Working in a Male Dominated Field and the Because I am a Girl Project

I have been wanting to write a piece along these lines for a while now, and have also held off, felt nervous about doing so, have not been quite sure what I was going to say. In short, however, I have been wanting to write about farming as a woman, working in a field that is still predominantly male dominated.

Well, kind of. Male dominated, that is. At least, the perception is still very much that it is male dominated. Even though it depends on what type of farming you are talking about, and what role on the farm you are speaking of. Because, to be honest, in the world of sustainable farming in North America at least, in recent years there has been an explosion of small farms owned and operated by women. Meaning they are woman-run, with women farmers making the decisions, and operating the tractors, and working in the field alongside their (oftentimes women) staff. And on farms that are run by men/women couples, many of the women are taking a much more active role in the day to day field management of the farm. They are less often filling only an administrative or domestic role on the farm – not that there is anything wrong with filling those important roles, should that be someone’s choice.

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The 2015, all woman, Rootdown Farm crew, happy if a bit tired, sporting our work rain gear.

Because that is the thing – women around the world, have historically and continue to this day, to be major food producers. Agriculture is powered in a big way by women. And in saying this, I in no way mean or intend to downplay the work men have always done and continue to do in farming. I know and recognise that men are a huge part of agriculture, and many of them are excellent, thoughtful farmers who love what they do. I only want to challenge the stereotype of the tall, male farmer in overalls and a plaid shirt as being the only type of farmer out there, and I also want to bring attention to the work done on so many farms, regardless of the gender of the head farmer, that is done by women.

This work includes the field work – the tractor work, the weeding, the planting and harvesting – that is done by countless women field hands, managers, and farm workers from Canada through the United States and Mexico as well as in overseas countries such as India, Thailand, or Nepal. I know this is true, because I have experienced it first hand – on farms from Thailand, to Ontario to British Columbia, I have worked alongside many strong women who often outnumber the men on these farms.

This also includes the behind the scenes office, marketing, and communications work that on many farms today, is done by women; as well as the work of maintaining the large household vegetable garden and all the cooking and preserving of that bounty that was traditionally done by women on small mixed family farms across North America.

Now let me try to explain why I have wanted or felt the need to write about this topic at all. In part it is because of all the times when I am selling my food at market and get comments along the lines of, “Oh, look at your hands,” in response to my dirt stained fingers, “it looks like you help in the garden too!” Why yes, I do. And in fact make the decisions on what gets planted, and when and where, and order the seed for it, and make sure it is properly irrigated and fertilised and weeded. And then I harvest it and bring it to market to sell it. And I am only one of many female farmers I know who are in that position today.

But I also want to write about this because, regardless of the gender of the head farmer, the hard manual labour that takes place in the fields of small to medium scale farms and is done in large part by women (and is often underpaid/low waged) needs to be recognised as extremely important to our agricultural systems across the globe.  It needs to be recognised as the valuable work that it is, and the women/men/trans/non-binary folks that do it need to be recognised as the valuable contributors to our food systems that they are.

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Two of my favourite women farmers both beginning and established – Naomi Martz of the horse-powered Four Beat Farm (top), and Robin Tunnicliffe of Sea Bluff Farm (bottom).

Which brings me to my recent decision for Sweet Acres Farm to become a monthly donor to the Because I am a Girl project run by Plan International. In short, this project focuses on ending gender inequality in 15 countries across the world – countries in which girls and woman still face incredible challenges and threats to their health and safety on a daily basis, many not even being granted a birth certificate at birth, therefore having no legal rights. It focuses, amongst other things, on giving girls and boys equal access to education, ending child marriage, and protecting the most vulnerable girls from abuse or exploitation.

I have decided to support this project because I am a woman working in a field where women are not expected to be found, or if they are, they aren’t expected to be found in a position of leadership. And I have been able to fulfil this dream, my dream, of running my own farm because I am incredibly lucky. To have been raised in the supportive family I was raised in, with many strong female role models showing me what was possible. Because I was born and raised in a progressive country and a progressive time. Not that there isn’t still much inequality and a very long way to go in Canada. There definitely is. But I recognise and am endlessly grateful for the rights and safety I do have, especially when compared with so many women in many other parts of the world. And so this is a very small way for me and my farm to give back, and to hopefully allow more girls to become women who can fulfil dreams of their own one day.

