Making Plans for Chef Survival 2015 at Madrona Farm

I went to visit David and Nathalie Chambers at Madrona Farms, in order to hear more about Chef Survival. First thing in the morning, Nathalie took me for a walk up into the hollow and told me the story of the farm: Because the government of BC has shown itself to prioritize oil and gas exploration over the preservation of arable land in the province, new steps need to be taken to ensure farms are protected in perpetuity. The gutting of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) regulations last year was a particularly callous move on the part of the government against the maintenance of our agricultural legacy and future. Madrona Farm is a special case in that, rather than trying to work with the ALR, the farm was bought outright and placed in the Land Conservancy; a Canadian equivalent of the National Trust. In this way, Madrona becomes a national treasure and can never be repurposed for anything other than agriculture.

This is a complex subject explored in Nathalie’s upcoming book Saving Farmland. I mention it now, because it forms the philosophical backdrop against which Chef Survival happens. (I will come back to the book in a later article.) A number of excellent chefs from Victoria participate, running about and picking fresh items, while navigating an obstacle course that includes a mud pit, a slack line, and a boat race to “condiment island”. Once the race is finished, the chefs take whatever ingredients they have gathered and turn them into a gourmet meal—on a camping stove. The meals are then put up for auction, with the proceeds benefitting the Big Dream Farm Society. Check out the 2012 race here

chef survival - view
While the chefs compete, the public is treated to excellent local catering as they watch the race. This year is special in that the catering will be provided by Chef Tom Kral, by the Songhees First Nation, and by the Lekwunun Harvesters. One of the highlights will be a traditional pit cook. Nathalie explains that the inclusion of the Songhees to this event is very important because they originated and perfected the farming and harvesting techniques of Vancouver Island, and it is ostensibly on their land that all of these events are taking place. Including them in the process is an important bridge-building exercise, and a reminder of how we can work toward a model of sustainability.

The land is undoubtedly beautiful. From the top of the farm, which was a beach before the glaciers retreated, I can see down over the farm, then the golf course, into the city, and then across to the mountains. Nathalie tells me it is this view that helped them raise the money to purchase the farm for the Land Conservancy. The dream is to purchase land, farm by farm, until as much of the province as possible is defended against appropriation by developers and resource-seeking multinationals. It is a new form of activism that must be undertaken in circumstances where it is clear that the government does not represent the interests of the majority of its constituents anymore. After all, Nathalie tells me, 90% of the people in BC did not want the ALR changed, but the government did it anyway. Chef Survival, then, becomes not only a fun family event, but also an advertisement for why farms matter.

Note: Everything at Madrona is organic and pesticide free. Madrona sells its fresh produce every day, and contributes produce to food banks and missions in the city of Victoria. Their stuff is fresh, local, and delicious.

Chefs Survival takes place on September 27
Madrona Farm
4317 Blenkinsop Rd, Victoria BC V8X 2C3
Website and tickets

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Born and raised in the mysterious East (by which I mean Ontario and Quebec, not Asia), Adam migrated out to British Columbia in search of adventure and fortune. He had been at different times a scholar, a musician, a poet and a ...

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