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young agrarians

In Memory of Bob Mitchell

in 2022/Current Issue/Organic Community/Spring 2022

Over the past year, the Organic BC community lost two very special people, Dave McCandless and Bob Mitchell.

We remember them here with sadness for their passing, and with gratitude for the legacy of their knowledge, skills, rich soils, stories, passions, and contributions.

They are remembered, and live on in our work.

Bob Mitchell (1939-2022)

By Robin Tunnicliffe

Metchosin just got a little quieter, a little more docile, and definitely less colourful. A library of local history has burned. On February 13, Bob Mitchell passed away at Victoria Hospice at the age of 83. Farmer, politician, thinker, and International Man of Mystery, the tales of Bob’s adventures will live on in the many lives he touched.

I met Bob because he got a copy of our book, All the Dirt: Reflections on Organic Farming. He wanted to meet, because he had gone through three farm managers in five years. He thought I sounded serious, so he called me. At the time, I didn’t want to leave Saanich, but I have a soft spot for older farmers, so I went out to meet him.

I took one look at the soil, and I was hooked! He and his dad had been building beautiful soil there for decades, and evenly fertile crops flourished on class A ag land. Woah! Bob promised me a farm succession plan as bait, and the deal was sealed. We were there for nine years to the month when he died. Bob thrived, surrounded by younger farmers, and he loved talking politics and most anything during our daily communal lunches. As a tribute to his legacy, Sea Bluff Farm will be farmed in perpetuity to feed the surrounding community.

Bob was born in Saskatchewan but came to Metchosin as a young boy. He fondly recounted a rich childhood spent blowing up stumps with dynamite and tossing hay bales with his father. Bob’s wild years were enlivened by running after-hours nightclubs in Arizona and Seattle. He recalled these years as the best of his life. He met and married Jackie Slater and fathered his only son, Geoff. He wasn’t one for domestic life, and soon ended up in jail after getting busted for turning his agricultural gifts to the cultivation of marijuana. We guessed that Bob’s short stint in jail was the thrill of his life, for we heard many a soliloquy about his time behind bars. He continued to advocate for youth detainees and for prisoners at William Head for many decades.

Bob’s adventures spanned some years up at Clo’ose on the West Coast trail. He loved recounting tales of incoming storms into the beach, and having to sail out to anchor his boat, and then swim to shore to keep his rig from getting tossed into the rocks. He continued to visit the site, and was there last fall and had to hike out because of a misadventure.

Bob served on the Metchosin council for three terms. His slogan? “I’m the only one running that has a conviction!” The folks of Metchosin will be familiar with the sight (and smell) of the tractor and trailer loaded with seaweed coming up from Weir’s Beach. He was a regular at the Broken Paddle, and could be seen whipping around Metchosin and beyond in his iconic Mini Cooper, the farm delivery vehicle. A point of pride for Bob was to be the first one to plough up his field in the spring, even when he got mired down in the mud.

Above all, Bob loved Sea Bluff Farm. He was so proud to feed the community 12 months of the year from our humble farm stand on Wootton Rd. “Things are really cooking!” he’d say with satisfaction while looking over our loaded farm stand. Bob was rototilling in the greenhouse mere weeks before he died. He would spend hours on the end of a hoe, methodically saving crops from the weeds. He was devoted to soil health and his legacy lives on in our giant beets and Hubbard squash.

Bob was happiest when he was sharing knowledge: helping out new farmers and scheming about local politics. Bob shone when he was the centre of attention, and he could regale you with tales drawing on a huge breadth of knowledge. He was extremely well read, always curious, and had an excellent memory for municipal history.

If you would like to honour Bob, please consider a donation to the Bob Mitchell New Farmer Microloan Fund. Over the past 10 years, Bob has changed the lives of six new farmers who used the loan and were able to pay it back in the same year because of their strong start.

Donations for the the Bob Mitchell New Farmer Microloan Fund can be sent to the following email, with the subject line “Bob Micro loan:” seabluffbox@outlook.com


Feature image: Bob Mitchell pleased with the daikon crop. Credit: Sea Bluff Farm.

Organic Stories: Wildflight Farm – Secwepemeceulecw, Mara BC

in 2022/Crop Production/Farmers' Markets/Grow Organic/Organic Community/Organic Stories/Winter 2022

A Community Movement Takes Flight

By Brianne Fester

Wild Flight Farm was never really part of the plan. In fact, Hermann Bruns grew up just down the road from the Wild Flight farmstead, and actually worked very diligently for 10 years to ensure he was on track to do quite the opposite of farming. But fate had other plans!

After their respective studies of geography and biology, Louise and Hermann met in Tumbler Ridge while working for a mining company. Both passionate about being active outdoors, exploring nature, and living as environmentally-conscious as possible, they began to recognize a disappointing lack of options for local and organic produce.

For Louise, switching gears and becoming a farmer was a clear choice. Deciding to grow the food that they themselves were unable to find was a way they could “walk the talk.”

Becoming organic growers was not only a way to advocate for living with less environmental impact, but it would provide a tangible way for others to make that choice as well.

Seeding Garlic. Credit: Wild Flight Farm.

The farm lies on a beautiful 20-acre slice of fertile land in unceded Secwepemc territory, along the Shuswap River. Wild Flight Farm was named in reverence for the river and the numerous migrating bird species that make a home there. It is from that deep place of appreciation and respect for their environment that Hermann and Louise have been dedicated stewards of the land they farm.

What began as Louise’s quaint notion of a small-scale farm, run by the two of them, transformed when Hermann really sank his teeth into the idea of making a concerted effort to feed their community. Where Louise imagined “small is beautiful,” Hermann saw “expand to meet demand,” and the fusion of these two ideologies is the essence of Wild Flight Farm.

Through thoughtful growth of their business, customers from Kelowna to Revelstoke have been nourished, inspired, and gathered by the dedication to—and consistency of—the produce that Wild Flight Farm has brought to their lives and wider communities.

Louise and Hermann in the greenhouse. Credit: Wild Flight Farm.

One thing that has really set the farm apart from other local growers is that they grow, store, and sell produce year-round. “Deciding to expand our infrastructure—building a bigger packing shed and additional cooler rooms—was really driven by customer demand,” reflects Hermann. The “big build” at the farm took place about 10 years into the growth of their business and was an integral step in the evolution of the farm, as it secured a supply of organic produce throughout the winter months for customers.

Direct to consumer sales, especially farmers markets, have been central to the business model of Wild Flight. In the early years they tried various markets throughout the region but eventually focused on serving two communities: Salmon Arm and Revelstoke. Their delivery methods have evolved over time and they have experimented with a Community Support Agriculture (CSA) program, in addition to attending both summer and winter markets. Over the years, “we’ve actually been all over Revelstoke,” recalls Hermann. “We’ve parked at people’s houses, industrial sites, the community centre, and centennial park.”

Continuous communication has been a real strength of Wild Flight over the years. Currently, over 2,300 people receive a weekly e-news publication, drawing recipients into the on-farm experience through bright photos and the anticipated ‘featured vegetable,’ the in-season veggie of the moment. The newsletter originated as a humble, word-processed piece of paper, authored and printed by Louise during the farm’s second year. It was a way to stay connected to their customers and offer recipe suggestions for some of the more obscure vegetables found in their CSA box.

Through its evolution, the newsletter has served many purposes: a means to convey moment to moment farm struggles and excitement and a platform for political engagement, community announcements, general farmers market news, but also a way to create a network responsive to the unexpected changes that occur between field and market. Its efficacy has been tested on several occasions, and regardless of delivery delays, weather issues, or COVID-related challenges, the newsletter has demonstrated a consistent and rapid ability to reach farm customers when plans change.

Keeping harvest day interesting. Credit: Wild Flight Farm.

This attentive and thoughtful way of aligning with customers is also echoed in how Hermann and Louise connect with their employees. I worked at the farm over four non-consecutive years in a variety of roles. There were two constant threads woven into all my experiences of working with them: the authentic and genuine care for their employees, and their keen desire to share with, and support, interested young farmers.

