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Exploring new market opportunities
A growing number of Island producers are discovering a more ethnically diverse population can open up new market opportunities.
Crops never considered before may now be on the cusp of commercial viability. The most glaring example is a wide range of crops from Chinese spinach to Japanese egg plant that are commonly known as “Asian vegetables.” A handful of growers have been trying their hand some of these crops over the past several years and have experienced some success at farmers markets.
Now the PEI Horticultural Association is examining the commercial viability of a number of varieties. The PEI ADAPT Council is providing funding for the project under the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program.
The association planted a number of test plots at Brookfield Gardens this summer to examine such things as insect/disease control, management requirements, crop growth and possible limitations to growth. Joanne Driscoll, who is the association’s general manager, said most of the crops have a growing season in the range of 30 days and they were planted in late July.
The list of test crops includes pak choi, Chinese cabbage, Chinese mustards, oriental greens, kohlrabi, Chinese spinach, Chinese radish, celtuce, rabini, okra and Japanese egg plant.
Driscoll said one of the main issues has been insect control, adding she has used two different types of netting to protect the crops as they mature. She added “we are trying to the keep them protected at least until they can get established.” She added the hot, dry summer has also put some stress on the crops. Since this year’s growing season couldn’t really be described as typical in terms of the amount of rainfall, she said may take more research to know how the crops will react in a wetter growing season.
Driscoll said she has been working with Vessey’s Seeds determining what varieties to grow. She explained the red Island soil seems to be fertile ground for Asian vegetables. The major challenge so far is some instances of what she called “bolting” where the plant goes to seed before producing a crop.
She said the next step will be meeting with food stores, particularly those that service an Asian immigrant market, to see how the product shapes up in terms of quality and taste. She is also working with the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce, which has a program that helps newcomers explore adjust to life in PEI.
Driscoll added they would also like to do a market study on the potential of selling the product not only locally, but perhaps nationally and internationally. She noted “the market potential for this is huge—over $400 million worth of Asian vegetables are imported into Canada each year.”
News Releases & Editorials
Premier takes big political gamble
By Andy Walker
Premier Dennis King took the biggest gamble of his political career this week and the reviews to date in the court of public opinion have been less than favourable.
PEI has one of the most successful records in the country when it comes to controlling the spread of COVID-19. Community spread has been non-existent (all 27 recovered cases related to travel) and that is due in no small measure to the fact Islanders have largely bought in to the plan laid out by the premier and Dr. Heather Morrison, the chief public health officer.
The decision to allow seasonal residents into the province on June 1 will make that buy-in a much tougher sell. With the exception of residents of the United States (the two countries have agreed to keep the border closed to non-essential travel at least until late June), non-resident property owners will be allowed to return to their summer homes.
They will have to show proof of their travel and property ownership when they arrive at Confederation Bridge or Charlottetown Airport and will be forced to self-isolate for 14 days. It didn’t take long for social media to light up with reaction– virtually all of it negative.
It is all too understandable. For the past two months and counting, Islanders have generally followed the rules. They have stood in line and followed arrows in stores, peered at their ill and sometimes dying relatives through windows at hospitals and nursing homes, forgone family celebrations, worked from home while trying to take help their children with virtual learning and the list goes on and on and on.
Virtually every activity that would draw a crowd from Old Home Week to Confederation Centre has been cancelled. Now many Islanders are starting to ask if it has all been worth it when the premier is allowing anybody from anywhere in the country who contributes to the provincial coffers at the non-resident rate to “come on down” as Bob Barker used to say on The Price is Right.
To add insult to injury, Islanders can’t go anywhere nor can friends and family from other provinces who don’t own property come here this summer. There was talk of forming a “bubble” with New Brunswick where residents of the two provinces could travel back and forth without the need to self-isolate. However, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs told media in that province he was caught off guard by King’s announcement and is rethinking that idea.
If the government loses the needed buy-in from Islanders, it is a virtual certainty there will be community spread of cases and many Islanders will likely lay the blame at the premier’s feet. The other likely result of the decision is that much of the anger now being directed at the premier will be turned on the seasonal residents, which will hardly be a ringing endorsement for the not too distant future when we will hopefully want them to come back and bring their friends.
Beer and music mainstays at
eastern PEI’s first microbrewery
By Andy Walker
Like many couples in Atlantic Canada, Ashley Condon and Ken Spears were forced by economics to spend time apart.
Condon, who is one of the Island’s most prolific songwriters, drew inspiration for one of her best known songs “The Great Compromise” after dropping Ken off at the Charlottetown airport to catch a flight back to his electrician’s job in Fort McMurray. However, the couple was looking for more than a hit song– they wanted a way to leave the Fort Mac shuffle behind. The answer, as it turned out, was combining Ashley’s music with Ken’s hobby of making beer.