So here’s to everyone everywhere who is working to promote equal rights for all, helping everyone, regardless of their birth or chosen gender to fulfil their potential and to thrive. This woman farmer, who will soon be happily working in her (chosen) fields for another season, thanks you.



Moving, and the Search for Land

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.

Simone, showing off an early bunch of carrots in 2016.
Sarah and Buster sharing a kale snack in the field.

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.

Rootdown pigs napping in their forested home in early summer.

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!




Learning Something New

When I decided to grow medicinal herbs, as Wild Health Herbals, for Namasthé Tea this year, I knew I would be getting into new territory, as growing and drying medicinal herbs on a large-ish scale was not something I had experience with. And while the growing has had a few challenges so far (namely in the seeding stage, as some of these herbs are tricky to start from seed), the herbs I am growing are all fairly low maintenance and easy to grow. The part I was slightly, shall we say, unsure of from the beginning has been the drying process. It turns out that drying high quality herbs is not as easy as you might think. Especially in quantity. When you are making do with the space and materials at hand, and it is not really enough space.

And since I am planning on growing high quality medicinal herbs, I also want the finished product to be of the highest quality. So when the calendula really started to pump out the blossoms last week, and I also noticed my tulsi had, seemingly overnight nearly reached the prime time for harvesting it, I suddenly realised I needed to turn my attention to getting my drying shed in order.

For drying the herbs I am using the germination area in the greenhouse at Rootdown. At this time of year the majority of transplants are in the ground, and the remaining ones are outside, no longer needing the additional heat of the greenhouse. So using quarter inch wire screen, a staple gun, some baling twine, and some shade cloth kindly given to me by a neighbour of Rootdown’s, I turned the former germination room into a drying shed of sorts. The screen is obviously to support the herbs while still allowing air flow, and the shade cloth is actually to keep it from getting too hot in there, as many herbs, especially leafy ones, don’t dry to a high quality if they are dried at too high a temperature (or so I have read).

Once I had finished creating the drying shed, I couldn’t help myself – I harvested sweet-smelling tulsi amongst the plethora of bees (they have also been harvesting it!) until the drying racks were full, only harvesting just over half the tulsi! While I could have waited a few more days, I figured I may as well start using the shed, as the spearmint and then lemonbalm are coming on strong, and space will be my limiting factor for drying herbs.

While this is definitely a learning curve for me, that is the beauty of farming – there is always something new to learn, new crops to grow, new ways of doing things – and I’m enjoying this incredibly aromatic learning process to far.

What a Farmer Does in Winter

Mount Currie is even more breathtaking in winter – I still haven’t tired of this view.

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.

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.

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!

Skating on Gates Lake with roommates and friends.


Putting a Farm to Sleep a.k.a. Season’s End

Next year's garlic in the ground and tucked in for winter.
Next year’s garlic in the ground and tucked in for winter.

This is the time of year when a farm gets put to bed. The last of many crops get harvested, while some carry forward, weather permitting, a little longer into the winter. When a crop has been harvested what remains gets mowed down and/or tilled into the soil. Cover crops get spread over bare soil and around remaining crop residues to protect the soil from erosion, suppress weeds, and build organic matter. Irrigation and plant row covers get pulled from the fields and stowed away. Garlic is planted so it can go through the cold temperatures of winter that unlock the magic inside each clove. All in all, things get cleaned up, stashed away, and organised for the harsh weather of winter, and the year to come, and it is a good, satisfying way to end a season.

The north field in a cover crop of winter rye.
The north field in a cover crop of winter rye.
Rootdown's oldest kale bed, planted in April and still producing like a champ in late October!
Rootdown’s oldest kale bed, planted in April and still producing like a champ in late October!

Last Tuesday was also Aurélie and I’s last day of work at Rootdown for the season of 2015. It was a little bit shy of our original planned end date, but these things are hard to predict for a farm and for farmers. What can seem like a huge and endless to do list can actually be made up of small jobs that don’t take as long as you think they will to accomplish. Such was the case for Rootdown this year. Once the CSA wrapped up in the first week of October and harvesting dropped down to a minimum the list of farm tasks remaining was completed rather quickly.

And while, on some level I am sad, because I love my job and the work of farming, on another level I am very okay with it, and maybe even glad. That is because a large part of what I love about farming is the seasonal and cyclical nature of it. Seeds sprout and grow, are harvested, and die. Animals grow, and animals die. The seasons change, and as they change, the work, and my desire to do it, changes too.