The simple act of sitting with their employees at lunch each day spoke volumes to me; we were all working together to achieve the same goals and our efforts as employees were respected and valued. Their appreciation was also undoubtedly clear on Fridays when Louise would create an extraordinary dessert for us to share. Definitely a weekly highlight!

Both Hermann and Louise were always available to chat about any and all things farming—or life—and on several occasions the crew arranged to have post-workday Q&A sessions, where we could pepper them with our extensive farming queries. To this day, they make me feel like there is never a question too silly or a moment too busy to reach out.

Whether nurturing aspiring farmers or building relationships with existing farmers, Wild Flight has been integral in maintaining a strong farmer network in the region. At the very onset of their farm business, Hermann and Louise were warmly welcomed into the realm of organic growing by Rob and Kathryn Hettler of Pilgrims’ Produce. They generously offered insights and experience and even gifted Hermann and Louise their first hoop house!

Wild Flight farmers’ market spread. Credit: Wild Flight Farm.

This sentiment of reciprocity has remained a top priority as Wild Flight has grown over the years, whether through co-marketing, exchanging insights and info, coordinating with other growers to share shipping to Urban Harvest or Farmbound, or joining forces to save costs by splitting a pallet (or more!) worth of goods between several growers.

Nearing the end of their third decade, Wild Flight continues to have the same dedication to providing organic produce to as many folks as possible. Farming still requires them to navigate new challenges with unique and innovative solutions and it appears that traversing their next steps of farm succession will be no different. “Our hope is that the farm will continue in a similar direction,” says Hermann when asked about their idea of Wild Flight in the future. But, Louise adds, “our kids definitely don’t want to farm.”

At the edge of one of the fields, behind the alley of hoop houses stands a proud new house, ready for its first occupants. “Building it is definitely a gamble,” Hermann shares, but they recognize that having on-farm housing is a necessity. The intention with the build is that the house will attract potential successors, and the entering farmers will have a comfortable place to live with the space to raise a family, if they chose to. With the price of land increasing at such an alarming rate, it remains one of the largest barriers for aspiring farmers, not to mention the widespread trouble accessing affordable housing. (1, 2)

Several years ago, The Bruns’ decided to incorporate Wild Flight Farm, but keep the land and infrastructure that the farm uses under their private ownership. “The idea is that because the farm doesn’t actually own any of the land itself, it is more affordable for someone to buy into the business,” explains Hermann. “The farm would continue to operate, they would make their salary and then be able to use the profit, or some of the profit, to invest back into further ownership of the business, while continuing to lease the land and buildings.”

Looking forward, Louise and Hermann see exciting potential. They envision a sense of gusto brought to the farm by folks who, as Louise imagines, “can use the infrastructure to make it their own.”

wildflightfarm.ca


Brianne Fester is grateful to have been involved in organic growing in various capacities since taking a job with Wild Flight Farm in 2013. Brianne is passionate about all things food and is particularly interested in how we can work to create a more just and equitable food system.

Feature image: Bringing in the harvest. Credit: Wild Flight Farm.

References:
Cheung, C. (April 20, 2021). To Ease Housing Crisis, BC is Largely looking to Developers as Partners. The Tyee. thetyee.ca/News/2021/04/20/Housing-Crisis-Developers-Partners/
Fawcett-Atkinson, M. (August 12, 2020). Young BC Farmers Can’t Afford Farmland. Canada’s National Observer. nationalobserver.com/2020/08/12/news/young-bc-farmers-cant-afford-farmland

Harvesting Wisdom: Protecting our Life-Source

in 2021/Climate Change/Fall 2021/Grow Organic/Indigenous Food Systems/Land Stewardship/Organic Community

By Abra Brynne

Farmers fulfill a complex set of roles. You grow and raise food that nourishes others—some of whom you may meet and some you will not. You are also entrepreneurs with a vested and real interest in seeing your business survive and, better yet, thrive. When you add organics into this mix, it necessarily introduces additional complexity.

There are those who choose to become certified organic because it is a smart business decision based on what the farm produces and market opportunities. But, as someone who has been an active volunteer in the BC organic community since the mid-1990’s, I am well aware that there are many who farm organically because you truly understand yourselves as stewards of the land you have the privilege to work. It is for this reason that you preserve riparian areas, bushy areas, and trees on the land even if it restricts the land available for cultivation. And many adopt practices to minimize disturbing the soil structures and the lives teeming under the surface, embracing no till practices without falling into the chemical trap that often accompanies no till.

The fact is, organic farmers have long been fully committed practitioners of climate-friendly agriculture for decades before such a term was coined. When I look back over the years of my involvement with Organic BC, alongside the many passionate, knowledgeable and caring volunteers with the organization, myriad examples come to mind that justify this statement:

  • The cyclical and fierce debates on the standards review committee over the inclusion of manure from conventional sources into compost;
  • Andrea Turner, who was adamant that the full life-cycle, including harm at the production stage of pressure treated posts, needed to be understood and incorporated into the deliberations of the standards review committee;
  • Wayne Harris hosting a rotational grazing workshop provided by E Ann Clark, formerly of the University of Guelph, with multiple farmers from the Creston Valley deeply engaged in the conversations about optimizing soil, field, and animal health simultaneously and symbiotically through careful management;
  • The Reid brothers who led the battle to open the Chicken Marketing Board to specialty producers, including organic;
    Linda Edwards’ brilliant guide on organic tree fruit production;
  • Rick and Vicky Llewellyn, who also went toe-to-toe with a marketing board and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in order to enable on-farm production of certified organic cheese;
  • Hermann Bruns’ longstanding practice of sharing the knowledge they have garnered over decades of trial and error on the farm he operates with his partner Louise;
  • Tim and Linda Ewert who operate Wildwood Farm near Pouce Coupe exclusively on bona fide horsepower, including using the horses to grind their own feed;
  • Mary Alice Johnson who over the years has mentored so many young people who have then gone on to have their own successful farm operations;
  • The persistence of volunteer-based regional certifiers that provide accessible certification to area farmers; and
  • The hundreds of certified organic farmers in BC who work year-in and year-out, through the vagaries of market and climate, to grow and raise certified organic foods while working to preserve and improve the land upon which they work.

Recognizing Indigenous Stewards

It is well established that the world’s centres of biodiversity owe their existence to the stewardship of Indigenous peoples. I remember well the 2018 annual conference in Chilliwack at which several Indigenous Food Sovereignty leaders, including Dawn Morrison, spoke to packed rooms. BC organic farmers crowded in to learn more about Indigenous relationships to the land, their stewardship practices, and their work towards food sovereignty. The tensions with settler agriculture were also explored. While organic farmers perpetuate settler agriculture on the landscape, it is clear that there are areas of complementarity in the shared care for the land, the water, and all the species that contribute to the well-being of an ecosystem.

Youth Wisdom, Youth Voices

Scientists have persisted in their warnings about climate change over multiple decades, despite the fact that their words have fallen on uncaring ears for too long. One group that has needed less persuasion is the youth. In communities across our province, county, and around the world, youth are taking action. Many are so young they do not yet have the right to vote. Nevertheless, they are leading awareness campaigns, engaging with political leaders, and using their voices to focus more attention on the urgent need for action.

It is both sad and ironic that our un-enfranchised youth are among the most vocal about the need to save our precious planet. Groups like Fridays for Future can be found in most communities.

They understand that it is their future at risk. The generations before them who have been a part of getting the planet to its present state owe them a debt that can never be fully repaid.

Acting Together

The wildfires that raged across BC again in the summer of 2021 are a stark reminder of how important it is that humanity more fully embrace climate friendly practices in all aspects of life. The August 2021 release of the International Panel on Climate Change report made it abundantly clear that we have run out of time to take real action in the face of the climate crisis.

