This time of yearly is truly all about seeds and seedlings. Flats of seed trays are being seeded for future plantings on a weekly schedule, and then the germinated seedlings are cared for, coddled, worried and fretted over, watered (but not too much), checked for slugs, and generally watched closely for any signs of trouble. And for a farm like mine, still in its beginning stages with some seriously lacking infrastructure, where the earliest or most cold sensitive seeds get their start on life in my kitchen, there is also a lot of constructing shaky seedling areas, and shuffling the young plants around due to temperature requirement and available space (or lack thereof). Then, certain crops need to be potted up into larger pots, so they can continue growing, getting a jump on shorter or cooler seasons – this is common in northern growing areas for heat loving crops such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.
It can all feel a bit daunting, and, at times, annoying – these delicate seedlings can be so needy – they don’t want it too wet (this can cause fungal disease and a condition called “damping off” where seedlings rot at the base of the stem where it meets the soil), or too dry, they need a good and nutritious potting mix, and with temperatures fluctuating from frosty nights to the mid 40’s during a sunny day in the seedling greenhouse, it can be hard to get it just right. But still, any mixed veggie farmer I know will spend whatever energy necessary to try to meet the needs of their plant babies, as so much of the season to come (and our subsequent income for the year) hinges on getting this right.
And so this is why I have spent many a night for the past several weeks going out to the seedling greenhouse with a headlamp to check the temperature, tucking them in under additional cover and putting a heater on if necessary, and then doing it all in reverse each morning. This is why I sprayed unpasteurised milk (for the beneficial bacteria), and sprinkled cinnamon (for the anti-fungal properties) on my allium seedlings recently to halt the beginnings of damping off. It is because these little plants are important to me, extremely so.
Despite sometimes feeling shackled to these trays of seedlings, it is also an exciting time of year, watching the uncurling of green from the seeds, the magic of growth and life they embody. It also means that soon plants will be in the ground, and good food will be growing there for future harvests that will sustain me and my community. It can be hard to imagine looking at the fragile, delicate plants what they will become (if I, as a farmer get it right, and they make it to planting). Like so much in farming, this part of the year can feel a lot like taking a leap of faith (even though the schedule is set, and plans are laid) – to plant seeds before the ground is ready, to plant seeds when there are still killing frosts. But it is also awe-inspiring and beautiful to see the beginnings of another farming season unfurling right before your eyes.
I did not get to where I am in farming – the beginning stages of running a mixed vegetable farm and business – on my own. Not by a long shot. I got here over years, with the help of many. I got here with much continued love and encouragement from friends and family, and also with the mentorship, guidance, and friendship of the farmers I have worked for over the years, and I would like to take a couple of moments to honour those inspiring and hard working farmers who have helped pave my way.
My farming journey began in earnest at Madrona Farm, working under the ever-energetic, funny, and fast talking Dave Chambers. I spent two seasons working with Dave and Nathalie, and this was the first time that I considered farming as a career option for myself. It was the first time that I realised I enjoyed picking spinach by hand in the cool mornings of spring (or the downright cold mornings of November) enough that I might want to get into this field long term. It was the first time I realised how much I loved being a part of connecting people to their food, and how the frosty mornings and sweltering afternoons only made that connection more meaningful. It was the first time I got hooked on amazing produce. Maybe it was the charisma of Farmer Dave and Nathalie, maybe it was the view from those upper fields of Madrona, maybe it was the carrots, but you could say that this is where I caught the farming bug that I’ve yet to shake.
Following my years at Madrona, I found myself at Makaria Farm, working for the incredible and hard working Brock and Heather McLeod. This is where I truly decided farming was something I wanted to do with my life – and not at some later date, years in the future, but right then, and that it was something I hoped I never stopped. Why did this revelation hit me at that time? I believe it’s because I worked harder than I ever had in my life at Makaria Farm, I was pushed and challenged, I cried, I worked until dark and beyond sometimes. And still, I loved my days more than I ever had. Because in addition to what was hard, there was laughter, there was camaraderie, there was encouragement, there were so many beautiful moments in each day. Brock and Heather believed in my abilities in a way that made me believe I was capable of more than I had ever thought possible. And isn’t it true that often it is the things that challenge us the most that, if we can rise to meet those challenges, shape us, and help us grow in unimaginable ways?