The couple celebrated their first year as owners of Cooper Bottom Brewery in Montague last November– proud players in an industry that didn’t exist in Canada’s smallest province seven years ago. Now there are eight microbreweries from one end of the Island to the other, including another competitor in Montague — a community of just over 2,000 people that became part of a larger municipality known as Three Rivers right around the time Ashley and Ken were starting to build their dream. They can lay claim to be the first microbrewers east of Charlottetown as they opened almost a year before their cross-town rival–Bogside Brewery.
That dream began in the barn at their Sturgeon home (located about a 15 minute drive from the brewery)– the couple dubbed it the “Brewadio”, where Ken began developing and experimenting with different combinations of ingredients in 50 litre kegs. Over a four year period, the couple developed a business plan while Ken studied brewing techniques.
For them, the key was finding just the right spot. They found history, strong community roots and a water view at 567 Main Street. To be fair, it was hard to miss, especially with a mural of two fire engines painted on its garage doors. That paid homage to the building’s first incarnation as a town hall and fire station. Built in 1938, the building later housed a telephone exchange, the first public library in eastern PEI and a hardware store, just to mention a few of its incarnations.
When Ashley and Ken went looking, the heritage building was home to the town’s weekly newspaper, The Eastern Graphic. Full disclosure here– I worked in the building and my desk was to the right of the stage where Ashley not only performs herself on many nights but also plays hosts an array of musical talent from across the Maritimes and beyond.
The pair have won a provincial heritage award for the way they have incorporated the building’s history. Look up and you can see the original beams and wood removed from the original flooring was used during construction of the table. The fire trucks, both real and in artistic form, are gone and the couple has replaced the garage doors with glass so those driving or walking by can view the heart of the brewing operation.
The couple have also honoured one of the building’s most well known occupants– Eastern Graphic founder the late Jim MacNeill– with one of its offerings “Rebel Rouser Red.” MacNeill could best be described as an “old-style” newspaperman–outspoken, never afraid to challenge authority and always on the lookout for a good story.
In an attempt to have its product stand out on liquor store shelves, the brewery commissioned local artist Richard Toms to illustrate their cans. They have also held true to their eastern PEI roots– in addition to honouring MacNeill, their lineup includes offerings celebrating Montague’s centennial in 2017 and honouring the farming and fishing industries.
“We believe in supporting local whenever possible whether that is in the ingredients that go into our beers or with our other suppliers,” Ashley said. “The support we have received as been overwhelming and we want to give back to the community.”
In the summer, the outdoor patio offers a view of the Montague River with a steady array of both fishing and pleasure boats coming and going from the nearby wharf. Catch some tunes at the Saturday afternoon jam session or the weekly Sunday afternoon offering of toe-tapping traditional music. Ashley jokes “I like the fact I always have a place to play” but quickly adds “We are one of the few venues in eastern PEI to provide live music on a regular basis.”
For her, it fits into the goal the couple had from day one — to be a focal point for entertainment in the region. She explained “This building has always been a gathering place and a social hub for the community whether it was the town hall or the newspaper office and we very much want to continue that tradition.”
The development of a craft beer industry has also convinced a number of Island farmers to look at growing hops on a commercial basis. Ken said the ratio of Island grown to imported hops is increasing all the time as more local product becomes available. The spent grain at the end of each brewing process is given back to farmers in the area for livestock feed.
For Ken, making beer remains as much a labour of love as it was experimenting in the Brewadio and he has no regrets about his career change, adding he feels blessed to be able to turn a hobby into a living.
The brewery started off 2020 with an expansion and are now sending product to nine liquor stores in New Brunswick as well as Bishop’s Cellar in Halifax. They have also teamed up with another Island brewery– Moth Lane to develop a Czech style amber lager under the guidance of a brew master from Prague.
For Ashley and Ken, beer and music has indeed proven to be a winning combination.
Tributes & dedications
Community pays tribute to Derwin Clow
as Cassialane Holsteins changes hands
By Andy Walker
Derwin Clow joked there has not been this much traffic in Freetown since the trains stopped running.
For well over a half hour, a caravan of milk trucks, tractors, cars and trucks festooned with balloons and even a full size model of a dairy cow made the circle around the yard of Cassialane Holsteins on June 4. It was the last day the century plus farm belonged to the Clow family.
Health issues forced Derwin to sell the farm that has been in his family for generations. As he and his family reviewed the procession, taking time to share a laugh and a kind word with everybody that passed, Derwin admitted to having plenty of often conflicting emotions.