Farmers for Climate Solutions, of which Organic BC is a member, was instrumental in the August announcement by the federal government of the On-Farm Climate Action Fund. The program promotes the widespread adoption of climate-friendly agricultural practices. It is high time for organic farming to become the dominant—“conventional”—approach to agriculture.

By learning from and uniting the voices and knowledge of organic farmers, Indigenous Peoples, youth, and climate scientists, we can help to shift how humanity lives on this precious planet.


Abra Brynne grew up on a small tree fruit farm in Syilx Territory. She is a former co-chair of the Organic BC Standards Review Committee, a long-time volunteer with Kootenay Organic Growers Society, has sat on the Organic BC board, and was the founding certification committee chair for PACS. She has worked closely with farmers and on food systems for 30 years, with a priority on food value chains and the regulatory regimes that impede or support them. Abra is a founding member of many agriculture and food-related organizations. Since 2016, she has led the Central Kootenay Food Policy Council.

Featured image: Rows of crops at a diversified farm. Credit: Abra Brynne

Organic Stories: Kloverdalen Farm – K’ómoks Territory, Courtenay, BC

in 2021/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Organic Stories/Summer 2021

Learning and Sharing at Kloverdalen Farm

Moss Dance

Kloverdalen Farm is a beautiful patch of great farmland in the Comox Valley producing mixed organic veggies. It is owned and operated by Kira Kotilla and Ingemar Dalen, along with their two adorable kids, Eilif and Olin.

I met Kira Kotilla in the Comox Valley. My five-acre farm was just down the road from where she grew up in Merville, BC. We both learned and apprenticed in the early- to mid-2000’s with some of the same mentors on southern Vancouver Island.

When she saw what I was up to with small-scale mixed organic veggies, she generously offered to come over and help out a few days a week. She taught me all kinds of things about soil and plant science, got a lot of work done, and she was really good with the tractor. She says one of the things she gleaned from that time on my farm was experience creating real hardpan! Oops.

Luckily for me, I sold the tractor and bought a walk-behind rototiller, and those early days of her volunteering on my farm ended up creating a lot of collaboration, learning, and fun. We ended up becoming co-founding members of Merville Organics Growers’ Cooperative with Arzeena Hamir, Neil Turner, Russell Heitzmann, Calliope Gazetas, and Robin Sturley.

By the time we met in 2013, Kira was well into her explorations of profitable small-scale farming. And her interest in techniques and tools that increase farm profitability was a huge boon for Merville Organics. Like many of us, she was originally drawn to farming by the ideals and the way of life it could offer. “I was inspired by my love of plants,” she says, “I wanted to work outside, and being very independent, I wanted to work on my own.”

So she did her homework. Kira wasn’t content to pursue her dreams without doing the research first to make sure it was a life path that could support her well.

Kira’s incredible cabbages. Credit: zoomphotography.ca

Early Farm Mentors

It’s amazing to think about the ways in which we all, as organic farmers, come from various tributaries into this river of organic agriculture, finding mentors along the way who lead us into pockets of communities across the country.

Kira first became interested in farming in the mid-2000’s, and found her way to Nova Scotia Agricultural College. She remembers thinking, “I hope there are organic farming courses there.” Once she was settled in at school, she realized that the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada (OACC) was headquartered there, and many of her professors were a part of the OACC! These early mentors in organic agriculture lead to Kira’s first apprenticeship in Nova Scotia. Ever practical, Kira knew her dreams needed to be tested. During her school and apprenticeship years, she watched her mentors carefully to see if farming would be financially viable and worth trying in her own life.

She had a revelatory moment at a workshop by Crop Planning for Organic Farmers author and Ferme Coopérative Tourne-Sol farmer Daniel Brisebois. “Daniel inspired me at an ACORN conference back in 2008. He was one of the first speakers I’d ever heard who made me think being a small-scale organic farmer was a viable option.”

From there, she had to decide where to dig in and start her own farm. “I had a really great time at school in Nova Scotia and was really tempted to stay out there and buy land,” she says, “but I came back to BC.”

Kira’s encounter with Daniel Brisebois and the organic agriculture community in Nova Scotia had piqued her interest in co-operatives, so when she returned to BC, she was drawn to working with Rachel Fisher at Three Oaks Farm, one of the co-founding members of Saanich Organics. She spent the 2011 season in a Stewards Of Irreplaceable Land (SOIL) apprenticeship with Rachel, and learned about collaborative farming with the other farmers at Saanich Organics, Heather Stretch and Robin Tunnicliffe. During her apprenticeship, she mentions that the “educational field trips with SOIL connected me to many other mentors as well.”

By the time Kira ended up back in the Comox Valley, she was well-educated, and keen to get started on her own projects.

Ingemar Dalen shares Kira’s passion for sizeable brassicas. Credit: zoomphotography.ca

Never Stop Learning

Kira and Ingemar purchased their farm in 2014, a sweet 4.25-acre parcel right on a rural highway for excellent exposure and farm stand potential. She planted a garlic patch, and was planning to go back to camp cooking for one more season to save up money when Arzeena Hamir called her up and invited her to join Merville Organics Growers’ Cooperative. Kira decided to abandon her camp cooking plans and dive in that season, growing some staple crops for the co-op.

Once the co-op ball started rolling, the learning curve drew her in again, and of course, many new mentors appeared along the way. In that first year of farm operation, Kira and two other Merville Organics farmers had an opportunity to join the Business Mentorship Program via Young Agrarians with John and Katy Ehrlich at Alderlea Farm. Kira and I also took part in the Young Agrarians Business Mentorship Program and were matched with Frédéric Thériault at Ferme Coopérative Tourne-Sol, who helped to guide us in developing our cooperative business structures, financial goals, and principles of operation.

Kira continues to pursue educational opportunities wherever she can. Recently she had a chance to participate in the B.C. Agri-Business Planning Program and was matched with Chris Bodnar of Close to Home Organics.

Little Olin keeping busy on the farm. Credit: zoomphotography.ca

Favourite Crops

“People keep calling me the cabbage queen and I keep forgetting that I have this unsquashable drive to grow cabbage,” quips Kira. “But I’m trying really hard to grow less cabbage all the time. I try to find smaller varieties but they keep turning out twice as large as the seed catalogue says!”

The fact that Kira can’t grow a small cabbage is a testament to her excellent farming skills. That low-tillage approach is really working for her—the soil biology at Kloverdalen is off the charts.

Kira has had to diversify for this coming season, since Merville Organics Growers’ Cooperative recently dissolved. As it turned out, all the current farmer members found themselves outgrowing the need for a marketing co-operative, so they all struck out on their own. Despite Kira’s penchant for cabbage, she now has to grow the full spectrum of crops, including crops she used to rely on other Merville Organics farmers to grow for the collectively-planned CSA program and farmers markets.

Now that she’s running a one-farm show, Kira has pared her markets down to her popular farm gate stand and a CSA program. These markets are more limited and specific than the cooperative’s variety of market options, meaning she now has to crop plan carefully. Kira spent a lot of time learning new crop planning techniques this past winter. “It’s harder to grow for CSA as a single farm than with a co-op,” she says. Cooperative CSA planning has built in redundancy from multiple farms, so there’s less risk of being short on CSA box options from week-to-week. But the downside of that redundancy are the occasional gluts of certain crops—the hustle to find markets for fresh produce on the spot can be a real challenge.

Mouth-watering CSA box program contents. Credit: zoomphotography

Favourite Tools

Kira tries to minimize tillage at the farm to encourage diverse soil biology. That’s why one of her most treasured tools is her broadfork. Luckily, she enjoys the action of digging with the broadfork. Kloverdalen employs one local person full-time each season, and they work hard to reduce their fossil fuel use through hand labour. They also aim to minimize plastic use at every level of production.

