Laying down Agassiz roots

Iranian couple uses Agassiz soil to fulfill their dream of developing an eco-farm

After decades of experience in sustainable agriculture in their home country of Iran, Hossein Heidari and Fatemeh Mirzaei are finally fulfilling their dream of developing an ecological farming project using the fertile soil of Agassiz.

Heidari, an insect-biologist with over 30 years of experience in biological pest control activity, and Mirzaei, a socio-environmentalist, founder and CEO of Iranian NGO the Institute for Green Rural Advancement, had dreamed of starting a farming project long before they came to Canada.

The pair intended to buy agricultural land and create a training centre for farmers and experts in Sustainable Agriculture when they retired in their home country.

But plans changed when the couple’s daughters immigrated to Canada. Heidari and Mirzaei followed in 2014 and have been producing eggs, dairy goats, honey, vegetables and herbs on their Agassiz eco-farm since 2015.

Heidari had at first found Canada’s agricultural system of family farming and industrial food production to be similar to Iran’s. But one difference stood out – the farmers’ “accessibility to new knowledge.”

“Iran tends to be technology-based, whereas Canada appears to be knowledge-based,” he says.

“Having the UBC Dairy Research Centre and the Pacific Agricultural Research Centre in Agassiz is an exceptional opportunity to empower and share knowledge between the farmers and researchers.”

Sustainable agriculture focuses on providing healthy food for present and future generations without damaging the environment.

It’s an alternative for economic and social development – a production model that doesn’t use chemicals such as pesticides or fertilizers.

The sustainable agriculture system values indigenous knowledge and culture, supporting the consumption of local produce and products.

Heidari’s and Mirzaei’s farming project aims to offer safe foods to the public that use no agro-chemicals.

One purpose of their farm is to “establish a ‘farm-to-fork’ marketing system, in which consumers can trust the farmers’ food-production process,” Mirzaei explains.

Back in 1992, a United Nations conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro led many countries to commit to developing national strategy for sustainable development. Heidari was the coordinator responsible for preparing Iran’s National Strategy for Sustainable Agriculture.

Heidari’s role encouraged the couple to take on innovative new work within the sustainable agriculture framework.

Between 1999 and 2014, Heidari and Mirzaei worked on Integrated Pest Management projects (IPM) supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN development program (UNDP).

The IPM project focused on empowering farmers to integrate indigenous knowledge with new technologies for growing rice, wheat, barley, pistachios, grapes, apples, date and vegetables.

Heidari trained approximately 700 experts as facilitators and 7,000 farmers in 50 villages and seven provinces across Iran and in other countries such as Afghanistan, Cameroon and Kyrgyzstan.

Despite their impressive qualifications and experience, starting over in different country, with different legislation and language. was not a simple process. Heidari and Mirzaei landed in B.C. in 2014 and have had to follow numerous processes and procedures, both to become Canadian citizens and to set up their eco-farm.

First they had to establish an agreement with the B.C. government called the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) in order to establish a farm for growing organic mushrooms and vegetables.

After a period of researching and receiving help from interested people, the couple was invited to present their project to the District of Kent’s development committee in early 2015.

“Since then, we have been working hard to realize our dream. We are proud of what we have achieved so far, and we have more new projects for our eco-farm,” Mirzaei says.

One of the eco-power couple’s new projects is developing a space to offer “ethnic eco-tourism” with services that reflect their Iranian culture. They have already started the licensing process to be permitted to serve cultural food.

“Canada is a multicultural country, and people like to interact and get acquainted with other cultures, so this is an ideal opportunity to share the best of our food, crafts, music, and traditional lifestyle,” says Heidari.

Heidari and Mirzaei say one piece of their dream-come-true life is missing.

“We have our son in Iran, and he is the only concern we have now…We would be very happy if he could be with us in the near future,” they say.

Michele Santos da Silva is a guest journalist. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and biological sciences and holds a master’s degree in communication and an MBA in sustainability and environmental management. She and her husband, Luis Andrés Gonzalez, lived in Agassiz this winter/spring.

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The local power couple has been working with sustainable agriculture since 1990. Their plan for their next project is “ethnic eco-tourism.”

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