It is not that I want to stop farming when winter draws near, but there is something about working with plants and doing work of a seasonal nature that has put me more in touch with what my body wants to do at different times of year, on more of an instinctual, animalistic level. As daylight hours decrease, it is harder to get up when it is still pitch black out, and less work feels more tiring. The cold and damp weather can also take it’s toll, as can the heavy rain gear that must usually be worn (although don’t get me wrong – I love my industrial Helly Hansen rain gear!). My body wants to sleep more and go into a hibernation of sorts. Emotions seem to run high at this time of year too, and getting teary-eyed for little reason in the middle of the fall field is not as uncommon as you might think. That probably has do with everyone being more tired than they may even realise; or maybe it is just because fall and winter are the seasons of moving inward into the deeper, more emotional parts of ourselves.

Whatever the reason, the end of the season seemed to come at just the right time this year. While I felt I could have kept going, I wasn’t raring to go, and am appreciating being able to sleep in a bit longer in the mornings, and shift gears a bit. Any farmers reading this probably know what I mean.

As for my next move, I was offered a job at Rootdown next year, and have accepted it gratefully and with excitement. As well as simply getting another chance to work with and learn from the lovely Rootdown ladies (minus Aurélie, sadly, as she is going back to Québec to be closer to friends and family there), I will also be growing a few medicinal herbs for the Whistler-based Namasthé Tea Company using Rootdown land but my own time and muscle power. While there are a lot of details still be to be worked out on how exactly that will play out, I am excited to be in the planning stages of this mini herb farming adventure.

I will say once again how extremely grateful I am for my season at Rootdown. It has taught me so much about farming, communication, and myself. It has taught me a lot about what I want, has helped me to clarify my vision surrounding farming, has shown me that a work/life balance is possible for farmers, and has shown me how much fun it can be to work with an awesome, small crew of positive farm women! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The 2015 Rootdown Farm crew, happy if a bit tired, sporting our work rain gear.
The 2015 Rootdown Farm crew, happy, if a bit tired, sporting our work rain gear. From left: Aurélie, Simone, Sarah, Marisol (Simone’s daughter), and myself.

On the Farm With the Weeds and a Little Slice of Wilderness

Some beautiful arugula, with a bit of a weed problem. I meant to take an n "after" shot of this bed once we had finished with it, but I was too busy weeding.
Some beautiful arugula, with a bit of a weed problem. I meant to take an “after” shot of this bed once we had finished with it, but I got distracted with other weeds…suffice it to say, it looked glorious.

The time for weeding has arrived at Rootdown. I mean, we were weeding before this, but now we are really weeding. The hot, sunny weather, interspersed with a bit of rain here and there, and the long days as we approach the summer equinox means things are growing fast. The cultivated crops are growing fast and doing awesome too, but weeds have this way of always growing faster than the things the we are actually trying to grow. Their inherent vigour and strength is, in many ways, what makes us consider them weeds, and they can feel like the bane of an organic farmers existence.

Of course there is a lot of interesting things to ponder about weeds – such as how to reduce weed pressure on a farm, long term; or in a more permaculture line of thinking, how to make them work for you, why are they there, and what some of the benefits they may bring are. And while I think all of that is very interesting, and I enjoy seeing how people are experimenting with more natural ways of farming, I also know how much I love a well weeded bed of anything, and how much better annual crops grow when they aren’t competing with weeds for nutrients and water. I hope to be able to play with with some of those concepts in the future, but I am pretty sure weeding will always be an aspect of organic farming, and I am okay with that too. We are, after all, choosing to eat and therefore grow human-bred crops, and so some level of management between the cultivated and the wild is to be expected.

Almost all of the weeding at Rootdown is done with hand tools or with the ultimate hand tool, our fingers.

Rootdown's collection of hoes. From left to right, the stirrup hoe, the loop hoe, and two different sizes of colinear hoes.
Rootdown’s collection of hoes. From left to right, the stirrup hoe, the loop hoe, and two different sizes of colinear hoes.

These long-handled beauties are designed to, if used properly, save your back, and maybe even make weeding enjoyable, at least some of the time. They all have their advantages, and are best used in different situations with different weeds – the loop hoe, for example, is fantastic in tightly planted beds (like salad mix) and with small, delicate seedlings (like carrots); while the stirrup hoe is great for pathways or wider spacing between rows. The usual order of operation is to hoe a bed, getting as close to the planted rows as possible, and then to go back and hand weed within the rows if necessary, which it usually is.