Kira and I share a love of the humble Ho-Mi, an ancient Korean gardening tool. I got my first Ho-Mi when I was a farm apprentice with Mary Alice Johnson at ALM Farm in Sooke, so when Kira was spending time working with me at my farm, I gave her one too. I like to imagine all these farmers, connected by our time in the fields together, digging with our Ho-Mis—our little iron spear-shaped diggers remaining a familiar constant throughout all the changes of life. Kira said I should mention she has both the short- and long-handled Ho-Mi, and she loves them both.

Her most modern tool acquisition is the Jang Seeder, and she says she loves it, despite (or maybe because of) the learning curve. See, I told you—she just loves a good challenge.

Beautiful sunflower bouquets at the farm stand. Credit: zoomphotography

Hot Tips: Farming with Kids

I’ve always been curious about how Kira gets all that farming done with two young kids in tow, so I asked if she had any hot tips for farming parents. “Don’t be shy about using daycare!” she laughs. “And just abandon perfectionism—you have to accept a certain amount of destruction if you’re going to have them tagging along with you.”

Kira copes by allowing a certain amount of chaos with the kids in the field: “I let them dig holes right in the garden beds just to keep them entertained while I’m working.” Kira also suggests wasting a little water to keep your sanity. Let the kids play with the hose.

Growing into the Future

In the past seven years, Kira and Ingemar have managed to grow a vacant field with a dilapidated farmhouse and decaying shed into a thriving small farm with excellent infrastructure, soil fertility, and markets to sell their produce. And it all started with a quarter-acre garlic patch and an invitation to join a co-op. Since then, Kira and Ingemar have expanded to a full acre in production with new infrastructure, including a greenhouse and barn with a farm stand.

I’ve been enjoying watching her story unfold, gathering up seeds of knowledge from her experiences and seeing her develop into a leader in her field, both literally and figuratively. I know Kloverdalen Farm is just going to keep growing and adapting, even in these unpredictable times—and I am grateful for their example of resilience, curiosity and innovation.

kloverdalenfarm.com

instagram.com/kloverdalenfarm

facebook.com/kloverdalenfarm


Moss Dance (she/they) is an organic gardener on Territories of Hul’qumi’num and SENĆOŦEN speaking peoples (Salt Spring Island), and works with the BC Organic Grower as layout editor. Moss spent a decade farming and organizing in K’ómoks Territory as a founding member of Merville Organics. She is currently completing her Diploma of Acupuncture in Victoria, BC, and hopes to have a market garden again someday.

Feature image: Kira Kotilla holding beautiful beets. Credit: zoomphotography.ca

Pilgrims’ Produce: A 30 Year Legacy

in 2021/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Organic Stories/Summer 2021

How the Hettlers Embody Organic Principles (and Are Good at Growing Farmers)

Michelle Tsutsumi

Finding my way to Pilgrims’ Produce in the fall of 2009, when I wanted to learn how to garden, ended up changing my life. It sounds dramatic; however, witnessing and experiencing the ways in which Robert and Kathryn engage with the world impacted me in subtle ways, over time. Over a decade later, and with a more nuanced relationship with organics, I can see more fully how the Hettlers embody organic principles.

Not only have Robert and Kathryn stewarded the land they lived on, and with, for the past 30 years, using a combination of responsibility and innovation, they have done so with future generations in mind. One of the first things I remember Kathryn describing was how important it was to her and Robert to be growing good food for their family, friends, and wider community. The farm has been a special gathering space for the extended Hettler clan, serving as a central meeting point for children and grandchildren who are now dispersed around the world. So many incredible memories and feasts have been celebrated at Pilgrims’ Produce over the years!

A vintage photo of the Hettler Family. Credit: Pilgrims’ Produce.

Their thoughtful appreciation for people showed up in attentive conversations, as in really listening and asking pointed questions, as well as in random moments walking from one section of the farm to another. This caring way of being was reciprocated by many employees who would return to work at Pilgrims’ Produce year after year and, eventually, launch into their own farming with a solid base of learning and mentoring to draw from. Not to mention always feeling welcome to give Rob a call with questions or stop in for a visit that inevitably would include ‘shop talk.’

Employees who went on to create their own farms include Kate Murphy at Lakehead & Beyond Produce Society, Mark Uher at Mara Valley Produce, and Joel Hayhoe and Tessa Wetherill at Our Open Farm. Through the Young Agrarians Business Mentorship Program, Rob mentored Emily Jubenvill at Enderberry Farm. Folks who returned to or joined family farms include Eva-Lena Lang at Cedarstein Farm and me at Golden Ears Farm.

Many of these names are probably familiar to you because they have also engaged in actions that serve the organic community, or agriculture more broadly, through participation in Agriculture Advisory Committees, land matching, certifying body boards and committees, expanding food systems networks, and even in the role of Executive Director of COABC! This community involvement mirrors the years and years of Robert and Kathryn’s contributions and dedication to building the organic movement.

Kathryn and Robert sorting fruit. Credit: Alan Price.

Working at Pilgrims’ Produce was a beautiful mix of hard work, a buzz of activity—particularly in June, when you would see the quad and trailers bringing in the harvest on top of a steady interchange of vehicles belonging to the folks flocking in for u-pick strawberries—and the most amazing staff lunches (thank you, Kathryn!).

Pilgrims’ Produce was also a site for events like Shoots ‘n Blooms, CSA strawberry socials, and inter-farm potlucks. The importance of relationships and creating the time and space to nurture them was affirmed by example and reassuring words: “Take the time you need to visit your family. Not to worry, the weeds will be here when you get back.”

So many markets over the years! Robert at the market stand. Credit: Pilgrims’ Produce.

On March 31st, 2021, a sizeable group of people who have been impacted by Robert and Kathryn gathered over Zoom to share memories and stories of what the farm means to them. It served as both a celebration of Rob and Kathryn’s organic farming and community building and the transfer of the farm to Dan and Kat Saxton 30 years—to the day—after the Hettlers moved in!

Many named the beauty of the land, its healing capacity, and the generous-in-spirit nature of Robert and Kathryn as influencing them. Kate Murphy aptly described how Robert and Kathryn have been growing more than food, they have been growing farmers.

We love you Robert and Kathryn and are so pleased that you have kindred spirits in Dan and Kat to carry on the legacy of Pilgrims’ Produce. A legacy of care, stewardship, good food, and growing farmers!

Michelle Tsutsumi at Pilgrims’ Produce with the team. Credit: Alan Price.

We have the world to live in on the condition that we will take good care of it.

And to take good care of it, we have to know it.

And to know it and to be willing to take care of it, we have to love it.

~ Wendell Berry

pilgrimsproduce.com

Kathryn at market. Credit: Pilgrims’ Produce.

Michelle Tsutsumi grows food on the unceded land of Secwépemcul’ecw and, in doing so, acknowledges the tension inherent in the practice of agriculture and Indigenous-settler relations. As a communicator, she engages in difficult conversations around dominant cultural mindsets and structures so that we can transform them into a more just and equitable way of being.

Feature image: Farm families – Robert and Kathryn Hettler smiling with Dan and Kat Saxton and their children—the next stewards of Pilgrim’s Produce. Credit: Pilgrims’ Produce.

Incubating Certified Organic Farmers at Haliburton

in 2021/Grow Organic/Organic Community/Spring 2021

Erin Bett

Our farm, Fierce Love Farm, is a one-acre vegetable, fruit, and flower farm in Saanich on unceded W̱SÁNEĆ territory. We are part of Haliburton Community Organic Farm, which is a beautiful piece of farmland in the middle of the Victoria suburbs.

Haliburton Farm operates as an incubator farm: new farmers can lease plots between half an acre and one acre for a short-term lease of up to eight years to start their farm business. Our farm, and all the other farmers at Haliburton Farm, are certified organic through the Islands Organic Producers Association (IOPA).

While Haliburton Farm operates somewhat differently than other IOPA incubator farms, since it is run by a non-profit society on publicly owned land, it served as part of the inspiration for IOPA’s incubator farm policy. The incubator farm policy aims to expand the opportunities for new farmers to start organic farms with the support of established IOPA farmers.