In September of 2017, Brock passed away after a multi year battle with kidney cancer. I miss him greatly, and can’t thank him and Heather enough for being such key people in my farming journey. When I left Makaria at the end of the 2014 season, my body and soul were weary from work, and I left for smaller pastures (Makaria was going on 20 acres or so of mixed vegetables at that time). I felt our farming visions were no longer as aligned as they had once seemed, though I never once received anything less than full support from Brock and Heather, and I am ever grateful to them for all they taught me, for the pub nights, and for their kind and generous hearts.
In 2015 and 2016 I worked at Rootdown Farm for the amazing Simone McIsaac and Sarah Stewart. I have written several earlier blog posts about Rootdown, and how important my time there felt. It was at Rootdown that I first experienced a size and scale of farming that really resonated with me (approximately 2 acres in production, some tractor work, but most things still done by hand), and learned much in the way of technique and style that I am now currently putting into practice. It was the first time I had worked on a farm owned and operated solely by women, and it was where I first glimpsed a work-life balance that had always seemed unattainable in farming. In many ways, Simone and Sarah restored my faith in my ability to keep farming long term, and instilled confidence in me that I could run my own farm
There are others, of course, fellow farmers and mentors who continue to support and inspire. There are too many to name really, and the list seems to always be growing, but Robin Tunnicliffe of Sea Bluff Farm, Naomi Martz of Four Beat Farm, Chelsea Abbott of Lenora Bee Apiary, Elia Zanon of Manna Farm, Alyssa and David of Plenty Wild Farms, Heather Ramsay of Umi Nami Farm – to name just a few – are part of the incredible support network I am so proud to be a part of.
And it all leads to this: where a year ago today I was negotiating to sign a lease for 2 acres of land with Lohbrunner Community Farm Co-op just west of Victoria, BC. Now, I am a farming member of that co-op, helping to steward this farmland in a unique and innovative model of land management. I have developed friendships and supportive working relationships with other farmers and members here. My farm, Sweet Acres Farm, and Vitality Farm (also operating on leased land at Lohbrunner) are launching a joint CSA Harvest Share Program, and selling at Farmers Markets together. I truly feel I am rooting myself down in this community, in a way I have craved for years, and am part of something much bigger than me as an individual. I am here, the first seeds of 2018 have been started, the great wheels of another farming season are in motion, and I firmly believe I wouldn’t be here were it not for my personal farming giants, those whose shoulders I stand on, and who I thank, wholeheartedly.
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.
My new little farm house…
The fields at Lohbrunner, looking back towards the house.
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.
I have been struggling a lot with doubt these days. Doubt about my choices to be pursuing a career in farming when everywhere I turn, farmers and non-farmers alike are more than happy to tell me how hard it will be to make a living this way. Doubt because I wonder if I have what it takes – not only to farm, but also to run a small business. Doubt because I wonder if my body will hold up to this career choice, and I wonder if my mind and emotional state will hold up to the challenges ahead. Doubt because I didn’t make myself rich in another business before I found farming (I probably should have done that), and so I am finding myself in the uncomfortable position of likely needing to take out a loan in order to buy some initial start up equipment, even on the small scale that I want to farm at. Doubt because, simply put, I wonder if I have what it takes to start my own farm.
