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Marg McConnell shares some insights about farming on Bowen Island
Questions and answers with Bowen grower Marg McConnell who operates Bowen Brook Farm with her husband Drew Burgess. They will sell their organic, island-grown produce at the BowFEAST community farmers' market on Saturday, July 21, from 9 a.m. to noon, at the BICS undercover area. For info, see www.bowenagalliance.ca or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q. Tell us about your farm. How much to you grow, what type of produce, how many farmed acres, what are your seasons, location, etc.?
A. We have six acres that we use for farming. We grow fruits – apples, plums, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, melons, blackberries, rhubarb, etc. – and veggies – asparagus, chard, kale, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, beets, beans, peas, squash, fennel, garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, mesclun mixes, lettuce, corn, basil, garlic, herbs, etc.
Q. What is it like farming on Bowen? Is it as tough as they say? What grows best here? Worst?
A. Very challenging, yes, it is tough. There is too much water or not enough water, no sun, too much sun, crappy soil. Deer, squirrels and birds eat everything, blight kills all the tomatoes. Alders and brambles grow best here. Hot weather crops like melons and corn are the worst.
Q. How long have you been growing vegetables here?
A. At least 15 years seriously – it was very dependent on building very strong deer fencing. Our property had been clearcut logged and left in a terrible mess. We have been continually working on it since 1986. I remember saying to Drew that I did not think I would ever get anything green on the property ( and I am a master gardener). It was all stumps, broken branches, rocks, and very poor soil. Our parents thought we were insane to buy this 'moonscape.'
Q. What do you love about it?
A. Eating the fresh organic produce. I also love providing baskets of our produce to folks. It's really great to see families who want to buy locally and feed good food to their kids.
Q. If you could impress upon folks here one thing about local agriculture, what would it be?
A. Support it or lose it. It is very hard work! It is a lot more costly to grow organically, especially on an island, for instance we have to go to the Fraser Valley to buy mushroom manure, organic fertilizers and soil amendments.
Q. A Fraser Valley grower recently told me that he's seen a steady decline in purchases of his BC produce (Krause berries). He says while people say they love local agriculture and support it, they are in reality buying less. What do you say to that?
A. It is very difficult to compete with the low-cost products coming from China, Chile, Mexico, etc. We have spent a lot of time in Mexico and Chile and looked carefully at their growing practices [and found them] absolutely shocking.
Q. What needs to happen here on Bowen agriculture-wise?
A. More local support. The Ruddy provides some support to local growers and Miksa is also very supportive.
Q. What keeps you up at night?
A. Nothing, we are too exhausted.
Q. Your favorite fresh fruit/vegetable to eat straight from the garden in July?
A. Plums, beans, peas and berries.
Michelle Pentz Glave, BowFEAST