Inspired by her own adventures in growing food led an Upper Lynn mom to take on the mission of providing local, quality produce to North Vancouver homes. All it took was meeting the right farmer to help launch Valley to Shore Harvest Boxes.
Healthy living and eating has always been a priority for Dana Dykema. When possible she buys local or grows her own food.
“It’s been a journey of years for me changing how I think about food,” she said. “We don’t go on extravagant holidays because I have to feed our eating habit of buying farmer direct.”
That care for her own family led to Dykema to seek out a farm partner and launch a small business this past fall.
“I was looking on Instagram and went down a rabbit hill when I saw the name Local Harvest. I thought: ‘Oooo I like that.’ I saw the trailer for a gardening course,” she said.
Hooked by the quality of the online course, soon Dykema was making the trip out regularly to Dan Oostenbrink’s market garden farm.
“I was going out to the [Fraser] Valley a lot to pick up what was seasonally available, to pick cherries, ” she said. “I have been frustrated with the lack of Fraser Valley produce on the North Shore. It’s so good and it’s right there. Why isn’t it in our stores?”
As she got to know Oostenbrink, and his family, and to experience the quality foods he grows, Dykema felt compelled to offer it to other families who might not have the time to source high-quality food.
More than a box of vegetables
Last fall Dykema tested the CSA (community supported agriculture) waters by organizing a veggie box delivery as a Thanksgiving fundraiser for Upper Lynn Elementary. Students got to learn about local food security, visit the farm first hand and help pack the boxes. The interest in that project was the proof of concept needed to launch Valley to Shore. In the weeks since Dykema has been making the trek to Chilliwack and returning with a car full of produce.
“It’s more than just delivering a product to the North Shore,” she said. “There is a lot more in what he gives in a harvest box than a typical CSA. It tastes better. There is nothing that compares. It’s also about education and building community around this food and seasonal eating.”
Dykema takes the time to offer inspiration and information with each box. Her social feeds chronicle the dishes she cooks for her family and later this month Dykema will be launching her website, valleytoshore.com, where there will be recipes, blog posts and more.
“Because of the way [Dan] farms there is a large variety of foods available throughout the year,” she said. “Some of the ingredients are new to people so it’s a culinary adventure.”
Some items in the Harvest Boxes might come as a surprise. Those lucky enough to grab a Christmas box were surprised with Fraser Valley grown ginger and lemons – items more typically imported from China or South America.
“Traditionally any lemon you get at a store has been sprayed with who knows what. This lemon is pure good food,” said Dykema. “The food tastes better than anything you find at the grocery stores. It’s picked at peak freshness – not picked before so it can travel thousands of miles and sprayed with preservatives. It is often picked as I am putting boxes together.”
Local Harvest, like a handful of other Fraser Valley Farms, is not officially organic. Having chosen to invest in organic farming practices but not the bureaucracy to get certified. In addition to organic practices, Local Harvest uses no sprays of any kind, as well as regenerative practices. Regenerative gardening also considers the emissions and waste when working the land.
“Knowing Dan, how he farms with the practices he uses brings me a lot of comfort,” said Dykema. “Being a farmer is not easy. People will look at the box and think $65 is a lot of money but I think we are valuing quality and responding to the value of people’s hard work and caring environmental choices. Society wants quick and easy convenience but that bottom dollar idea is bringing bottom quality.”
The past couple of years have been incredibly challenging for Local Harvest. The covid pandemic has limited workers (Dykema said this is a three-fold issue – limited migrant workers means stretching local workers thinner, no students applied to work the past summer versus the typical 100 applications Oostenbrink would get and income programs lead to more part-time workers instead of full farming season help). And then there is the weather. November’s devastating floods were felt throughout the Fraser Valley.
“I think it has shown us how important these farms are,” said Dykema. “I was making a six-hour round trip to prepare the boxes during the worst of the floods.”
The winter is the slow time for harvesting in the Fraser Valley. Dykema and Oostenbrink are putting together one more box for a Jan. 18th delivery before taking a break until the Spring. Boxes are $65 and can be ordered by sending an etransfer to email@example.com. Boxes are then picked up Tuesday evenings and Wednesdays at Dykema’s Upper Lynn home. In addition to North Shore customers, she has people come from Vancouver and Richmond to get their share.
“I love being hospitable and this is a way to do that by introducing people to a farmer and showing them a different way to take care of their families,” said Dykema. “I can’t invite all these people to my house and cook for them but I can help care for their families.”
She hopes in the spring to be able to offer 100 boxes a week. Dykema will launch a “taster” box in mid-late April, with hopes to kickoff the season in May. Details will be on her website (launching soon) and her Facebook and Instagram.
“These dollars stay in the community, support local farm families and in return, I get nutrient-dense foods to feed my family.”