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Don’t be sheepish about a new industry

| 25/03/2009 | Reply


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“Okay,” my friend says, standing with me in a local field. “It’s a sheep. How can sheep be an agricultural industry?”

I
tell him that it’s all about diversification. Agriculture now includes
things like value-added and specialty food production, agroforestry,
the wine industry, biofuels, and agritourism. Expanding local
agriculture might mean thinking outside the barn.

Take
that sheep, for example. Most sheep raised in this area are raised for
meat, with some limited wool sales. British Columbia currently supplies
less than 25 per cent of the domestic lamb market. That means that
three-quarters of the lamb consumed in this province is imported from
Alberta, the United States, or New Zealand. At one of the Saturday
agriculture discussions last year we heard about a sheep farmer in New
Zealand who regularly sold his entire flock to a processor in Surrey,
B.C.

So our sheep could
provide meat for local markets, but it is also very marketable to halal
and specialty meat markets throughout the province. There isn’t much of
a market for spun wool, unfortunately, but there is a demand for wool
to be used as quilt and duvet batting. There is the potential for a
felting business, using the wool to create strong and warm wool felts
for clothing and industrial uses. And for the truly adventurous there
is a growing niche market for cheeses and yogurt made from sheep’s
milk. Mountain Meadow Dairy in Chase, for example, produces a full line
of sheep cheeses, including brie and feta, and a sheep’s milk yogurt
(www.sheepcheesecanada.ca).

And
our sheep lends itself to agritourism. Several years ago I spent a
weekend up to my armpits in sheep at a Spinnerama event in Bella Coola.
It started on Friday night. By closing time on Sunday each team had
shorn their sheep, combed, carded, and spun the wool, and created a
piece of clothing from the wool. People made the trip over that
mountain into Bella Coola year after year for Spinnerama.

Our
one sheep lends itself well to a number of different uses, all of which
have the potential to contribute to our local economy. Goats offer
similar opportunities in the specialty meat and cheese markets. There
are challenges, no doubt, but the first step is thinking beyond what
always has been done and see what might also be possible.

On
March 27 and 28 the College of New Caledonia in Fort St. James will be
hosting two workshops to encourage us to think outside the barn.
Heloise Dixon-Warren is the co-owner of Moose Meadows Farm in Quesnel,
a director of the BC Farm Women’s Network, and a founding member of the
BC Agritourism Alliance.

She
is active with her local Farmers’ Market as a member of FARMED (the
North Cariboo Agricultural Marketing Association) which won the 2008
Tourism Excellence Award from the Quesnel Business Association
(www.farmed.ca). Moose Meadows and FARMED were joint winners of the
first Award of Excellence for Innovation in Agriculture and Agri-Food
from the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.

On
March 27, Heloise will be showing how she makes and markets her
wreaths. Moose Meadows has been making Christmas wreaths for several
years, using boughs and other natural materials gathered from their
property. In 2001 they sold a few hundred wreaths, mostly at craft
fairs and online. Last year they were approached by a major Lower
Mainland grocery store chain who wanted to sell their wreaths
exclusively. (She is promising a special appearance from Rudolph.)

The workshop will be held from 7 to 9 p.m., and cost is $10.

On
March 28 Heloise will be leading a full day discussion and workshop on
farm diversification, marketing, and agritourism. The workshop will be
from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and cost is $25. Pre-registration is preferred
for both workshops, and for more information or to register call CNC at
250.996.7019.

That little red barn keeps getting bigger all the time.

The
Fort St. James Agricultural Feasibility Study is funded by the Western
Economic Diversification Canada Mountain Pine Beetle Community Economic
Development Initiative. It is supported by the District of Fort St.
James, the Sinkut Mountain Cattlemen’s Association, the Fort St. James
Farmer’s Market Society, Fireweed Collective Society, and the College
of New Caledonia. For more information on the project call Kandace at
250.996.0194, or by e-mail at kkswt@fsjames.com.

Category: Canada, Meat & Poultry, The Americas

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