And so on the brink of getting started on the set up of my own farm, while I mull over ideas and try to remember why I chose this path, it was particularly heartening to listen to episode 108 of the Farmer to Farmer podcast, with guest Michael Phillips of Lost Nation Orchard in Vermont. Not because I am planning on starting an orchard. Not because there was a lot of inspiring information in it on using mycorrhizal fungi in farm and orchard systems to build soil, and therefore plant health – though there was that, and I’d say this episode is worth the listen if you’re interested in such things. And not even because it assured me I would be successful in my farming endeavours – only time will tell on that.
Rather, the reason this podcast struck such a cord with me and left me feeling so inspired was because I was given the impression that here was a man who truly loved what he did, someone humble, who had great respect for the natural world around him, especially the soil beneath his feet. He struck me as a true land steward, someone who is committed to lifelong learning, who is in reverence of the work he does. He also does not claim to have all the answers, but rather encourages and implores the rest of us growing food to keep striving towards something better. He urges us to keep improving our systems, to take better care of our soil by tilling less, to feed our soil with mycorrhizal fungi, to do the best that we can given our situations and set ups, but nevertheless, to strive to learn and grow.
None of that, however, particularly explains why listening to this podcast left me feeling so emotional, with a lump in my throat. Maybe it’s simply that it reminded me that life is a process and a journey, that we never actually arrive at our destination, we simply (if we work at) get closer to our best selves. And for me, farming is the vehicle that I am choosing to help me along that path. Through the act of growing food for myself and my community, through the act of taking on things that feel way too big and hard for me as an individual (be that the mere running of a farm business, or the huge task of trying to find alternatives to the industrial food system), I am hoping I will continue to grow as a person. I am hoping that if I nourish my soil and steward a small patch of earth well enough, it will provide sustenance for myself, and for others. I am hoping that if I commit to observing and learning from a piece of land, that maybe I will also learn more about myself in the process, and get closer to the source of things.
Well, it’s been a while, and a lot has happened for this farmer. For starters, I moved from Pemberton, back to beautiful Vancouver Island – the part of the world that this nomad still thinks of as Home, in the ultimate, capital “H” sense. It’s where I hail from. It’s where I want my roots to grow, both in a figurative and literal sense. And while this may not be forever, it’s true for now, which has been confirmed since moving back. Simply put, I love it here.
But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t also grow to love Pemberton, and it doesn’t mean that leaving there wasn’t hard. Because it was. Leaving behind the mountains and the incredible natural beauty of that place, as well as the people there, was difficult. Over the nearly two years that I called Pemberton home, my life got to be filled with a lot of beauty. Beautiful people who became great friends. Beautiful meals cooked with those friends, made from beautiful food that we/they had grown. Beautiful skies, beautiful bike rides, beautiful hikes, beauty that hit me upside the face as soon as I stepped out the door. It’s not everywhere that your days get filled with so much to be grateful for. So thank you to Alyssa, David, Naomi, Lisa, Kate, Teresa, and the many more who made my time there so special.
If saying goodbye to Pemberton as a whole was hard, saying goodbye to Rootdown, and Simone and Sarah – the hard working, kick ass women who put their hearts and souls into that farm, who breathe life into that place – was especially hard. Because that farm and the people surrounding it, gave me so much. After a couple of very challenging years farming, spending time at Rootdown helped restore my faith in farming as a livelihood. And working for Sarah and Simone helped me to realise (or remember?) that women could be at the helm of a farm, and they could do it incredibly well, despite not being 6 1/2 feet tall and weighing some 240 lbs. Working at Rootdown showed me a workable example for the scale of farm that I want – something I had a sense of, but had never experienced. I learned so much about the craft of farming from them, but of equal importance, I also learned a lot about communicating, and bettering myself as a person from two people who are very committed to all of those things. I feel incredibly lucky to now call Simone and Sarah friends and farming mentors. Thank you.
However, despite the hard good byes, move I did. And now I am in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island and am searching for land to lease in order to start my own small farm in 2018. I am seeking land, and am also working on a farm plan, a business plan, and spending a lot of time researching and thinking about the type of farm I want. My days are surprisingly full. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. These things take time and effort.
