When I say this apple didn’t fall too fall from the tree, I am referring to two things. One is the farmers and gardeners in my family, both historical and current. My grandparents were all farmers. My Dad’s parents both came from farming families in Poland, and once they immigrated to Ottawa, they continued to grow copious amounts of food to feed their family – both on a corner lot in the city that was practically within sight of Parliament Hill, and on a friend’s farm, out in the country. They even kept chickens in the attic of their (rented!) city house. My Dad, along with all of his siblings have quite a penchant for growing things, and more than your average green thumb. My Mom’s parents also grew up on farms in the Prairies, and continued to farm for much of their lives, and my one uncle on that side still has a farm north of Fort St. John – a beautiful, expansive acreage full of horses and big skies and hay bales that I loved visiting as a kid.
On top of that, my Dad had a big vegetable garden when I was small and we lived in Edmonton, and my sister and I were always given a bed to grow whatever we wanted in. I credit that with sparking my love of growing things, even if, at the age of four, I was only interested in growing pumpkins and poppies. I also have very fond memories of being a kid and going out into the garden to snack on carrots or peas, thinking I was being sneaky about it when, of course, I wasn’t (luckily, these subversive acts were considered a positive thing by my parents).
And so the fact that I have found farming, and love it so, probably has a lot to do with my history. My family is filled with farmers and gardeners of all kinds. Those that create beautiful havens out of their gardens (Irena, that’s you!); and those that grow food so that they can preserve it, and can it, and preserve some more (Aunt Lu!); and those who have so many verdant houseplants you can barely see the walls in some part of their house (Matt, that’s you!); and everyone else in between.
The second reason I say this apple didn’t fall too far from the tree is because I am finding myself, after all my nomadic, wandering ways of the last years, coming back to a place (well, almost), that, for many years was definitely home: Victoria.
I have found land to lease – two beautiful acres of it – on the Langford/Metchosin border, just northwest of Victoria. These two acres are on a larger property of about 13 acres that is owned and held in trust by Vancouver’s Farm Folk City Folk, and managed by the Lohbrunner Community Farm Co-op. As a farmer leasing land and growing my business on that property, I will be a Co-op member as well. I will therefore be contributing to the overall management of the property, though my farm business of the future will be it’s own independent entity. While operating my business as an individual, I will still get the privilege of being a part of the whole, a part of this community that is forming around a shared belief in protecting and stewarding land for food production for the future. It’s a pretty amazing place to find myself in.
This is a very unique situation, modeled after the few examples of land trusts around North America – but the basic idea is that an organisation (in this case Farm Folk City Folk) owns the land, and holds it in a legally binding trust (in this case mandating that the land in question continue to be farmed organically), and then lease it to another community partner organisation (in this case Lohbrunner Community Farm Co-op) or individual. My lease for two acres of land will be between myself and Lohbrunner Community Farm Co-op (LCFC).
The benefits to this type of land access situation are many fold. One main benefit of this type of arrangement is that it gives young and beginning farmers affordable access to land to farm on, while also offering stability – leases will be short term 5 year, roll-over leases, offered for up to 29 years as long as it is working for both parties. Of course, there are no guarantees things will continue to work for both parties, but such is life – there are no guarantees. And as far as stability goes within a lease holding situation, the likely ability to hold such a long term lease is a major bonus.
Another benefit is that I, as a farmer on this land, get the support of the other LCFC members. And that is huge. As a member of the Co-op, I will benefit from emotional support, camaraderie, skill sharing, and equipment sharing with other members – I will also get to give back in these ways to my fellow Co-op members and fellow farmers leasing land at the farm.
There are also benefits to the surrounding community. This land will be held in trust, and will be kept as productive, organic farmland, and in an era of increasing food insecurity and with the cost of imported food very likely to rise in the not too distant future, this is a huge benefit! And so for folks that value local food production, who value local farmers, and who want both of those things in their communities, there are opportunities to become Co-op members themselves, supporting the Co-op financially (usually through the one time cost of a Membership Share, which has lifetime value). Individuals who join these types of farm co-ops as non-farming members do so primarily because they value and believe in local food production, and want to help enable farmers in their communities to do just that. If the arrangement works well, it will be mutually beneficial to both the farmers and the community it is within.
Of course, this arrangement is not without risk. I am not going into it blindly on that front. In fact, it is fraught with risk. For one Lohbrunner Community Farm Co-op is newly formed, and this whole arrangement for owning and managing land (holding it in trust) is still relatively new, and there are many details still to work out. There is the risk that the arrangement will not, in fact, work.
But I have decided that I will take that risk. I am doing so for several reasons. I am doing so because this ticked all the boxes for what I was looking for in a land lease (housing available on site, minimum two acres of farm-able land, land to be fenced and water available for irrigation, and – this is a biggie – a long term lease available) plus a few things. Further benefits include being close to a good market for organic produce (and many friends and family) in Victoria, as well as myself getting to be part of the new community forming around this effort.
And maybe more than anything, I am deciding to take this risk because of the character of the other Co-op members. So far, they have given me nothing other than the impression that they are hard working and dedicated, and care immensely about this project. They have also been hugely supportive of me joining in as a farmer. If this project does not succeed, it will not be for lack of trying on the part of those involved, which makes it a risk I am willing to take. Not to mention, life is hardly about avoiding risk, or about doing things because they will be easy.
And so. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. And this spring finds me moving again (some have said it is best to used pencil to record the address’s of those in my family, but I think they were referring mostly to me), to the small farmhouse on the property, where I will hopefully hold a lease for many years to come, and will be able to sink down roots of all kinds.