Faces & Places: Valerie Huff

A resident of the Kootenays for over 25 years, Valerie Huff started the grassroots Kootenay Camas Project with Eva Johansson in 2012. The dry West Kootenay (specifically, the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia rivers in the heart of Sinixt traditional territory) is a hot spot for the beautiful camas plant, an important “root food” that was equivalent to salmon historically as a highly valued economic resource. In recognition of this special place, the Camas Project was developed to bring awareness to the ecological and cultural values of Camassia quamash through research, education, and ongoing conservation activities. The Kootenay Camas Project, with continued support from Columbia Basin Trust, is now managing Canada’s first and only protected area specifically for camas — the Camas Conservation Area located in Millennium Park, Castlegar.

Soon after the establishment of the Camas Project, the Kootenay Native Plant Society (KNPS) emerged and the region got its first non-profit organization advocating for native plants in southeastern British Columbia. The KNPS specializes in plant appreciation and identification through a variety of diverse programs and can be seen at regional events such as Seedy Saturdays, Critter Fest, and the Castlegar Garden and Nature Fest. The KNPS is also making locally sourced and grown plants available for sale at spring outreach events, such as the Nelson Garden Fest. Valerie continues to be a major life force of the KNPS as an active board member, researcher, grower, and advocate.

For the last five years as part of the Crop Climate Project, Valerie has been pursuing her passion for food security by working with farmers, documenting heritage potatoes and the response of different varieties to climate change across Canada, research that contributes to the development of climate-smart agricultural strategies, food heritage conservation, and sustaining of small, independent farmers.

And through the Milkweed for Monarchs Project that began in 2014, Valerie is propagating milkweed (and important associated nectar plants) to establish “milkweed villages” in the area, which have been planted in home gardens and in schoolyards. Her monitoring of Trail’s milkweed population resulted in the first documented breeding site for the iconic monarch in the West Kootenay.

A non-discriminating lover of all plants, Valerie became active in food security, organic agriculture and social justice as an undergraduate in agriculture at the University of Guelph, which led her to work in agricultural extension in Papua, New Guinea, in human rights accompaniment in Guatemala, and earn a Master’s degree at the University of Victoria in ecological restoration, specializing in native grasses.

Join her at this year’s annual Camas Discovery Day celebration taking place on Sunday, May 14. Visit kootenaynativeplants.ca/event/camas-discovery-day-2017.