There is unused farmland out there, for sure. It is more a case of finding the right fit between myself and a landowner. I am looking for somewhere I can lease 1-5 acres, ideally, for 2-3 years to start, with the likely chance of extending that lease for a much longer term so that my efforts in building the soil and managing weeds will not be wasted. I am looking for a piece of land that I can cultivate and steward, a piece of land where I can build a sustainable farm business, and support myself while feeding the community around me. I am looking for a piece of land where I can get some of these ideas that are bouncing around my head out of there, and into the soil. Where I can see if they will work, or if I need to revise them – there will be a lot of that, I’m sure. That is a part of what makes farming so interesting, after all!
Right now my options range from a plot of land under an acre, mostly deer-fenced and with some other positives; to a four acre piece of raw pasture with all the infrastructure set up to do; to a co-op community farm model seeking a farmer or farmers to set up shop; and a few other options in between.
Which means, in short, that I have a lot to think on and mull over these days. You can expect to hear more from me in the weeks and months to come, as all this transpires – so stay tuned!
I think it is safe to say that the farming season has arrived in Pemberton in full force, and it felt like it happened fast this year. While I know there was a period of change over, a period of slow ramping up, I still feel like I blinked and then it was summer.
This last week marks my first week back working at Rootdown full time, which I suppose makes the change feel especially defined. I know that things were already well under way for small veggie farmers in the valley, and while before this week I had been seeding my herbs for Wild Health Herbals, and wondering anxiously if any of these minuscule seeds would actually indeed germinate (turns out many medicinal herbs have unusual germination requirements, incredibly small seeds, and/or slow or low germination rates); this past week was chock full of a myriad of tasks that reminded me strongly, once again, why it is that I love farming the way that I do.
The farm work this week past included transplanting like crazy (the fields were ready, and many transplants eager to get in the ground), weeding, seeding, flame weeding, prepping more beds for future plantings of veggies, and other general farm busy-ness. I enjoy the work immensely, and am so happy to be back spending my days outside, having my mind and muscles engaged in the good work of growing nourishing food for people. I was also, however, reminded of the pure joy that it is to work alongside Rootdown co-owners, Simone and Sarah. They are simply great people to work for and with, as well as people I genuinely enjoy spending time around. And for that – for the trust, the guidance, the camaraderie, and the engaging conversation that takes place in the fields – I am so grateful.
And so the days are hot, the veggies and herbs are growing (those finicky seeds that gave me cause to fret earlier in the spring are all showing decent germination after all), Wild Health Herbals is in the process of getting a more official logo (more on that later), and another farming season is well under way.
Spring. A word that inspires hope and excitement in almost any farmer, especially if you are feeling rested from winter. A word that, for the annual veggie farmer entails starting those earliest of seeds, and getting ready for another rewarding, albeit hectic, season of hard work and bountiful growth. Maybe it means organising what didn’t get organised at the tail end of last fall. Maybe it means recovering greenhouses with plastic that were uncovered for winter. Maybe it means just anxiously waiting because spring isn’t actually quite here yet.
Because, I’ll be honest – spring has not yet arrived in Pemberton. While I have received reports from my family on Vancouver Island of snowdrops in full bloom, and while I am used to seasons of farming on the island when I would be starting the first seeds right now, the truth of the matter is, Pemberton still has about a foot of snow on the ground. And the chance of frost is much later here, meaning, that most of those tender little seedlings can’t be planted out until much later anyway, so getting them started now would serve no real purpose (unless we were going to employ the services of a heated greenhouse, which Rootdown does not – instead Rootdown aims to transplant seedlings straight out into the field).
And so, while spring is on the way, it is not actually here yet. Even though I am feeling ready and excited for it. I know I should be enjoying my down time, enjoying the restful winter season – and I am. It’s just that I am also beginning to feel that itch – that almost uncontrollable, primal urge – to dig my hands into the soil again, to be doing physical labour outside, to be contributing to the good and satisfying work of growing healthful, nourishing food for people. Hence the bittersweet feelings – it is still winter, the days are still short and dark, I am enjoying resting and relaxing, and yet, and yet – there is a stirring of life, more of a feeling than any actual earthly signs yet, and it is stirring something inside of me too.
