Many people had their first glance of the fertile farming lands just north of Whistler two weeks ago, during the first Pemberton Festival. The festival saw a longtime field transformed into grounds to hold 21,000 campers, dozens of vendors, and massive stages. But lots of locals are astutely aware of the real purpose of these lands — when I caught up with Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy at the grounds, he recalled haying the same land years earlier.
The simple fact of the matter is that Pemberton is rich in agricultural land, and it’s time people got together to talk about how our local food systems work with this rich resource so close to home.
On Thursday, Aug. 14, from 7 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. at MY Millennium Place in Whistler, the Slow Food Cycle Sunday Society is hosting their first public forum, entitled Anything Grows: The Future of Food in Whistler and Pemberton, to discuss local food systems. The talk is free, and is sponsored by the Community Foundation of Whistler.
Anna Helmer, of Helmer’s Organic Farm, is one of the organizers of the event. She also sits on the Whistler 2020 task force on food sustainability. Her involvement on the task force has helped her understand the link between the communities, which she believes will see Pemberton becoming a significant future food source for Whistler, in years to come.
“Whistler and Pemberton have this unique, sort of symbiotic relationship where Whistler is a bigger population and needs food and really can’t grow much of their own food at all, and here’s Pemberton, with masses of land and huge potential to grow everything,” Helmer explained. “…Food sustainability for Whistler would include getting food from very close to home, and Pemberton is a big agricultural area, so that sort of follows.”
Right now, Pemberton’s agricultural production is somewhat limited in terms of crop variety, but Helmer said there is definitely room to expand their capacity.
“We have the potential to do so much up here, but really, we’re limited by lots of different things, and I think we need to talk about what those things are,” she added.
The idea for the forum first came to Helmer when she was traveling through Thailand and Laos back in January. By the time they got home, fuel prices were starting to go through the roof, and food prices were beginning to follow. The timing was perfect.
“It’s not too late, it’s not like the fuel thing, where we’re captive now and completely dependent,” she explained.
While Helmer admits that making these necessary changes, like altering diets, eating patterns, and convincing people to invest more money eating locally, are challenging prospects, she believes that discussing the issues and brainstorming solutions is a key step in the right direction.
“It’s really important to note that I do not know what the solutions are, but this is a way that we can all sort of work it out together.”
She pointed out that consumers have a significant amount of influence and power, and it’s important that we engage in discussion on the subject to become informed and put pressure on government to make changes to our agricultural systems.
“Everybody needs to understand that we’re all in this together,” she added, “It’s not up to the farmer to change their entire model of business.”
To help discuss some of the more complicated underlying issues, organizers are bringing in a few guest speakers from Vancouver, including Robert Clark, executive chef at the prestigious C Restaurant. Clark is known as being progressive and well informed on the topic of food sustainability, and will be giving a talk entitled, “The Way I See It” —– his take on our local food system.
Ramona Scott of B.C.’s Land Conservancy will also be on hand to discuss some of the governmental issues that surround provincial agriculture.
“A lot of people think that they are the answer to getting farmers onto the land,” Helmer explained. “They run a few different programs aimed at preserving farmland.”
There are a lot of bureaucratic issues that need to be sorted out, and these are some of the subjects that will be tackled during their forum next week.
The Anything Grows discussion will precede the Slow Food Cycle,
the annual community bike ride along the Pemberton Meadows Road, which will be
held on Sunday, Aug. 17. For more information, visit