Thursday, 30 June 2011

Attention Urban Homesteaders!

For all you backyard gardeners and urban foragers looking to take your projects to the next level, there's a great Vancouver-based resource that will assist you in setting up a beehive, chicken coop, gourmet mushroom patch, or aquaponics system. The Backyard Bounty Collective is made up of four urban "farmpreneurs" working with the support of Farm Folk City Folk and the Environmental Youth Alliance to educate the community through public workshops, educational events, client consultation, and online resources. For more info on their services, visit their website:

This could be the newest member of your backyard colony

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Healthy Popsicles Come to the Market!

Cucumber Lime Mint - one of the 4 fabulous flavours in the Icy Freshpops line-up

Icy Freshpops, a new Vancouver-based mobile popsicle vendor, made its debut at the Main Street and Kitsilano markets this past week. All their popsicles are made with fresh, locally-sourced fruit, veggies, and herbs and come in such flavours as Strawberry Basil, Raspberry Chocolate, Blueberry Lemonade, and the above-mentioned Cucumber Lime Mint. Freshpops are made with a minimal amount of organic cane sugar and contain almost a whole nutritional serving of fruit! For more detailed info and complete nutritional and ingredient listings, visit the Icy Freshpops website, and look out for their trike at the markets on hot, sunny days!

The Icy Freshpops trike at Main Street Station market

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Growing Up with Campagnolo

Campagnolo has been a strong supporter of the Main Street Station market since they both opened in 2009. Situated just steps from our Wednesday location, the casual Italian dining establishment offers a market day menu and sells it's fresh, house-made pasta on-site. Check out this recent post from the Good Life Vancouver blog:

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Spotlight On: Jane's Honey Bees

At just 2 1/2, little Tillie's taking care of business

For Liz Graham and Jay Chandler, beekeeping isn't just a hobby, it's a family tradition. The couple, a.k.a Jane's Honey Bees, started beekeeping in 1999 and have been vending with VFM since 2004. They originally learned the trade from Jay's brother in Alberta, who inherited the business from their stepfather's family. Liz and Jay then made the move to the Lower Mainland in 2001, and have been keeping bees ever since. With the birth of their daughter Tillie in 2009, they've enlisted another little worker bee in the family tree, and have been training her to collect honey comb at the tender age of 2 and a half. Who knew they made bee suits that small?

How many hives do you keep, and how many bees does that add up to?   We usually run anywhere from 500-1000 hives, depending on the year and the time of year. A hive can range from 30, 000 - 50, 000 or more bees.

Where are your hives kept?   Mainly in South Surrey, sometimes also Langley and Aldergrove, just north of the US border. Our bees are kept on rented land, so it sometimes changes from year to year, especially with all the development happening in the area recently.

Do your bees move around throughout the season, and do you loan them out to farmers for pollination?  We do move our bees around for pollination, which is a large portion of our income. We pollinate blueberries in Surrey, Delta, and Abbotsford, raspberries in Abbotsford, and cranberries in Richmond. This helps the farmers ensure a good crop, and allows us to harvest a larger variety of honey.

How much does each hive yield?   Because we move the bees we get a bit lower honey production than if we left them in one spot. We get a lot less honey than beekeepers on the prairies or up in Northern BC. From a good strong hive we probably get around 100 lbs in a season.

How long does the honey season go for?   For us, production season is from May until August. We pull off blueberry honey in early June, raspberry at end of June, cranberry/blackberry in mid-July, and wildflower in mid-August. Then the bees have time to collect some honey for themselves for the winter, and for us to check them to see how they're doing. They get out of the hives most months of the year but when it's cold, they just cluster up in the hive to stay warm.

Have your bees been affected by any of the problems widespread in the US and other places?   We have been affected by the problems bees are having around the world. Varroa mites have been implicated as a contributor to the high bee losses, and we have a significant problem with them in our area. 

What's your opinion on what's happening to the bees? What are the best solutions for saving them?   From what I've read, there are many factors contributing to the problems bees are having. For us, we're going to try to do some breeding of our own, buy local queens that have been bred to do better in this environment and to resist the varroa mite better. With globalization, it seems that even as one problem is figure out, a new one arises. We are expecting a new pest, the small hive beetle, may arrive in BC soon which will be an entirely new problem to deal with.