The days are cold (at least by some people’s standards) and short. Darkness comes early, and a favourite activity is to read by the wood stove while drinking endless cups of tea. That’s right, it’s wintertime.
And while farming has ceased for me in the typical sense of the word, it is not as though there is nothing to do. With about a foot of snow on the ground, fruit and veggie farmers are relieved of regular farm duties, but there is always next year to plan for – and for many farmers, the planning stage of the game is a critical part of things, giving a farmer time to think about things that went right (or wrong) and how to improve upon the year before. Things like timings of plantings, as well as varieties and amounts of veggies planted is reviewed and changed if needed or desired. Research may be done, and different farm management strategies put into place for the season to come. Seed catalogues are poured over, and after much deliberation, seeds are ordered. Such is the stuff of a farmers’ winter.
Truly a winter wonderland…
It is really quite a lovely time of year, and this year, I am also doing some planning for my medicinal herb growing venture, which, for lack of a better name but with a desire to name it nonetheless, I have called Ariella’s Herbals. And so I have perused seed catalogues looking for such unusual seeds as skullcap, or white sage – they are not quite as easy to come by as carrots or zucchini seeds, for example. I have also poured over the fantastic book I bought last summer when I started considering this opportunity, a book that has, in a way, become my guide for all things herb farming called The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer by Jeff and Melanie Carpenter, who run the successful Zack Woods Herb Farm in Vermont.
Using that book as well as my own ideas, I have been coming up with ways to keep records on the seven medicinal herbs I will be growing next year. I have charts for the planting and growing of each, as well as spreadsheets which will, hopefully, tell me how profitable each is in the end. I have been thinking about timing and amounts, both of which are, admittedly, a bit of a shot in the dark for me this year, having never grown any of these plants on a large scale before.
What winter also allows a farmer, in addition to a possible non-farming winter job, is more time to pursue other interests. In my case this year, I’ve been trying to enjoy the great snowy outdoors somewhat, despite the fact that I do not downhill ski or snowboard, and have no real intention of starting any time soon (the result of a somewhat serious knee injury several years before). Luckily, I did manage to buy a pair of snowshoes, as well as some used vintage skates that fit me perfectly. I also live with two dogs who are always keen to go for a walk and who love the snow.
Bean, one of my roommates dogs, hamming it up for the camera.
Bean and Sky were moving too fast to properly photograph.
And so, in between drinking tea and reading novels, researching soil health and planning for next year; in between baking and eating tourtière, drinking wine and eating chocolate; in between working at the local coffee shop and watching movies, I have also gotten outside in the frosty, snowy, sometimes sun-filled days, to engage in my first “real” winter in almost two decades!
Farming is not often a lifestyle equated with balance. It might be equated with wholesomeness, with “the simple life”, with healthy hard work, with passion, but not, I would say, with balance. And maybe that is because many people who get into farming are driven by a passion for what they do, enjoy a little bit of hardship, and do genuinely love a hard day’s work.
None of those things are necessarily bad things. Even enjoying some hardship is not, in my opinion, a negative thing, as it makes one appreciate the luxuries in life all that much more, and not take them for granted. Ask anyone who does some kind of hard physical labour for a living how good a solid meal tastes at the end of the day, or a cold beer, or a cup of tea, and you will begin to understand how hardship, and hard work can really heighten your appreciation for the little joys in life.
