Jason Lion, Hupacasath agricultural manager, works in the Hupacasath Community Farm growing dozens of mixed market vegetables for the First Nation's band members and the public. (Karly Blats photo)
After four years of providing Hupacasath members with weekly fresh produce boxes, the First Nation’s community farm has expanded and is looking to the public to become members of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
The Hupacasath Community Farm, located next to the House of Gathering on Beaver Creek Road in Port Alberni, was started as a health initiative to provide on-reserve members (about 60 households) with a weekly supply of seasonal vegetables during the growing season. The farm has recently expanded to about eight acres, after Healthy Harvest Farm ceased its operations.
Jason Lion, Hupacasath agricultural manager, said they are eager to open the program up to anyone who wants to become a shareholder. The cost is $480 to a get a 16-week share in the farm, this averages out to about a $30 value for each food box.
“We’re trying to transition from just a community-based project to a bit more of a business operation,” Lion said. “Previously, the band had leased out a portion of the property to a project called Healthy Harvest, they used to run a farm project on site.”
But the Healthy Harvest project ended this year.
“[W]e figured we may as well keep carrying on what they’ve been doing and keep taking care of the site,” added Lion. “So that means a much bigger footprint for our farm and a much bigger opportunity for outside sales.”
In addition, the Hupacasath received funding from the Rural Dividend Program, which was able to bring in some revenue to help the farm self-sustain.
The farm site is also the location of the Hupacasath Youth Centre, which was one of the original reasons the band purchased the property.
“It came with this eight acres of amazing agricultural land right at sea level, really prime growing conditions and good soil,” Lion said.
All sorts of mixed market vegetables are grown at the farm, including greens like lettuce and kale, potatoes, carrots, peas, onions, garlic, melon, tomatoes and peppers.
“I think we could have the capacity to have 60 more members from outside the community buying into the program,” Lion said. “It’s an excellent program for insuring that the farmers have some capital up front to do all the early season purchasing that we need to do and to ensure that we have a reliable sales market as kind of the basis of our potential revenue. In exchange for that, all of our members, for a 16-week period, get a weekly food box of produce that’s picked that day - so it’s whatever is freshest and most in-season for that week.”
Lion and three community members currently operate and maintain the farm, and they will soon get help from summer students.
“It’s through the Canada Summer Jobs Program…generally people 15 to 30 years old,” Lion said.
Those interested in becoming a member can sign up at the Hupacasath House of Gathering (5500 Ahahswinis Dr.) or through the Hupcasath First nation office at 250-724-4041 and ask for Margaret or email firstname.lastname@example.org.