Sometime last week we pulled out the sharpener, and it was made very obvious to us all the benefits of a sharp hoe! It is a piece of advice I have read about in numerous books, and yet it is not so easy to put into practice when you are busy and in the field. However, it is well worth the effort to bring a sharpener out to the field with you, as a sharp hoe is much more effective than a dull one.

Sarah, wielding the flame weeder.
Sarah, wielding the flame weeder.

The only piece of weeding equipment used at Rootdown that I hesitate to call “manual” or a “hand tool” is the flame weeder. Blasting small, emerging weed seedlings with fire is hardly something one could call hand weeding, and yet the flame weeder is carried on a persons back, and is not tractor mounted (although those exist!). I think it comes down to scale – it is definitely not a hand tool, but this model is still something that has been designed with the small scale farmer in mind, and it is (sort of) human powered.

And while we have definitely been battling nature in the form of keeping the weeds at bay, there has also been a recent boom in the population of the native western tiger swallowtail butterfly on the farm.

Western Tiger Swallowtail  butterfly.
Western Tiger Swallowtail butterfly.

We have seen them flitting here and there all over the place, and the other day when I went to put irrigation on the south field I noticed dozens of them congregating on the wet soil where we had previously irrigated.

Swalltail butterflies "mud puddling" on a freshly irrigated field.
A little hard to see, but just by the upper row of green lettuce, you can see swallowtail butterflies “mud puddling” on a freshly irrigated field.

With a little bit of research, I found out that these butterflies were “mud puddling,” a behaviour common in butterflies, but one also found in some other inspect species. The males land on certain moist substances, such as mud, carrion, or rotting plant matter, and suck up the liquids to obtain salts and other necessary nutrients. The males then transfer some of these nutrients to the females during mating. This enhances both reproductive success, and the survival rate of the ensuing eggs.

I also learned that western tiger swallowtails often lay eggs on trees such as poplar, or cottonwood, of which there are many along the edges of the fields at Rootdown.

Seeing butterflies indicates the presence of many other invertebrates in an ecosystem, which lends itself to a healthy and balanced ecosystem overall. Butterflies and other insects provide many environmental benefits such as pollination and they are part of a natural “checks and balances” pest control system. They are also an important part of the food chain for birds and bats, which also provide major benefits in the form of agricultural pest control. On top of these more tangible benefits, they are also beautiful, and bring a lot of  joy to people when they see them. In short, it’s pretty cool to have them around!

And so while, on the one hand, we have been steadfastly beating nature back from the fields in the form of weeding, we are also helping the butterflies, the birds, and the bats and enhancing overall ecosystem health by preserving some wildness on the edges of the fields, and irrigating our domesticated crops.

Hurray for the coexistence of farmland and the natural world!

Things Are Heating Up

It has gotten HOT recently in Pemberton. The last several days have gotten up to the high twenties according to the trusty Weather Network, but according to Simone, the farm usually gets higher highs and lower lows than predicted for the town of Pemberton. Not to mention that the thermometer that is in the shade on my back deck in town read 31 degrees yesterday at 5:00 pm, which is when things have already started to cool down. Needless to say, it’s been pretty extreme temperatures compared to what I am used to, especially in May.

Farming often necessitates working in extreme weather conditions, be they hot, sunny days, below freezing temperatures, wind storms, rain, mud, etc. And that is because the work generally needs to be done regardless of the weather. If animals are involved, then animal chores need to be done; and if vegetables are involved then things must still be harvested, weeded, and planted regardless of weather.

The heat has always been more challenging for me than the cold, and when things begin to heat up, especially when it happens suddenly, I find myself struggling to adjust. My brain gets addled, I might get a sunburn or two, and I am completely wiped by the end of the day.

However, after a few days, things start to change, and on a physiological level my body seems to adjust and I begin to function better again. I also get smarter. My sun hat becomes a near permanent fixture on my head, I wear lots of sunscreen, drink litres of water, and this year I’ve even started wearing a long sleeved collared work shirt during the hottest part of the day.

And something starts to happen on a pyschological level as well. I become accustomed to the heat, and find myself expecting it rather than being broadsided by it. That moment happened for me earlier this week when I found myself volunteering to stand on a ladder in the greenhouse in the afternoon, to hang tomato trellising strings. It was somewhere between 40 and 50 degrees in the greenhouse. And yet I felt okay with it. I was hot and sweaty, sure, but I was functioning and felt pretty good. Sometimes that kind of extreme heat becomes cathartic in a way, and a greenhouse can bear a remarkable similarity to a sauna….