We started our farm business at Haliburton Farm in 2018, and are entering our fourth season. After both completing the UBC Farm Practicum in Sustainable Agriculture and working for many years on farms throughout the province, we were ready to take the leap and start our own farm. With land prices what they are in BC, and especially on the west coast, we knew our only option was to lease land. When the opportunity to join Haliburton Farm’s incubator model opened up, we jumped at the chance, and have benefited from it greatly.

Jon harvesting leeks. Credit: Fierce Love Farm.

Farming at an incubator farm gave us the head start that leasing a raw piece of land from a private landowner never could have. With the key infrastructure like hoop houses, irrigation, and a walk-in cooler in place, and existing plantings of cane fruits in the ground, we were able to hit the ground running in our first season.

Kevin Allen, who also started Elemental Farm at Haliburton in 2018, adds, “The incubator policy has created the opportunity to start the farm business in a stable and supportive environment. This will be the fourth year of Elemental Farm’s operations and I am grateful this incubator policy exists.” He highlights that the incubator allowed them to start small and build their level of investment over time, as their risk tolerance increased. “For example,” he says, “we didn’t need to invest so heavily in the fixed assets of a cooler.”

Our plot had been farmed by two previous farmers before us, so we were also inheriting years of work building the soil. We were incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to work for the farmer whose plot we took over, Northstar Organics, the year prior to starting our farm. Having the mentorship of Shawn Dirksen on the land we would be farming, was invaluable to our business. Hearing his experiences, successes, and cautions gleaned over his time on the land gave us history and knowledge that would have taken years to collect on our own—a true gift to have before even putting pen to paper for our crop and marketing plans. Even three years later, he is only a phone call away to help us troubleshoot.

Being part of an incubator farm also gave us access to existing marketing channels. Our large stall at the local farmers’ market already had name recognition, and over the last three years we have worked hard to expand our dedicated customer base. We also partner with three other Haliburton Farm current and former lessees to collectively market our produce to restaurant and small grocer customers, which is coordinated by a fourth former Haliburton Farm lessee.

This combination of support, infrastructure, and our previous experience has allowed us to focus on the thing we didn’t have experience with—running a business. We have since been working to expand our own CSA, as we have always loved the CSA model and the connection with our community that it brings, and grow our farm to bring on more staff and our systems, while we plan for the future and a more permanent home for our farm.

While for us, the thought of starting over on another piece of land is daunting, and the barriers to land access for farmers are all too real, we are grateful that we have been able to start our farm business at Haliburton Farm.

Kevin’s farm has grown beyond the borders of Haliburton, too. “Starting last year, we were able to find another plot to lease and expand our plantings,” says Kevin. “We’ve now graduated out of the incubator policy and are continuing to search for more land to lease.”

Much needs to be done to make sure we set up the next generation of organic farmers for success, and incubator farms like Haliburton Farm are an important piece of the farm landscape. Haliburton Farm is celebrating its 20th year of operation this year, and as a member of the IOPA certification committee, I’m so excited to see applications from new farmers, who are being mentored by established organic farmers under the incubator farm policy.

If you would like more information about IOPA’s Incubator Policy and you are located within IOPA’s region of Vancouver Island and surrounding islands, reach out to admin@iopa.ca.


Erin Bett farms at Fierce Love Farm, a diverse, small-scale, organic farm located at Haliburton Community Organic Farm in Saanich, BC. Erin and her farm partner Jon are two first-generation farmers growing a variety of high-quality vegetables, berries, and flowers on one acre of leased land.

Feature image: Erin Bett showing off a bucket full of dahlias. Credit: Fierce Love Farm

Bringing History into Modern Cider-Making at Twin Island Cider

in 2021/Grow Organic/Marketing/Spring 2021/Tools & Techniques

Katie Selbee

“Natural” has always been a concept at the centre of our cider production, and over the past year I have been able to bring that ideal into our most basic equipment: fermentation vessels.

Just over a year ago, we were at a point of deciding whether to invest in more wood barrels or stainless-steel tanks for our production space, when I stumbled upon a documentary about ancient Georgian wine qvevri. Qvevri are large earthenware vessels used for fermenting and storing wine. These huge, hand-built clay pots are still being made today in Georgia just the same as they have been made for thousands of years, even down to the native clay they dig themselves.

This launched me on an investigation into whether our native Gulf Islands clay—Twin Island Cider is based on Pender Island—might be usable for low-fire earthenware, too. Luckily, a few test firings confirmed that it was.

Though I haven’t worked much with clay in the past, I am also lucky to have a professional potter living next door (Nancy Walker of talkingclay.ca). As I learn from her advice as well as footage of Georgian qvevri-building, I have been hand-building pots and gradually scaling up to vessels that hold around 150 litres, measuring about 35 inches tall. When I can problem-solve finding or building a larger sized kiln, I will scale up to larger sizes. For now, we are busy experimenting with fermenting and aging in the earthen clay and learning as much as we can about its effects on the finished cider.

It’s hard to say what impact using qvervi will have on the cider itself at this point as we’ve only made one batch and have been occasionally tasting another that is still aging in the clay. The first batch we made has a wonderfully punchy, tangy character, and we did notice it has a more mature profile than other ciders would be at its young age, likely due to the micro-oxidation effects mellowing the acids faster. We’ll do more comparative batches as we go—aging the same batch in stainless with clay to compare. It is safe to say this is a direction we will wholeheartedly be pursuing and improving on for the long term.

The main reason we are excited about clay is that it imparts less flavour than most wooden barrels, but it still allows some micro-oxidation—unlike stainless steel. And it also adds another layer of “terroir” that makes so much sense for our hyper-local cider: fermenting and aging in the material of its home.

Raw clay is collected from a large pile of clay, unearthed some years ago when our cidery partners/landholders Sandra and Noel had an irrigation pond dug.

 

The clay is mixed with water into a slurry and then poured through a fine mesh to remove any coarse particles and rocks.

 

The clay is then settled-out and allowed to dry until it is elastic and workable.

 

The vessels are hand built without a pottery wheel, in the traditional style of Georgian qvevri. One 3-inch layer is added per day. A 150-litre pot takes about 12 days total.

 

Once dry, the vessels are kiln-fired to 1060 degrees Celsius. Most native, hand-processed clays like this cannot be fired much higher or they will warp and melt. This clay turns a beautiful terracotta colour once fired.

 

After firing, they are re-warmed and lined with melted beeswax, also a traditional Georgian method. The heating opens up the larger pores of the clay, allowing them to absorb the wax while still leaving smaller pores open to allow micro-oxidation and direct clay contact.

 

Katie Selbee and Matthew Vasilev at their clay harvest site.

 


Katie Selbee and her partner Matthew Vasilev are the cider-makers and co-founders of Twin Island Cider on Pender Island, blending hands-on experience and training in cider-making, orcharding, and farming. Twin Island Cider began with making cider on a basket press with family and friends, using apples from old orchards and the Vasilev’s family trees on Pender Island before developing into a land-based cidery in 2016 when they partnered with landholders Sandra MacPherson and Noel Hall. They are immersed in operating the cidery year-round, from pruning and harvesting dozens of island orchards, pressing, blending and bottling, to pouring the cider at the tasting room. They care for and harvest from dozens of century-old settler orchards on North and South Pender Islands to create their fine, low-intervention cider and perry fermented only with native yeasts—cider which seeks to communicate the land, the lost varieties and the stories of the place we live.

Featured image: Katie Selbee putting the finishing touches on two Qvevri.

Organic Stories: Tulaberry Farm – Syilx, Sinixt, and Ktunaxa Territory, Passmore, BC

in 2021/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Organic Stories/Spring 2021

The Year the Butterflies Came Back: A Story of Transition at Tulaberry Farm

Hailey Troock

I picked up the phone one cold winter day in 2019 to a request from the owners and operators of Tulaberry Farm in the picturesque riverside community of Passmore, BC. Judi Morton and Alex Berland wanted to find some young and enterprising farmers to continue the legacy of their certified organic farm. After decades of farming in the Slocan Valley, where they raised their family and had become integral members of the local community, they had a beautiful space and knowledge to share.

