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.”
Because it touches so many social aspects, he’s found food to be a perfect venue for social change.
“Right now, 800 million people go hungry and at the same time we have 1.2 billion people obese and malnourished from junk food,” he says. “So for the first time in history, the number of obese people on Earth has surpassed the hungry.”
Many of the problems he lays at the feet of the artificial food supply (he jokes that the five main food groups today are coffee, alcohol, nicotine, fat and sugar) and the kind of industrial agriculture that can see one person farm 15,000 acres of land with mechanization and tons of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
In this whole scenario, one of the outstanding ironies is that in North America, we think food is expensive. But according to Herb, not so.
We North Americans pay less than 10 per cent of our disposable income on food. And of that our farmers get less than 10 per cent of the food dollar. In Europe, people pay 20 per cent of their disposable income on food. And in a miserable and shameful reversal of fate, Third World residents pay 50-75 per cent of their disposable income on food.
“The North American ratio is the lowest of any jurisdiction on
Earth and the lowest in human history,” he says. “The argument that organic is
expensive is a non-starter.” It is simply closer to a realistic price for food.
So fresh, delicious, real, and realistically-priced local produce and goodies, anyone? Can’t wait for the Aug. 18-19 weekend. Thankfully, Feast of Fields and the Slow Food Cycle Sunday are joyful, taste-full antitheses of everything that’s imploding our current food system.
In the beginning…
The concept of Feast of Fields sprouted from the minds of two great chefs (some might say geniuses) and friends, Michael Stadtländer and Jamie Kennedy.
native of Germany,
something of a food revolutionary. After
ditching a gilded career along more conventional lines, he and his wife,
Nobuyo, have found his bliss at Eigensinn Farm, located a two-hour drive from
Toronto, where a handful of guests fork over $250 a head for an epic
eight-course dinner in an eccentric setting. You bring your own wine. Most of
the ingredients come from the farm or other Canadian environs.
I n the late 1980s, Stadtländer along with Kennedy, an outstanding restaurateur in his own right considered to be Toronto’s organic guru, founded an organization called Knives and Forks to promote regional organic farming and connect urbanites with real food and the farms where it comes from. They also started Toronto’s first organic farmers’ market (what a concept!).
In the early 1990s, Feast of Fields came to Vancouver, where it is hosted by FarmFolk/CityFolk, a non-profit society that wants one simple thing: for people to eat local, fresh, seasonal foods, grown using farming practices that contribute to the health of the planet. Since then the group has organized over a dozen feasts in the Lower Mainland, on Vancouver Island, and now in Pemberton.
Now go have some fun…
The second annual Sea-to-Sky Feast of Fields will be held Saturday, Aug. 18 at the North Arm Farm in Pemberton under the capable hand of Fairmont Chateau Whistler executive chef, Vincent Stufano. For more info, go to www.ffcf.bc.ca/whistlerfeast.
Next day, grab your bike for Slow Food Cycle Sunday. It’s the third year for this pedal-pushing/fork-lifting event along the flats of beautiful Pemberton Valley, and it’s only going to be better than ever.
Start at the Community Centre on Pemberton Meadows Road any time after 9 a.m. on the 19th. It’s free, but you will need to pay for the wonderful farm-fresh, homemade samples along the way (bring cash — none of the farms will have Interact). For more info, go to www.slowfoodcyclesunday.com.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who
thinks farmers, along with teachers and nurses, are among the lowest paid and
most under-valued people in our communities.