What's the hardest thing about being a beekeeper?   Like other forms of farming, the hardest factor is being at the mercy of the weather. You can plan all you like, but if the weather doesn't cooperate then things may not work out as planned. Also with bees there is the worry of over winter survival - you can put them into winter having prepared them the best you can, but come spring you never really know what to expect and how many hives have survived.

Any new products we should hear about?   We've started selling our bee pollen, which is cleaned by hand and very time consuming, at most of our recent markets. The supply is limited, but we'll try to have it all summer. Also, we introduced a blueberry honey last week at the Main Street market which we'll have on-going.

Jane's Honey Bees sell a variety of delicious honey, pollen, beeswax candles, and lip balm at weekly markets throughout the Lower Mainland. For more info on their scheduled dates, products, and production techniques, visit their website at, or better yet, check out their blog.

Blueberry honey- the latest offering from Jane's!


Tuesday, 14 June 2011

VFM welcomes first ever fresh shellfish vendor

Floating rafts used to suspend oyster trays

After some lengthy negotiations with local health authorities in Vancouver and Vancouver Island,  we're happy to announce that Sawmill Bay Shellfish Co. made it's debut at Trout Lake and Kitsilano markets last weekend. The first seafood vendor to gain approval to vend fresh (as opposed to frozen) shellfish at VFM, the folks at Sawmill traveled in from Read Island (between Cortez and Quadra Is.) to offer oysters, mussels, clams, and scallops to excited market shoppers. "We're somewhere between fishers and farmers", says owner Stephen Pocock of his family run business. The Pococks have two locations on Read Island (pop. 50!) where they raise oysters and clams in the pristine, glacier-fed inlets of some of the world's cleanest waters.

Can you explain to us how shellfish production works?  As shellfish farmers we buy seed (baby) oysters, clams, and mussels from a hatchery and look after them until ready to harvest. We're helped by the fact that shellfish get their food directly from the water they are grown in, so no need for haymaking or fertilizer! Also, we cannot feed or medicate the shellfish so they're all natural and ocean-fed.

What made you pursue shellfish farming?   We've been land farmers all of our working lives up until 4 years ago when we made the change over to shellfish farming. Our love of the ocean and the coastal climate along, with our passion for looking after growing creatures were major factors in our choice to pursue this kind of farming.

Is Read Is. known for it's seafood production, or is your business quite unique to the area?   We have a major advantage over other shellfish farmers with the pristine and remote environment where we raise our stock. Read Is. has a year-round population of 50 and none of these residents live near our farms. We have a small group of shellfish farming neighbours up here, but the big problem is attracting new, young entrants to this hard work life.

What kinds of challenges are involved with raising shellfish?  We are at the mercy of the weather. Although our sites are in sheltered bays, we have to access them by boat across open water which can be a challenge some times. Rain gear is a must! We also have predators in the form of starfish and crabs, which we try to keep out of the farmed areas.

Why farm vs. wild harvest?   As farmers, we raise seed produced in a hatchery which is totally sustainable and not depleting wild stocks.

Does your season go all year, or are there months that you don't harvest?   We harvest year-round with the highest quality being in the fall/early winter period.

Like regular farming, does the harvest vary from season to season?   The shellfish grow mostly in the summer months, so during the winter we sell the previous year's stock which can lead to short supply in the springtime before the new burst of growth. As with all farming, some years are better than others depending on plankton growth, water temperature, etc.

And finally... what do shellfish eat?   Phyto-plankton, which is naturally occurring in the ocean. The quantity available is dependent on factors like water temperature, intensity of sunlight, among other things.