A little more than a year later, Emily Woody and Nathan Wiebe, two farmers operating Confluence Farms out of Kelowna, BC, were searching for land. They had a dream to relocate their market garden and bakery start-up to the Kootenays, somewhere near Nelson, where they could establish roots for the long-term. In one season they had grown out of the backyard space they had started their farm on, selling through CSA shares and delivery.

All I had to do was introduce the two couples through the BC Land Matching Program (BCLMP), and the rest seemed to fall effortlessly into place—truly a confluence.

As Tulaberry and Confluence start down the path of transition together, it’s worth considering what farm transition is all about.

For me, it’s a million things. Last fall, our team at Young Agrarians released the BC Transition Toolkit for Non-Family Farm Transfer, and the process of researching and creating this resource provided us all with an in-depth understanding of a pretty complex topic: how do we transfer farms from one generation to the next, outside of the family? Something that stuck with me is how the mentorship available within the process of transition can be a fundamental part of the success of the incoming farm business.

New farmers face myriad challenges in today’s agricultural, economic, and climatic landscapes. It can take years to build up clientele, pay off start-up costs, establish secure sales channels for your products, learn the land and soil, mitigate increasing climatic variability, and more. Transitioning into an established farm can ease this learning journey, as the outgoing farmer passes along this critical information to their successors.

Nathan Wiebe and Emily Woody. Credit: Confluence Farm.

Judi came to be the steward of Tulaberry Farm when she purchased the land in 1968. She lived there for a few years before leaving, then coming back for a second stint. This is when Alex came into the picture in 1974. After 12 years together on the land they left to pursue other careers in Vancouver, where they stayed for two decades. Eighteen years ago, they relocated back to Tulaberry for good. Judi went from being an intensive care nurse at the children’s hospital to diving full-time into farming. She says the transition felt natural; though “people think they are unrelated, both are nurturing roles.”

Judi’s most prominent memory from her early years on the farm centre around her second season stewarding the land full-time. She refers to this as “the year the butterflies came back.” The planting of perennials, shrubs, and fruit bushes—food for the beautiful pollinators—breathed new life onto the land. Judi and Alex’s farming philosophy speaks to this. She says we “sought to leave the land better than we found it” and that they, like all of us, are stewards of the land we inhabit. They don’t feel they own the land: “though we bought it, we get the privilege to steward it,” she says.

Judi’s experience living in their community has evolved since those early years. “When we were first at Tulaberry before we left for 20 years, we were deeply embedded in our community. When we came back, we picked up much of the same community but also many new friends who had moved there.” Though many of the “old guard from 70s and 80s remain good friends,” she says, referring to her original cohort, “much of my social circle has centered around farming over the years.” Judi is also excited about the young families she has seen moving into the area over the past decade.

The Kootenay Organic Growers Society has played a big part in her farming community specifically. “Farming is a very lonely business,” she says, “and you are working alone a lot. Going to market was my social life; I was always so excited to see other farmers. When it was slow, we would congregate to the centre to share information and talk.”

The market garden at Tulaberry Farm. Credit: Tulaberry Farm

When Judi is 90, she says, “I want friends who are 60 and 70.”  Her strong attachment to the land she stewards and her desire to want to die there are part of the reason they pursued a land match. They had been looking for people to transition into Tulaberry to for more than a decade; aging in place remains important to them but it is “hard to watch fencing fall down on the land when you no longer have the energy to deal with it.”

For Judi and Alex, the BCLMP plays an important role, as “many young farmers need a leg up to get going, and retiring farmers want to age in place.” Working with hands-on support made them think about things that hadn’t come to mind and how to word things. She reflects on it as a great process, getting through negotiations to the point where “everyone was happy.”

Emily and Nathan came into farming at different times in their lives. Nathan was inspired by Emily. After growing up in a big city, he “was feeling burnt out and unhappy and wanted to be closer to nature and work that really mattered to me. The idea of growing food for a living had never crossed his mind until he met her,” he says, meaning Emily (on a dance floor, six years ago, no doubt!). He reflects on how Emily “showed me what was possible through farming and together we made our dreams of starting a farm a reality.”

Emily came to farming for a combination of reasons. “I wanted to do good in the world, felt a strong calling to do something about climate change and the state of the environment, and really liked good food.” She says she “had grown up with a big garden on an acreage and was always involved in growing food throughout my formative years. When I went to college, I began to explore my passion for food and farming more deeply. The work was so nourishing to me, I knew I wanted to be a farmer.”

While Nathan’s formal education is in business, marketing, and holistic nutrition and Emily studied ecological agriculture and community development, some of the soft and hard skills that have helped them in their farming career have surprised them. Nathan notes that “taking the time to really understand marketing, branding, and website design has helped immensely,” and recommended reading How to Build a Story Brand by Donald Miller and anything by Seth Godin.

“Baking skills have really come in handy, surprisingly! I’ve always had a passion for sweets and spent a year working for a small bakery in Edmonton,” says Emily. “I’ve spent a lot of time developing recipes that utilize what we are growing on the farm. Our value-added products have really helped to set us apart and bring a more diversified income stream to the farm.”

Before meeting Emily and Nathan, Judi compared finding compatibility between Tulaberry’s goals and those of new farmers to “waiting for a unicorn.” Over the years, they had lots of great young people out there working with them. She says she “saw a lot of people get into it and then realize how much work it is.” That’s why for her, finding farmers with a couple of years under their belt was important, so that she felt confident this was something they wanted as a long-term lifestyle.

Nathan, Emily, Judi, and Alex. Credit: Tulaberry Farm.

Compared to the idea she had of who she was looking for to transition the farm to, Judi says Emily and Nathan are, in short, “they are everything we ever wanted.” In more detail, she listed out the qualities that have been the most important for them and that Emily and Nathan embody in spades:

Good communication skills: “If you can’t talk together, it’s not going to work. If people harbour feelings and don’t communicate what’s bugging them or what they’re happy about, how do you make a relationship work?”

Experience in farming: They “didn’t want to start from scratch,” and Emily had four years of farming under her belt.

Off-farm income: “It’s hard to make a living on farming here; farms are small. I wasn’t convinced it can’t be done but it can present a huge hurdle if you don’t have something on the side. Nathan has his Level Up business to help support the farm in start-up.”

Being a generous spirit: “When I make dessert, I bring over some for them and they do the same. Their generosity of spirit matches ours.”

Reliability: “If someone says they will feed the chickens, we need to be able to walk away and know they will do it. Emily and Nathan have done everything they say they are going to do and more.”

Enthusiastic and energetic: Self-explanatory!

Judi says that having new farmers on their land has changed the way they experience it. “Like having a kid, you see the world fresh through their eyes. As snow melts and things come up, they are seeing it with fresh eyes and enthusiasm and I feel like my own has increased because of being able to see the farm through their eyes.”

For their first season on the farm, Emily and Nathan are planning on offering 20 different value-added products throughout the season and are particularly excited about having Judi and Alex as their mentors. “Mentorship means having someone to go to for support and guidance who is dedicated to helping us succeed,” Emily says. Having mentors has “really helped boost our confidence and given our farming operation a huge advantage over where we were last year. Judi and Alex have been farming in the Kootenays for so long and have such a great reputation in the community. Just by being associated with Tulaberry Farms we have noticed that people are a lot more receptive to us and are excited to see our new partnership.”

As a mentor, Judi sees her role this season “to work with them when they want me to work with them. It’s important that they don’t feel that they are being micromanaged or I’m looking over their shoulders.” She is confident that they know what they’re doing but not necessarily on this land, and that is where she sees her role in mentorship—though she also knows that on transplanting days, “having three sets of hands can make a big difference!”

