Vancouver Island Seed Cleaner Tour Recap

Posted on Friday, 4 November 2022 under Stories

Over the course of more than a month, our Vancouver Island Seed Security Program Coordinator Lisa Willott, travelled around the Island and the Southern Gulf Islands for a Mobile Seed Cleaner Tour that was a roaring success. She met with hundreds of farmers and gardeners, cleaned buckets and buckets of seeds and developed visions of sustainable communities of seed savers. In past years, there has been such high demand for seed cleaning equipment on the Island that this year we extended the tour length so that most locations would have several days with the equipment. Beginning the tour on September 25th, the tour wrapped up in Saanichton on October 29th.

We kicked the tour off with a bang at Field 5 Farm in Saanichton. 75 people gathered for the launch, listening to delightful folk tunes by Two Wheeler with Nancy Potvin and sipping on a locally made beer. Participants learned about our seed-cleaning equipment and the processes of growing and malting grains for local beer and spirits.

Mike Doehnel and Kyle Mitchell explaining some of the farm machinery to the crowd at Field 5 Farm.

From there, we headed to Good Earth Farm, an organic seed farm just north of Courtenay. Working with Heather and Simon was a treat. The scale of their seed saving operation was perfect for the equipment in our Mobile Seed Cleaning Trailer. Our equipment made tasks that are tedious when done by hand happen much more efficiently, and we thoroughly enjoyed cleaning loads of beans, peas, brassicas, herbs, and flowers.

Simon and Chris walk the fields at Good Earth Farm.

Leaving Good Earth Farm, we headed to Amara Farm just down the road and delighted in the fragrance of multiple tarps of coriander being threshed and cleaned. On Saturday, October 1st, we teamed up with the Vancouver Island Regional Library in Courtenay and connected with folks involved in their seed library. We had a lot of curiosity from passers-by and enthusiastic seed savers were excited to see our seed cleaning equipment in action.

Learning about seeds at the Courtenay Library.

A day with the Comox Valley Growers and Seed Savers brought more folks from the area together at Stellar Raven Ecological Farm in Royston. Nestled in their beautiful orchard, we learned of the interest for small-scale grain growing in the area and students and a professor from North Island College dropped by to see our machinery. For decades, this community has saved seeds for many unique varieties and new growers are coming forward to join the seed saving community.

Nestled in the orchard for seed cleaning at Stellar Raven Ecological Farm.

On October 3rd, we headed to Pender Island to begin the Southern Gulf Islands section of the tour. With four days on Pender at Highgrove Farm we met with many community members from the Gulf Islands Food Co-op, local farmers, and the Bean Collective. We threshed and cleaned lots of beans, lettuces, beets, and herbs. While cleaning seeds, we shared visions of how seed saving fits into a larger view of sustainability.

Members of the Bean Collective on Pender Island.

This year, we made the trip to Galiano Island for the first time and were not disappointed! We partnered with the Seed Library of Galiano and were thrilled to meet with dozens of community seed savers. The Saturday market was a buzz of activity, and we were worried we would lose our voices after talking to close to 100 people that dropped by who were interested in seed cleaning.

Threshing beans on Galiano Island.

Saltspring Island was our last stop in the gulf islands, last but not least busy! Sheila Dobie from The Root and Saltspring Island Farmlands Trust scheduled a full week of seed cleaning for multiple farmers and growers. It is validating for us to see the equipment being appreciated and used to its capacity, knowing that it is helping increase the quantity and quality of seeds being grown in BC.

On Saltspring Island, we also hosted our first carrot tasting of the tour with carrots provided by John Pattison, one of the farmers in our Canadian Organic Vegetable Improvement (CANOVI) variety trials. There were both orange and red variety trials for tasting, and we were excited to get opinions about texture, flavour and appearance at the rest of the stops on the tour to keep informing the breeding of these carrot varieties.

Saltspring Island seed cleaning orientation.

The trailer travelled to Nanaimo for the Saturday market on October 15th with Growing Opportunities Farm Community Co-operative. It is always exciting to see the beautiful things happening with this organization and on Five Acres Farm.

The following week, thanks to collaborating with the Cowichan Green Community, we made our way to Duncan to clean seeds at the Cowichan Farm Hub and for a public event in Kin Park Youth Urban Farm. We enjoyed the challenge of thinking through seed cleaning strategies for native plants they are growing as part of their Community Native Plant Nursery program.

The trailer returned to the Saanichton area for seed cleaning at Saanich Organics just as the forecast (finally) called for rain. With some luck, there were some clear days, and we got through a lot of seed cleaning of beans, radishes, flowers, and lettuces.

The Mobile Seed Cleaning Trailer’s final stop on the tour was at the Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture. On a blustery day, we met with several growers to demonstrate and help them learn the equipment. We threshed and cleaned several bins of a special heritage bean saved by the grandmother of one of the growers. We stayed warm and out of the wind, cleaning flower seeds with the Office Clipper we set up in the hoophouse.

Seed cleaning with Emily, Stan and Jenn at the Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture.

The Vancouver Island Mobile Seed Cleaning Trailer was on the move for over a month of seed cleaning, but it is not done its’ work for the season yet. The equipment will continue to be used at its home on Field 5 Farm and is still getting bookings as folks wrap up their seed cleaning and settle in for the winter.

What a joy it was to meet so many avid seed savers and be part of building a more resilient future in our province and in our communities.

Thank you to our funders, as well as all of the farmers, community groups, and local seed growers who made this tour a success. Funding in part for this program was provided by Vancouver Foundation and the BC Government through the Ministry of Agriculture and Food.