Maple Lane Agricultural Innovation Centre: Supporting Local Food Systems

Posted on Thursday, 8 July 2021 under Stories

Maple Lane Agricultural Innovation Centre is home to numerous farming operations that are pushing the boundaries of what can be grown in Metro Vancouver in support of local food systems. The centre’s 40-acres is currently split between four projects, including our very own Research and Education Seed Farm. Owner Don Campbell transformed this once organic dairy farm into a space for collaboration and innovation.

“Agriculture is a lot of work for little return for a lot of people. You have to have a passion for it. That’s why we designed the Centre as a mental playground. It’s fun to collaborate with like-minded people,” says Campbell.

On March 1st, 2019 we leased three and a half acres of certified organic land at Maple Lane. Since then, we have conducted public breeding trials and facilitated citizen learning opportunities directly from our Farm. This first-of-its-kind model in BC demonstrates the potential for local seed development in support of sustainable food systems equipped to withstand climate change. This starts with seeds adapted for local conditions that can withstand harsh weather.

Since 2016 we have engaged home gardeners in seed saving and breeding through our annual Citizen Seed Trials (CST). Adapted for growers of all experiences in any space, we guide participants through planting, caring, observing, and data collecting.

“The process of seed saving and breeding is extremely empowering. It connects growers to their food source and the ancestors who saved the seeds in the past. Our Citizen Seed Trials provide an easy way for any gardener to begin this journey,” says David Catzel, BC Seed Security Program Manager.

farmer in a field

We also conduct robust variety trials through the Canadian Organic Vegetable Improvement (CANOVI) program. In collaboration with a network of farmers and researchers from various academic institutions, we engage in multi-year variety trials that elevate farmers’ understanding and capacity to produce seeds themselves. This results in less reliance on international seed companies and improved local, sustainable food systems.

“Seeds and resulting produce from our Farm and network will, in turn, grow our locally available seed varieties,” adds Catzel.

Maple Lane supports producers who improve local food security and thus reduce environmental impacts typically associated with large food chains. In one of the Centre’s four thousand square-foot greenhouses, Lepp Farm Market produces its lettuce to complement multiple operations such as their orchards and ranch. This greenhouse is a way for Lepp to break out of the seasonality of their field production and grow a significant amount of leafy greens throughout the year.

“Instead of being at the mercy of the weather, we have the opportunity to tune the climate in the greenhouse to something more favourable for the plants,” adds Lepp Farm’s Dan Boon.

rows of lettuce

In addition to Maple Lane’s commitment to innovation and collaboration, Campbell stresses the need to support local and secure food systems.

“I think the pandemic has proven the importance of local food security. When borders, flights, and boats stop, people’s hunger doesn’t,” adds Campbell.

The cohort of growers at Maple Lane understands the community benefits of supporting local businesses. Boon says it creates a sense of accountability that is missed in the anonymous global food system because you gain the opportunity to create connections and build trust.

“I know that I want to buy my food from people I trust. It is hard to build that in people who are anonymous or thousands of miles away,” says Boon.

We are thrilled that Maple Lane Agricultural Innovation Centre will host our Metro Vancouver Feast of Fields event this year. Visit our Feast of Fields page to learn about our 2021 ‘At Home’ celebration. Secure your spot at Feast 2021 by following the link here.