First Cold-Climate Food Forest to Offer Farming Solutions

The team from Clear Sky Center, left to right: Richard Walker, Jordan Saunders, Ursula Winkler, Luke Kimmell, Dove Tynnell and Russell Charlton.

First Cold-Climate Food Forest to Offer Farming Solutions

Social enterprise looks to spread cold-climate food foresting across Western Canada

Farming has never been a big industry in the East Kootenay region of British Columbia, which is known mostly for ranching. But Michelle Heinz knows during the winter months when the highway passes close due to snow and white-out conditions, fresh food in the grocery store can become scarce.

It’s one of the reasons she’s excited to be leading a new demonstration project to showcase the potential of growing diverse food in cold climates.

Michelle is the director of operations at Clear Sky Center, a meditation and retreat centre near Cranbrook, B.C. The non-profit has a mission to nurture universal teachings of awakening by providing an environment for practice and study.

As part of this mission, Clear Sky is developing a farming social enterprise which includes the region’s first food forest.

Food forests are a dynamic, ecosystem approach to growing food, medicine and other yields. They are resilient, diverse systems that have the potential to produce harvests from snowmelt to snow fall each year.

Clear Sky will offer workshops and training on developing a food forest and intends to turn the harvest into value-added products like tinctures and teas, fruit wines and preserves.

The profits from selling the products will be used to support Clear Sky’s teachings.

  The team that planted the food forest. Back row, left to right: Laura Stevens, Richard Walker, Dove Tynnell and Luke Kimmell. Front row, left to right: Robert Blaisdell, Jordan Saunders, Ursula Winkler.

The first group of participants helped plant the food forest last month under the instruction of Richard Walker, one of Canada’s pioneers of food forest agriculture.

Michelle says it was incredibly useful for the students to be able to learn by doing. Designing a food forest in theory is much easier than contending with natural elements, such as irrigation challenges or endangered badgers curious about the commotion.

“The implementation was what they all felt they wanted experience in and what was on offer here,” she says.

The group of eight used agile project management to implement the food forest, writing tasks on sticky notes under the columns of pending, progress and complete.

“Now we have a whole wall of done celebration sticky notes,” adds Michelle.

Participants in the first workshop ranged in age but mostly had permaculture experience or are working to become a permaculture consultant.

Michelle adds it is Clear Sky’s intention to not only create a profitable social enterprise for its non-profit, but through workshops equip a broad range of practitioners to spread cold-climate food forests across B.C., Alberta and the prairies. As the local ranching industry struggles to survive, food forests may provide an alternative.

“The opportunity for local growers and ranchers to contribute to sustainable local food security through creating food forest systems is clear, and food forest yields can also lead to the creation of local and innovative business opportunities,” says Michelle.

“I think we offer a venue that shows that different things can be done to a range of stakeholders.”

Clear Sky received funding from the British Columbia Agroforestry Industry Development Initiative (AIDI) to be able to implement the one-acre demonstration project.

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Writer Bio

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Camille Jensen

Camille Jensen is an employee share ownership consultant with ESOP Builders, Canada’s largest provider of employee share ownership plans (ESOPs) for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Prior to joining ESOP Builders, Camille was a generative journalist and team member at Axiom News. She credits her time at Axiom as fundamental to her understanding that business is one of the best opportunities to make a difference in the world.

Camille is a B.C. Partner for Social Impact and volunteer with Okanagan Changemakers.

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