But back to that elusive balance thing. Farmers are well known for working from dawn till dusk, working long, long days, and, as a consequence, not taking care of their bodies sufficiently for long term use. I know, as I have done all of those things on past farms I have worked on. I have worked 12-14 hour days on a regular basis, 6-7 days a week; I have worked from sunrise until sunset or sometimes past, using a headlamp to finish the day’s task; and I have worked my body to the point of chronic pain and total exhaustion. And the weird part, is I have still loved farming through all of that. But, I have also realised that, for me at least, that level of work, that kind of abuse of my body, and that complete and total immersion into all things farming, is not sustainable in the long term.
For me, balance is also important. I love farming, I love working hard, I love the physical labour of it all, however, I also still love other things. I still have other interests, and would like to continue to do so. I think time away from the farm, time off – a foreign concept to many farmers, at least during the growing season – is a definite positive. It helps to clear your mind of farm troubles, rest your body, and gives you a fresh perspective on problems when you return to work.
This is yet another area in which my experience at Rootdown has been a very positive one. Simone and Sarah have both done a very good job of working some semblance of balance into their busy lives as small farm owners (they take one day off each during the farming season, and then take winters off as well, aside from planning for the next year), and they have in turn, offered Aurélie and I a very balanced work experience this season. We have worked Monday to Friday since the beginning of the season, and have only occasionally worked overtime. This overtime was almost exclusively in the busy harvest months of August and September, it was predictably on the same days each week, and it was never expected of us – the option was always ours to leave at the end of 8 hours if we needed to.
I knew I needed a more balanced life/work balance when I came here, however I didn’t realise quite how much I needed it, or how much I would appreciate it. I have loved, absolutely loved, having time at the end of the days and enough energy left to cook good meals for myself. I have also greatly enjoyed having weekends off and, once again, enough energy left to explore the beautiful Pemberton Valley. It has been amazing to get out there in the mountains, to hike, to camp, to explore. It has also been so great – and this may be the most important thing of all if I am to continue farming for years to come – to heal my body and not be suffering from chronic low back pain or sore wrists such as I have in farming seasons past, or to be suffering from a level of exhaustion so extreme that I feel as though I may not physically be able to finish the season.
Because as much as I think it is important to love the work you choose, and as farmers (especially once the threshold from farm worker to farm owner is crossed) we are choosing hard work, long days, and sometimes sore bodies, I still feel as though balance is important, and quite possibly even essential for a life long career in farming. Too many farmers nowadays seem to suffer from burn out, either physically, mentally, or emotionally exhausting themselves and losing the love for what they do, or simply feeling too burnt out to continue. I have known or met a few myself in recent years.
I am grateful beyond words to Simone and Sarah for giving me perspective and letting me experience, once again, a balanced farm lifestyle. As I go forward in farming, I will take these lessons with me, and try to find that sweet spot, striving to find a sustainable work/life balance in what I do.
I had one of those moments today. One of those, “Ah, yes! This is why I farm,” moments. One of those moments where my gratitude for having found this work washes over me. One of those moments where I am exactly where I want to be.
It happened unexpectedly, when I was hand weeding salad mix with Aurélie. We were weeding and chatting; the sun was out, the wind was up, both cooling us down and blowing the cursed mosquitoes and blackflies of the morning away. We were hypothesising on a curious sort of death that was happening in the salad mix, where a bunch of the weeds, and a little bit of the seeded crops were withering and dying – was it sun burn? Was it damping off due to too much water? Was it some kind of beneficial insect that mostly targeted the weeds (how great would that be!?)?
And as we discussed and wondered, as we weeded, as the sun warmed me and the wind cooled me down, I suddenly realised how perfect the moment was, and how I wanted to keep doing this forever. Not that I wanted to hand weed salad mix forever, but that, if it is within my power, I wanted to keep farming for the rest of the time I’ve got. That I wanted to keep trying to figure out how and why plants grow, that I wanted to keep working outside with the sun and the wind and the rain and, yes, I suppose I can even accept the bugs when I must. I realised in that moment, and with startling clarity, how I want to keep learning the complex art of farming for many, many more years to come.
And while I am not a religious person, in that moment I felt truly blessed. And I still do.