Judi is inspired by the idea that “mentorship is something that flows both ways”—Emily has shown Judi how to make sourdough bread and frosting out of maple syrup and butternut squash—and in turn, Emily and Nathan are inspired by Judi and Alex’s “life story and dedication to their land.” “They essentially bought a raw piece of land more than 30 years ago and through sheer hard work and determination they slowly built a home in the woods and a farm, structure by structure, until it became the beautiful property that is it today.” This has shown the new farmers that “even if your dream lifestyle seems daunting to achieve, if you stick with it long enough and don’t give up, you can accomplish almost anything.”

This winter, their first on the farm, they were busy! “We added a bakery section to the online shop so that we can offer more than just vegetables,” says Emily. “We use chicken eggs from the farm, local cream when available, and locally-sourced grain that we mill using our Komo mill. This has helped to differentiate our business as well as increase our sales when we don’t have a lot of vegetables to sell throughout the winter. We’re doing row crops and Judi is teaching us how to do broiler chickens.”

Reflecting on the experience of sharing land with Emily and Nathan so far, Judi says she has been “pleasantly surprised with their generosity of spirit,” while Emily and Nathan spoke to how “easy and seamless it has been. Judi and Alex have been incredibly generous from the very beginning and we could tell they just want to see us succeed.”

Emily and Nathan aspire to one day transition from farmers markets and CSAs to a farm-to-table bakery they plan to call Pantry. “Our dream would be to be able to grow and produce as many ingredients for the bakery as we can to make it a true farm-to-table experience,” Emily says. As for where Judi sees herself and the farm in 20 years, she says, “at the age of 93, I hope to be taking care of chickens, even if I am not farming too much, but I hope the farm remains. I see so many possibilities—instead of withdrawing my energy, this new life on the farm is expanding it.”


The BC Land Matching Program is funded by the Province of British Columbia, with support from Columbia Basin Trust, Real Estate Foundation of BC, Bullitt Foundation, and Patagonia.

Hailey Troock grew up in the small agricultural community of Oyama, located in the Okanagan. Now based in Nelson, she spends her time connecting farmers, landholders, and allies in the Columbia Basin region as a Land Matcher with the BC Land Matching Program delivered by Young Agrarians.

Feature image: Tulaberry Farm nestled in the mountains. Credit: Tulaberry Farm

Sparkly Eyes, Grit, and Land Access

in 2020/Crop Production/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Marketing/Organic Community/Summer 2020

New Organic Farmers on Leased Land

Tessa Wetherill

Spring on an organic produce farm looks like baby greens, tiny radishes, overflowing seedling greenhouses, and freshly turned soil. Everything feels precious and new and brimming with possibility. Touring around Loveland Acres in Salmon Arm with farmers Robin and Maylene, those feelings were especially palpable and poignant since it’s their first season on the land. They’ve had a long journey getting here, one filled with familiar challenges and dreams. The other familiar things these farmers have are sparkly eyes and grit, ineffable qualities that go a long way in agriculture.As a farm business, Loveland Acres’ main goal is to provide high quality organic food for as many months of the year as possible. Robin and Maylene have been personally committed to eating as locally and seasonally as possible for many years and have identified a gap, often referred to as the hunger gap, in the availability of local produce in the region.

Crop rows in gorgeous soil under row cover. Credit: Tessa Wetherill.

“We want to help promote the Eat Local message all year round,” says Maylene. Which is why their next big project is to purchase and convert a shipping container into a commercial kitchen, an investment that will give them a place to process their produce, dry peppers, can tomatoes, and make pickles.

In discussing this next step in their business plan, Maylene points out that “no one talks about the money when starting a small farm.” She makes a good point. Even with all their sweat labour, these new farmers have invested a huge amount of money that they saved over a long time of working two jobs each into infrastructure, systems, and set up. They have poly tunnels, seedling greenhouses, storage spaces, and a very impressive irrigation system—all necessary to launch into marketing their products this season. The next step in building towards their goal of providing local food 12 months a year will take more capital than they have available right now, but seeing what these farmers have done in a couple years, I have no doubt they will make it happen.

In 2014, Robin and Maylene both left their professional careers in publishing and printing to pursue a siren song towards sustainable organic agriculture and a better quality of life. In her former life in Toronto, Maylene describes her experience with insomnia and a feeling of unease with the constant race and pace of the city and industry she worked in. When Maylene is asked what she loves most about farming, the answer is easy: mental space. Thinking about whatever she chooses all day long, rather than the 300 emails in her inbox. Contemplative, diverse, connected labour. That said, they both admit to having the occasional nightmare about their greenhouse flying away and that time they missed the window on flame weeding carrots!

Robin in the high tunnel hoop house. Below: Maylene with the celeriac harvest. Credit: Loveland Acres

Robin and Maylene met interning on an organic farm in Ontario. They fell in love with each other and the land and made a life-altering decision. Being in that environment and working in sync with the processes of nature, they both immediately began feeling healthier and sleeping better. They were learning that this was the life they were called to. They spent the next four years working and volunteering on farms across Canada and eventually found full-time employment working on a third-generation family-owned orchard in the Okanagan.

“For any aspiring farmer, working in agriculture is essential. It is the best way to learn and get hands-on experience. The only catch is that wages in agriculture are prohibitively low, which makes the prospect of land ownership, especially in the Okanagan, pretty unrealistic,” says Maylene. “With the average agricultural wage hovering around $14 an hour and the average price per acre of land in the Okanagan sitting at about $100,000, it’s not hard to see that land ownership is essentially out of the question for most agricultural workers.”

The high cost of land was the biggest hurdle they faced. Starting their new farm business on leased land was the only viable option for them, which is how they ended up connecting with the B.C. Land Matching Program (BCLMP) and with me, the land matcher for the Okanagan region.

Robin on the tractor. Credit: Loveland Acres.

Loveland Acres is one of 78 matches the BCLMP has supported on over 4,600 acres across the province since launching in Metro Vancouver in 2016 and expanding province-wide in 2018. The BCLMP provides land matching and business support services to new and established farmers looking for land to start or grow their farm business, as well as landowners interested in finding someone to farm their land. The benefits of land matching are hands-on support services to help new farmers and landowners evaluate opportunities, access resources, and ultimately find a land match partner. The program aims to address a lack of affordable farmland as a significant barrier for farmers entering the agricultural industry. The BCLMP is delivered by Young Agrarians, a farmer to farmer resource network, and is funded by the Province of British Columbia, with support from Columbia Basin Trust, Cowichan Valley Regional District, Real Estate Foundation of B.C., Bullitt Foundation, and Patagonia.

After registering for the BCLMP, we worked together to refine their focus on what attributes Robin and Maylene were looking for in a piece of land, taking the guesswork out of the leasing process and then connecting them with interested landowners.

“The BCLMP is so much more than a program that links landowners and land seekers. They helped us negotiate a stable and secure land lease, provided advice and access to a lawyer to look over our agreement, and connected us with their business mentorship program,” says Maylene. “If Tessa hadn’t reached out to us, we’d probably still be unsuccessfully trying to convince bankers and mortgage brokers that we weren’t crazy, and that, yes, you could make a living growing vegetables on two acres of land, with only a walk-behind tractor and a few simple pieces of equipment.”

Robin and Maylene knew from the beginning that organic certification was a priority for them, so when they were introduced to landowners Dag and Elina Falck, who own the land on which Loveland Acres has made their home, there was an instant spark of connection through their shared values.

Maylene with the celeriac harvest. Credit: Loveland Acres

Besides wanting to give their customers a guarantee that the food they produced was being done in a way that met the highest criteria for environmental sustainability, they have also felt the support of a community of fellow organic growers in the region. The pair emphasized the importance of being connected to a group of people who understand what they are going through, are available to answer questions, and generally help alleviate the feeling of being alone in a tough industry. On one particularly bad week, filled with unfortunate life events, including a car breaking down and other irritations, they recalled attending the annual general meeting for the North Okanagan Organic Association (NOOA). Just being in a room with other organic growers gave them the encouragement they needed to push through and keep going.

