COLUMN: City support of farming a ‘win-win’ situation

Initiative to promote Surrey agriculture is a good idea, writes columnist Frank Bucholtz.

A new initiative to promote Surrey agriculture ties in very well with the current trends of eating locally and promoting sustainability.

Seven Surrey restaurants are helping to promote Surrey farms throughout September. On Sundays, they will feature meals made with local ingredients, grown in Surrey by local farmers.

Farm Fresh Sundays, as they are known, give a needed boost to local farms. While Surrey is one of the most important agricultural communities in B.C., with hundreds of millions in farm revenue, many local residents are all-but-oblivious to that fact.

They tend not to buy much local food, sometimes simply because it isn’t easy to find, or isn’t labelled as such.

There are many exceptions of course. Longtime Fraser Highway produce stand Two EEs Farm has been selling produce grown on its farm for more than 50 years, and it has a huge following of loyal customers.

There are many other local produce stands in various parts of Surrey. It’s easy to buy a wide variety of fresh food. However, in the most urbanized parts of Surrey, it isn’t always so easy to find Surrey-grown food.

The connection with restaurants is a relatively new one. Given the wide variety of restaurants in Surrey, and the ongoing interest people have in going out to eat, this is a great link.

The seven restaurants taking part in Farm Fresh Sundays are located in various parts of the city. Old Surrey is in Newton; Bozzini’s in the city centre; Elements Casino is in Cloverdale; Royal Oak is in Fleetwood; Taphouse is in Guildford; and Maharaja is in Newton.

The seventh restaurant, Tap, is located in South Surrey and is closed on Sundays. So it is featuring Farm Fresh food on Tuesdays.

Chef Mike Kott makes a point of frequently buying fresh produce from Mary’s Garden, located on 40 Avenue, just a short distance away from the restaurant. When asked why, he replies with one word – “taste.”

Mary’s Garden owner Mike Nootebos appreciates that local connection and vote of confidence.

He says his farm is constantly planting new crops and is an intensive operation. It is marking 50 years in business this year.

Yet despite those many years in business, farming remains a challenge. Retail prices have to be low to attract customers. Competing with large suppliers from the United States, even with the exchange rate, is difficult.

“We need people to kind of go out of their way to buy local,” Nootebos says.

He notes that the draw of big-box stores is hard to counter. However, the increasing emphasis on fresh food and more exposure to quality, and different ways it can be prepared, is helpful.

For many years, Surrey farmers have laboured hard with little help or attention from people outside their circle.

This is gradually changing. Innovative restaurants are looking for an edge, and chefs know that fresh ingredients are hard to beat.

The city deserves credit for hosting an agriculture week, and also for hosting a farmer’s market at the new city hall. Coun. Mike Starchuk spearheaded the farm-to-table project and is excited about the response thus far.

Surrey residents who support local farmers are not only helping other residents keep their jobs, but they are promoting healthy eating and preservation of prime agricultural land. In an age where there are many concerns about preserving the environment, this is a win-win-win situation.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News. frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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