There we were, hundreds of us all spread out over the straw-dry meadow at UBC farm like a giant picnic party that exploded, except in this case there was a focal point: a small stage with the ubiquitous white B.C. tent in case of rain that never came, sheltering Michael Pollan on tour with his new book, In Defense of Food, An Eater's Manifesto .
The whole event was a fund- and awareness-raiser for UBC farm, whose future is unreasonably uncertain right now as the university's board of governors ponders what to do with the site in sight of more residential development for the endowment lands, including the farm, where no one thing serves a single purpose. The chickens, for instance, are a source of education, eggs, local protein, fertilizer and just plain fun, plus they work right into the organic crop rotation system by breaking up pest and disease cycles.
Given UBC farm does such important sustainable agricultural work and research with its 40 cultivated acres and some 200 crops, it's good to know we have a couple of major fans of the farm right in Whistler's own backyard.
Gavin Wright and Sarah McMillan run Rootdown Organics in Pemberton Valley on a site they're leasing from the Helmers. There these two new farmies have been tussling with the likes of deer, flea beetles and cabbage loopers in between making giant, stinky fertilizer "teas" of chicken manure or nettle or comfrey leaves, all in hopes of creating the kind of farm that both mimics and fits in with natural ecosystems.
The good news is that after a bit of a rough start what with this year's protracted winter replete with heavy, potentially greenhouse-crushing snows, Gavin and Sarah are winning, at least for now. They've been selling to many a happy customer their quintessentially organic and thoughtfully produced veggies, herbs, transplants and eggs at their farm gate and at the local Pemberton and Squamish farmers' markets, as well as the markets at Trout Lake and Kitsilano in The Big Smoke.
And both of them have UBC farm to thank for much of what they're doing and what they believe in - really one and the same thing.
"Sarah was a nutritionist by training and then realized she was really interested in the food production side. So she worked at a farm in Lytton for a season. And then last year did a farming apprenticeship at UBC farm - that was the first year they had it," says Gavin.
"She realized on her own what Michael Pollan is preaching now, and that's that good nutrition and good health are linked to eating good whole food. It's not about breaking things up and giving people nutriceuticals and little doses of vitamins and all this stuff. The best thing for nutrition is to have whole fresh food."