When I sat back to contemplate the theme of this month’s newsletter, at first I struggled around whether the Cowichan Agriculture Training program would fit. How does it connect to things like emergency food resources and such? But the more I thought about it, the more it became clear that a program like CAT is, in fact, another way of growing and connecting our local food resources.
Participants in the program are both learning how to provide more food for themselves; to be more self-reliant and resilient; and also how to provide for the needs of their local community while exploring small-scale sustainable agriculture as a meaningful livelihood.
The Cowichan Green Community’s aim of ‘Cultivating food, community, and resilience’ has also been a guiding aim in the design of the CAT program. Our scope is far beyond just theoretical and technical aspects of agricultural production. We have committed to weaving in key social and ecological considerations facing the sector, and invoked, within all of the diverse learning themes, an ecological and social mindset. When I was first studying horticulture two decades ago, I had to self-direct in order to discover ecological approaches. Permaculture, Community Shared Agriculture, Sustainable Agriculture…all these now relatively commonly known modes of ecological food production were not well acknowledged and dare I say heretical to the status-quo of the day.
Often I think back to my own learning journey during our sessions with amazing guest facilitators who have so much to share with the CAT program. For example, our recent session with Jen Cody and Craig Evans about seed saving for food crops. In my first two years of university level horticulture, I don’t think we ever talked about the implications of access (or lack thereof) to seeds, let alone trying out approaches to saving our own!
While we clearly can’t turn out full spectrum experts in ecological agriculture, given the duration of the CAT program, I am so blessed to be a part of an initiative that is giving participants a taste of all the flavours this diverse sector offers. And if some of them settle into market gardening, some in seed production, some in raising happy animals, or some just become more aware and self-reliant at home, I know that we will have nourished our local food resources in many ways and for many years to come.
-Stephanie Cottell, Cowichan Agriculture Training Program Supervisor