Herb Barbolet has a photo that he loves to show. It’s of a man out standing in his field — a lush, jumbly jungle of a field. But this green jungle is nowhere near the tropics, it’s in Aldergrove, and absolutely everything in the photo, except the man, of course, is edible.
Herb is Mr. Food Activist on about a thousand levels. I was lucky enough to hear him speak not long ago, and learned how he has been involved in community development for 30-plus years, as a food policy researcher, the author of the Vancouver Food System Assessment report, an associate professor at SFU’s Centre for Sustainable Development and as part of “Feeding the Global City” forum at the UN world Urban Forum in Vancouver last June.
He’s also t he man who co-founded FarmFolk/CityFolk, which is the group behind the upcoming Feast of Fields at North Arm Farm in Pemberton Aug. 18.
Herb cut his eyeteeth on social and anti-war activism in New York City in the late ’60s when it was hot bed of foment against U.S. involvement in Vietnam. He dropped into Vancouver in 1968, loaded with lots of experience about how governments — and citizens’ action groups — do and don’t work.
One of his first bits of “activism” was to buy a farm in Aldergrove and start a communal co-op in Kitsilano with three eight-bed units. Everybody ate in large groups. They served a lot of organic food, but Herb realized that people were more comfortable with store-bought food, like a head of iceberg lettuce wrapped in cellophane. That may have started the seed of the need for a group like FarmFolk/CityFolk to educate people about what they eat and its connection to the bigger picture.
The farm in Aldergrove was also key to Isadora’s, a co-operative restaurant on Granville Island with 1,500 members that he and a community school started. It drew in crowds for 10 years. The farm grew about 150 ingredients Isadora’s used — things that we take for granted now, like baby veggies and mixed greens, but were real wow factors back then.
Herb is also the man behind Chocolate Arts in Kitsilano, which takes designs by Haida artist Robert Davidson and incorporates them into fine chocolate.
No matter what form it takes, to Herb, food is an intimate commodity. “You take it in and it becomes part of you like air and water, the other two intimate commodities,” he says. But it’s also political, economic and cultural. “We socialize, celebrate and mourn around food.”