columbia for agriculture, recreation, culture, and nature.

Providence Farm is a beautiful example of a multi-faceted organization that nurtures people in a therapeutic environment filled with plants and good food. This year Providence farm hosted the Feast of Fields event pairing chefs and local producers cooking up a storm as a fundraiser for local sustainable food systems.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Ramona Scott who is now working with Local Food Plus to roll out the certification program in BC. Whether or not it will take hold is yet to be seen, but thus far there is interest from six or seven producers and strategy in place to get some retail stores to promote LFP certified products. Ms. Scott thinks that having a definition of what is local and what is sustainable will really help to reduce the ambiguity that exists for the consumer trying to make better choices.

And then there are the producers, of course, who make it all happen. On Salt Spring Island I was very happy to visit Moonstruck Organic Cheese, using Jersey milk; Salt Spring Island Cheese, using goat and sheep milk; Foxglove Farm’s uber-high quality vegetables; Deerholme Farm salad greens; Fol Epi making breads and pastry with freshly ground red fife wheat; Frog Song Farm supplying the Duncan Farmers’ Market; AppleLuscious with countless varieties of apples and host of the Salt Spring Island apple festival; and the Archers raising water buffalo at Fairburn Farm alongside Mara Jernigan’s culinary retreat paradise.

It was all very exciting to see how the food community works in a new place and to acknowledge the challenges that they all face. Again, it comes down to big companies having a big share of the market, distribution for those companies becoming more and more centralized and inaccessible for smaller producers, and market price becoming too low with which to compete. The local grocery chain Thrifty’s is now owned by Sobeys and it is one example of how local control is being lost on Vancouver Island and all over BC.

So why doesn’t everyone in Canada move to BC? I’m not sure, it seems like paradise there and I may just take everyone’s advice and move on out to Vancouver Island where the growing season lasts all year. Not to mention, the mushrooming is fantastic!chicken of the woods