“I am honoured and humbled at how many of our friends and family have turned out,” Derwin said. “We have made some great friends in this industry and our community. This is a very special place.”
Derwin and siblings Julie and Darla grew up on the dairy farm with Derwin taking over the operation from his father, the late Colbourne Clow, who was inducted posthumously into the Atlantic Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2006.
“I learned so much from dad and from all the other farmers I was associated with over the years,” he said. “Farming has changed so much over the years. I didn’t always have the answers for every situation but I had the phone numbers of the people that did. There is so much knowledge and talent within the Island farm community.”
Derwin was always a believer in being open to both change and technology and he was one of the first farmers in the province to have cameras in his barn so his herd could be monitored using an iPhone app. Like most dairy farmers in the province, he shipped his milk to ADL in Summerside and company representatives and milk trucks were out in full force for the celebration.
He was always hoping to be able to hand over the farm to his son, Evan, but after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis just over a year ago, he and his wife Janet realized their life would be taking them in a different direction. Janet also grew up on a dairy farm in Hamilton.
While he is disappointed the farm will be leaving the family, Derwin said they are happy it will remain a working dairy farm. They sold the farm, their herd of 70 animals and their milk quota to Hendrick Lensvelt, who is relocating to the Island from Ontario. The Clow family is renting until they decide their next move.
Marleen Wolfe of All Farms Reality (who both handled the sale and organized the tribute) said there were actually two buyers bidding for the property. Wolfe, who is based in PEI but sells farm properties throughout the Maritimes, said it was very important to the Clow family the operation continue as a dairy farm and “I am happy we were able to make that happen.”
For Derwin’s mother, Blanche, the day also unleashed a flood of emotions. Although she officially retired from farming some time earlier, he made frequent visits to the farm where she and her late husband lived, raised their three children and were active in their industry and community.
“I grew up on a dairy farm with five red-haired brothers and I said there were two things I would never do in my life- marry a dairy farmer or somebody with red hair,” she jokes. “I ended up doing both.”
Blanche and her husband were long-time leaders in 4-H and she was actively involved with the Women in Support of Agriculture for a number of years. They passed that spirit of involvement on to Derwin, who has been active in both the Federation of Agriculture and the National Farmers Union. He added “I always believed in making your voice heard and putting your ideas forward.”
Blanche added “this farm has been so much a part of my life. It’s hard to think it belongs to somebody else now. There are just so many memories.”
Getting ready for the summer of COVID
By Andy Walker
Now that the sunshine is becoming a more frequent guest, most of us are coming to grips with just how different the COVID-19 summer will be.
My standard greeting to people now is “How are you surviving the apocalypse so far?”– said from the appropriate social distance of course. Many people just chuckle but a lot say “it kind of feels like that.” While talking to somebody recently, I referenced an event we had both attended and they said “that seems so long ago now.” It was actually in late February although in terms of how life has changed, it seems like a lifetime ago.
Unless there is a drastic change of events, it looks like social distancing won’t be any problem at your favourite beach. The best case scenario looks like PEI and New Brunswick might be able to visit back and forth but the possibility of seeing visitors from further afield is effectively zero. Like many Islanders, I have family members that live out of province that were planning to come home this year (twice in fact) but those plans are shelved.
I also have a daughter who is planning on getting married this fall and the jury is still out on that one. To help salvage something of the tourism season, campaigns are already under way to market the province to Islanders. This is a cause I have long championed to anyone that will listen within the tourism industry.
Due to our small size and relatively small numbers, the definition of a tourist is usually restricted to somebody with a primary address somewhere else. While the captive audience created by COVID-19 does present some opportunities, it is also unfortunately a Catch-22. Our numbers are not big enough to sustain the industry at any reasonable level so many tourism operators are grappling with a question I’m sure they never thought they would have to consider — whether to open their doors.
I was a little excited about the possibility of a staycation before but as the list of entertainment and amusement options continues to dwindle, I have to admit my enthusiasm started to wane. Whether you want to take in a live theatre performance, go to a concert or visit a museum or art gallery, chances are it is closed. The same with fairs and exhibitions, which annual provide visitors with a snapshot of Island life.
On reflection, I realized I have a lot to be thankful for. My family is all safe and healthy and now we can see each other again as the restrictions start to lift. Somebody once told me that as long as you are alive and in good health, everything else in life is either a joy or an inconvenience. Celebrate the joys, they told me, and work around the inconveniences. It is solid advice that I intend to do my best to follow no matter what else the year of COVID-19 has in store for us.