The Plight of the Bella Coola Farmers

This fall, potato farmers were flooded out in the Fraser Valley. It was good to see that the local media were all over that story. Those farmers would get compensation for their soggy, rotting potatoes from the government’s Provincial Emergency Program. Up in Bella Coola, fields were drowning too. In fact the entire BC Central Coast region was declared a disaster area. People were evacuated, homes had been lost, roads washed away, but they weren’t getting nearly the media coverage. Nor would those small farmers get a dime from the government. Why? The Bella Coola farmers have to work off the farm to subsidize their incomes and that disqualifies them. Even though the community lost livestock, including entire sheep flocks, and over two hundred and seventy tons of winter hay and feed, they do not qualify for disaster relief. The farmers lost fencing, corrals, paddocks, chicken coops, barns and shelters. If the structures and equipment weren’t washed away, they were so sodden and mucky that they were beyond repair. None of the lost farm infrastructure will be replaced through the program either. Whole market gardens, heritage seeds and fruit trees, pasturelands, topsoil, larders and freezers stocked with winter foodstuffs were swept down the river. The beautiful valley was cut off from new supplies for several days.

Farmers here have always pieced together their livelihoods in Bella Coola, a common practise and necessity in many rural communities. The income they do make from their farms is vital to their survival and to the economic viability of the community. The farmers are serious about building a strong and local food system there. In a plea for help to friends and allies, Dayna Chapman of the Bella Coola Valley Sustainable Agricultural Society wrote in an email: “Our local farmers have been key players in regenerating our local food system, and active participants in building food security and increasing the community’s access to high quality local produce through our Farmers Market, CSA project, Community Harvest Gleaning Project, Food Bank, school agriculture projects, community gardens.”

When Dayna’s appeal went out over the BC Food Systems Network listserv in late October, there were immediate responses. Stellar Seeds would donate seeds to help with next year’s plantings. The Richmond Food Security Society said they too would gather up seeds at their Seedy Saturday event to give to the Bella Coola farmers. Farm Food Freedom Fighters on the Sunshine Coast have been fundraising at local craft markets. Grand Forks and Boundary Regional Agricultural Society organized a community fundraiser, and challenged the area’s regional districts to make donations. Cathleen Kneen, a former BC resident, co-publisher of the Ram’s Horn, and now chair of Food Secure Canada, passed a hat at various speaking engagements. According to Dayna, donations have come in from small town folk and agricultural societies around the province. On Tuesday, December 7th, Grandview Woodland Food Connection, FarmFolk CityFolk and Discovery Organics will hold a film night in Vancouver to raise funds for the community. There will be a silent auction and food to nosh on. The Friends of UBC farm will be selling baked goods there.

“I think the amazing story at this point is the compassion and solidarity being shown by other small, struggling communities and marginalized farmers,” Dayna wrote me in an email, “as well as amazing allies in the local food movement in Vancouver. It has been incredible.”

The Bella Coola community is exploring a number of responses to this event, including strategies to encourage amendments to the Provincial Emergency Program. It seems only fair that small farmers are not penalized because of their tradition and need to diversify their income sources. In the meantime, they welcome donations to help them rebuild. A Farm Relief account has been set up at the local Credit Union. Cheque donations can be made to “CCRD-Farm Relief 2010” and mailed to Williams Lake and District Credit Union, Box 214, Bella Coola V0T 1C0. Tax receipts can be issued if donors include their name and mailing address. For more information, contact Dayna Chapman by email: borage1(at)

Bella Coola Flood – Farm Fundraiser Film Event

Documentary screenings: Mammalian and Force of Nature

Tuesday, December 7, 2010 at 6pm

Britannia Community Centre

Canucks Family Education Centre, Upstairs Eastside Family Place

1661 Napier Street, Vancouver

$10 donation at the door

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