The willingness these farmers have in engaging with the community and accessing all possible resources to support their dreams has been instrumental in moving them into the exciting place of possibility they are at now. When I asked, what’s the most exciting thing for you right now, they responded by loading me up with freshly-harvested arugula and French Breakfast radishes, which I ate in handfuls on the way home.

Land matchers love being able to help farmers achieve secure access to land to start or expand their businesses, and to help farmland owners enjoy the benefits of agriculture of all kinds on their land. Farmers, get in touch to start a conversation about leasing land for your operation! Landowners, reach out to the BCLMP to help a farmer access land, whether you have hundreds of acres of farmland, or a small urban plot. There are so many growers looking for spaces to produce food across the province, and your land might just be the perfect fit.

Find Loveland Acres online!

First farmers’ market . Credit: Loveland Acres.

Send an email to land@youngagrarians.org and a land matcher will get in touch to learn more about your needs and vision and help you get on your way to making a match.

The B.C. Land Matching Program is funded by the Province of British Columbia, with support from Columbia Basin Trust, Cowichan Valley Regional District, Real Estate Foundation of B.C., Bullitt Foundation, and Patagonia.

Tessa Wetherill farmed full-time and with all her heart for 11 years, first in Vancouver and then the North Okanagan, before joining the Young Agrarians team as the BCLMP’s Okanagan Land Matcher. She loves all things that grow—plants, people, and communities—and what really lights her up are relationships and collaborations that form strong, diverse human ecosystems.

Feature image: Robin and Maylene with starts. Credit: Tessa Wetherill

Maylene with low tunnel row cover hoops. Credit: Tessa Wetherill

Local Seeds for Local Food

in 2019/Crop Production/Grow Organic/Organic Community/Seeds/Winter 2019

Michael Marrapese

Agriculture as we define it today has existed for roughly 12,000 years. Though the practices have been refined over millennia, modern farmers would still recognize the intent and the activity as ‘farming.’ We can find examples of plants we recognize as cereal grains, peas, barley, wheat, rice, and squash dating back 10,000 years. What makes this possible is that all these food plants produce seed.

Chris Thoreau, BC Seed Security Program Director at FarmFolk CityFolk, notes that seed is also the most efficient way to move food. “Growing seed allows you to ship food in its simplest form,” he says. “Moving lettuce seed across the border is different from moving lettuce across the border. Many of BC’s seed companies are already doing this through online sales.”

Thoreau started farming in 2001 knowing very little about seed. “My introduction to farming was the small scale organic vegetable production that is very prevalent on Southern Vancouver Island,” he says. “Which is also how I got introduced to seeds. It really was by default. There was a lot of local seed production happening in the region. We still had a good dozen seed companies in BC. Seedy Saturdays had been around for 20 years so it was a very active community.”

Rows of seedlings in a field with labels
BC Seed Trials. Credit: Chris Thoreau

In 2006 Thoreau worked on a survey of organic growers to get a sense of what seeds they were buying and from whom. He observed that “growers sourced their seed from places you’d expect like Johnny’s and High Mowing but were also sourcing from some local seed companies like Salt Spring Seeds and Stellar Seeds.”

Thoreau returned to Vancouver to study Agroecology at UBC. Still wanting to grow food while at university, he started Food Pedalers, a microgreens operation in East Vancouver. “It was very paradoxical to be attending the agroecology program but leaving the farm to do that,” he recalls. “I thought growing microgreens was the only way to make enough money for a viable urban farming business in Vancouver. The return per square foot from micro-greens was much higher than any ground crop I could grow. We were doing about 10,000 pounds of microgreens a year. During that time we were buying seed by the pallet load. I draw a lot from my time growing microgreens to help inform my seed work now.”

Thoreau joined FarmFolk CityFolk in 2015 to coordinate the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security (BFICSS). He’s extended his interest in seed production and education, coordinating seed workshops, public events and seed trials throughout BC. The BFICSS project is focusing on locally adapted organic seed to meet the needs of organic farmers. Thoreau notes that “seed optimized for organic production must be bred and produced in organic systems.”

Chris Thoreau and Shauna MacKinnon from FarmFolk CityFolk, and Alex Lyon from UBC, inspect a golden beet seed crop at Local Harvest Market in Chilliwack (2016). Credit: Michael Marrapese

Today, a vast array of seeds are owned, patented, and marketed by a few large corporations. With less than two percent of our population actively farming, our connection to seed and its critical role in our lives is increasingly tenuous. Thoreau points out that seed can play many roles. “Seed production can be a profession or a community building activity or even a therapeutic activity. All are quite different. Small-scale seed growers in BC have great community reach, a pretty good diversity of seeds, but what they don’t have is bulk seeds to sell to farmers.” When he first started farming most of the local seed companies were just doing packet sales. Packets were fine if a farmer was interested in trying a new variety. If they wanted to do a couple of thousand row feet of something, no BC seed grower could accommodate that. “And that is still very much the case today,” he notes.

With a predominately corporate controlled seed system, there are many issues that undermine our food security. Chief among them are irregular seed availability and degraded biodiversity. A century ago farmers may have grown as many as 80,000 different plant species. As more seed is controlled by a few large corporations, the bulk of our food comes from only about 150 different crops. Corporate ownership, patenting, and gene licensing limit the genetic diversity available to farmers. Any biologist will tell you that this is a perilous enterprise.


Chris Thoreau and Shauna MacKinnon from FarmFolk CityFolk, and Alex Lyon from UBC, inspect a golden beet seed crop at Local Harvest Market in Chilliwack (2016). Credit: Michael Marrapese

Farmers are often at the mercy of big seed producers who may be growing for large commercial markets. Specific varieties regularly disappear from catalogues. “That’s one of the reasons people start growing seed themselves,” Thoreau observes. “If they want to have a particular seed that works well in their environment and their operation, the only reliable way to do that is to grow it themselves. A big benefit to this is that evolving a seed crop on your farm year after year, you are going to come up with a new variety uniquely suited to your environment.”

One of the goals of the BFICSS program is to get more BC farmers growing and saving seed, to scale up production in the region, not only for themselves but to share, trade, and sell to other farmers. This process will ensure the genetic diversity and adaptability of seed in our region.

But there are political issues that hinder a regional and more diverse seed economy. Not all seed is available or appropriate to grow for sale. Hybrid seeds do not breed true; the next generation of plants will have a lot of off-types. Many seeds have plant variety protections on them which means farmers can’t grow and market them. Thoreau notes that this actually encourages seed breeding. “In fairness, if I spend ten years developing and growing ‘Chris’s Super Sweet Carrot’ and I start selling it, I do need to recoup the cost of breeding that seed.” Genetically modified (GM) seeds are generally licensed; farmers never actually own that seed so they can’t use it for seed saving. Most BC seed growers are growing heirloom varieties or rare varieties that aren’t protected by intellectual property laws.

Graceful carrot seed umbel. Credit: Chris Thoreau

Thoreau believes there are enormous possibilities for more seed production in BC. Oregon and Washington State are major global seed producers for crops like beets, carrots, spinach, and a lot of the brassicas. Southwestern British Columbia has similar climate conditions so he sees potential for some of that sector to be developed here. He also believes there is an enormous opportunity to produce more organic seed.

Growing trays of microgreens taught Thoreau the most important lesson about seed. Doing a hundred crop cycles a year, he began to notice differences in how temperature, watering, and daylight hours affected the plants. However, he notes that the biggest determining factor is seed quality. He’s convinced that “you cannot override the poor quality of the seed with good growing practices.”

bcseeds.org


Michael Marrapese is the IT and Communications Manager at FarmFolk CityFolk. He lives and works at Fraser Common Farm Cooperative, one of BC’s longest running cooperative farms, and is an avid photographer, singer and cook.

Feature image: Karma Peppers. Credit: Chris Thoreau

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