Digging up agricultural opportunities 

What: Growing Business, Growing Food workshop

When: Tuesday, March 24, 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.

Where: Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre

Cost: Free

Agriculture isn't known for being a particularly lucrative industry these days. Land is expensive, and according to a 2008 Statistics Canada survey, B.C. farmers lost a total of $117 million in net income in 2007 compared to a loss of $42 million in 2006. Now, I'm not an expert, but agriculture doesn't sound like a great investment.

But one expert believes there are opportunities for many people, particularly First Nations groups, to capitalize on the industry and find new, innovative ways to make a living from the land.

Brian Harper has been involved in B.C.'s agricultural industry for his entire life; born and raised on a farm in Dawson's Creek, he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree and went on to work for the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, where he has worked for almost 33 years. For the past 12 years, he has been providing agricultural advisory services to First Nations groups, helping them to establish agricultural enterprises, both private and commercial, within communities throughout the province.

Harper is heading to Whistler this week to host a special, free workshop entitled, Growing Businesses Growing Food, on Tuesday, March 24, and all members of the public are welcome to come out and hear what he has to say. He will also be hosting workshops in Squamish, Mount Currie and the Lower Lakes between March 23 and 25.

"These workshops I'm delivering are focusing on agricultural opportunities, what kind of enterprises can be established in communities," Harper said, adding that he will be presenting examples of successful enterprises from the interior.

"...I'll be talking about community gardens and backyard gardening and food production, then also taking that another step further to say, 'okay, how can you bring this horticultural production into a commercial venture so you can generate some income?'"

Kate Sutherland, tour organizer, coordinates the Stone Soup Project for Sea to Sky Community Services.

"The goal is to support greater food security, which means a lot of different things to a lot of people, but one of the phrases that we're using is, 'food on every table,'" Sutherland explained.

As part of the program, she has coordinated this series of workshops with Harper, in hopes that it will help generate discussion and curiosity surrounding local food sources in the Sea to Sky region.

"I think people are already inspired, it's more about connecting them to each other, and I'm getting calls from people who say, 'I have a passion for this.' Food is a really great organizer!" Sutherland said with a laugh.

The Whistler workshop, which is being held from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, will include practical information and case studies of other First Nations groups who have successfully created businesses and employment, and generated revenue from food and agricultural endeavours.

"I hope that folks will leave these workshops with a better understanding of the potential of opportunities that exist in the communities," Harper said. "...Agriculture is the most important industry in the world - we all need to eat - so it's an industry that has tremendous value and importance, and I'm hoping that folks will see agriculture as a career path for young people to engage in."

Extra helpings

Some of Whistler's finest mixologists will be stirring, shaking, blending and pouring their hearts out at the first Sortilège Cup Cocktail Competition in the hopes of scoring a trip to Montreal.

Nons Drinks is hosting a new mixology competition in Whistler on Sunday, April 5. The drink maker has teamed up with the Mountain Club to challenge 10 local mixologists to create their best cocktails using Sortilège Premium Canadian Maple Whisky, which is a blend of strong Canadian whisky and rich maple toffee flavour, and a new product for the B.C. market.

Each bartender has to submit one original recipe in the category of martini, long drink or fancy, containing a base content of at least ½ oz. of Sortilège Liqueur, at least two and no more than four alcoholic ingredients, and with a total volume of 2 to 3 ounces.

Mountain Club bar manager, Kerren Bottay, expects a strong showing from the invited competitors, which include talented mixologists from Araxi, Bearfoot Bistro, Mountain Club, Après Restaurant, West Vancouver's Ocean Club, Player's Chophouse and other restaurants.

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