Sawmill Bay will return to the markets on July 2nd at Trout Lake, and July 3rd at Kitsilano. In the meantime, you can sample their delectable shellfish at several Vancouver eateries including the Irish Heather, Campagnola, The Pourhouse, Gotham, C Restaurant, and the Blue Water Cafe and Raw Bar. For a complete restaurant listing or more info on their products, visit their website at

Heading out to work on a calm day


Looking for a great Father's Day activity for those DIY dads? Come Build a Boat with Dad this Father's Day with Owl + Pussycat, VFM vendor and maker of hip and adorable toy kits for kids. All the supplies needed to build these sweet little wooden sail boats will be on hand on June 19 at the Kitsilano Market at Owl's stall, for the cost of $15. So grab a grown up, build a boat and spend the day sailing - do-it-yourself fun!

To check out more of Owl + Pussycat's fun and creative kits, visit her etsy site at Amanda will be vending on select dates at the Kitsilano market this summer.

Friday, 10 June 2011

The Beauty of a Shared Harvest

Looking to borrow a wheelbarrow for the afternoon, for a place to donate those extra tomatoes and zucchinis you grew, or seeking a supplier of organic blueberries? Shared Harvest of the Fraser Valley is your one-stop resource directory for local food and agricultural products. A project of the Farm Folk City Folk Society, the Shared Harvest website provides free listings to members through their "Wanted" and "Available" ads. Anyone is eligible for membership, and membership is free! Food that is grown, processed, raised, caught, or harvested can be listed on the site, and individuals and organizations seeking local food can place ads for products and equipment. Check out their blog for more details on how Shared Harvest works.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Spotlight On: Albert's Herbs and Nursery

                                          Trellised Squash

When it comes to being a farmers market veteran, they don't come more seasoned than Albert Balabanov. Better known as Albert's Herbs and Nursery, Balabanov is a founding vendor who's been with VFM since day one. "I started 16 or so years ago in the Croatian Centre parking lot, with some herb plants and cherry tomatoes" says the Burnaby-based farmer. A popular provider of a large assortment of herbs and vegetable starts, Balabanov also grows a full range of ground crops from January to October. We asked him to tell us more about the challenges and benefits of growing in the city.
Did you grow up farming, and what did you do before the markets?  I had an aunt in Grand Forks with a farm when I was a kid. I spent some summers there, and thought briefly of taking over her farm when she passed. But I grew up in the city, and was a food technologist in a lab before I started farming 20 years ago.

Can you tell us about your farm and where it's located?  My farm's situated in the "big bend" area of south Burnaby where there are many small, one acre properties. About half the population here farm or lease out part of their property to farmers, but mine's the only farm on my street of 11 houses. I have several greenhouses that add up to about 20, 000 square feet in space, and 1/3 acre of field that I rent from my neighbour.

What are the challenges of farming in Burnaby?  There are many challenges. Cost of land, for one. The same price for 5 acres out in the valley gets you one in the city. Truck insurance is much more expensive - I pay more in vehicle insurance to drive the 13 km to the markets than a vendor from the interior. It's also difficult to find farm insurance for this location - the main insurer in the province does not insure in the city, and few insurance companies even insure farms.

And the benefits?  I can say I'm one of the closest farm vendors to the market and so use less fuel to pollute less of the environment. I get to use city water which is about the best water in the world. I'm able to do last minute harvesting in the morning before market, which makes my produce some of the freshest. And the weather is generally more mild here compared to places in the Valley.

Do you follow any particular growing methods on your farm?   I'm too small to be certified organic - you need a 30ft buffer zone that would eat up 40% of my space, but I do follow most organic procedures. I've never used any herbicides or pesticides, and I use compost and turkey manure for fertilizer. I grow in a combo of raised beds, containers, field, and greenhouse/hothouse/coldframe. This is a high weed area, so I try to grow plants that are larger and can handle weeding with a gas or electric trimmer. I use a high pressure hose to deal with pests like aphids, and I hand-pick buckets of slugs until there becomes less and less of them.

What's your favourite thing about vending at the markets?  Instant feedback on what I grow.

What do you do when you're not farming? About 50% of my time is spent farming, and the other half is spent managing the facilities of a Vancouver-based computer art and animation school. That takes up all my time, especially in the spring and summer when I can be busy from morning to late night.

Albert's super local produce can be found all season long at the Trout Lake market. For more information on his farm or products, visit his website at

                                  A forest of tomato plants