Things have been heating up in other ways around the farm as well. Today we had our first official harvest – salad mix and kale – which went to a high end restaurant and a grocery store in Whistler. It was a small harvest, but the produce was beautiful, and it is a sign of things to come. From here on out we will likely be adding new things to the harvest list every week.

And while it is still not the flat-out busy time of year, the overall pace is picking up. The heat and the lengthening days means everything – including the weeds – is growing like crazy, and all the crops need to be on a regular irrigation schedule to keep them growing well in this heat. The piglets will be arriving on May 30th, and so among other projects that means we are working on the new pig shelter and pen and running water and electrical (for the fencing) out that way. The mixed flock of baby laying hens are growing fast, and six baby turkeys are slated to come mid-June.

And so with the increased doses of sunlight, things at Rootdown are heating up. It is, like all farms, a truly solar powered kind of place.

Planting Greenhouses, Fun With Fire, and a Bee Swarm

Transplanting the eggplant and basil into their summer home.
Transplanting the eggplant and basil into their summer home.

So last week was another fun one full of hard work and playing in the dirt. We were blessed with some mercifully cooler temperatures in the mornings, a little bit of rain in the evenings, as well as some blazing hot Pemberton sun in the afternoons.

Aurélie and I were given the tasks of planting the greenhouses with their summer crops last week. The larger of the two greenhouses got planted with tomatoes in four beds out of five. The fifth bed will be have cucumbers in it once the spring salad mix is gone. It was exciting to plant the several different varieties of tomatoes and dream of the delights to come.


The smaller hoop house got planted in basil and eggplant. I always love working with basil, as it is one of my favourite smells in the vegetable/herb world and makes me think of summer.


I also got to use the Red Dragon Flame Weeder from Johnny’s Seeds last week. It is a new tool at Rootdown this year, and while I am familiar with flame weeders, I have not used one myself before last week. While they come in many different makes and models (and some farmers design and build their own), the basic idea is that there is a backpack designed to hold a small propane tank, which is connected to a long handled high BTU torch. You then use this torch to blast small weeds just after they have germinated, with just a quick shot of fire being enough to burst their cell walls and kill them. Often times people will sow seeds into the soil, and then a day or two before the desired crop germinates, go over and kill the faster germinating weed seeds with the flame weeder. Another option (which is what I did the other day) is to blast a bed just before transplanting into it. I have to admit, once I got used to the idea of having a propane tank strapped to my back and wielding a flaming torch in front of me, it was quite fun and satisfying to do. And hopefully it saves us a good chunk of weeding in that bed in the future.

Other excitement on the farm last week involved the resident bees swarming – twice! Apparently the hives were thriving and healthy, as bees tend to swarm when the hive is full and they have or are in the process of producing a new queen. The old queen and up to 60 per cent of the bees in the hive will leave for a new home during a swarm.

The first swarm took off to what they deemed a more suitable home somewhere across the road almost as soon as they were noticed. The second, however, a couple of days later, coalesced onto a branch near the hive, forming what is called a “beard” around the queen to protect her, while scout bees go looking for some new digs. They do this because the queen is a very poor flyer, and cannot fly long distances to and fro in search of a new home.

The triangle in the top centre of this photo is the "beard" of bees.
The triangle in the top centre of this photo is the “beard” of bees.

And while I believe there are different techniques for capturing a swarm, one is to put an empty hive box, called a super, on a white sheet underneath where the bees are swarming. The branch can then be cut, and carefully placed on the white sheet in front of the box, and the bees will march into their new home. And while I’m not sure I would be up for this task, apparently the bees are quite docile when they are swarming. In the picture below you can see Simone’s husband, TJ, who is the keeper of the bees around Rootdown, handling things very well, while the rest of us watch with amiration.


The photos don’t do the event justice, however, as the noise was truly something else. The humming, buzzing air almost seemed to tangibly vibrate, and was enough to make the whole farm take pause and watch what was taking place. It was a very cool, awe inspiring moment, and I feel privileged to have witnessed my first bee swarm.

Week 1, and Some Reflections on Hard Work

Transplanting onions with Aurélie.
Transplanting onions with Aurélie.

I am just going into my second week at Rootdown. I have been loving these first few days – they have been filled with the excitement of getting to know wonderful new, like minded people, as well as a myriad of different tasks – such is the beauty of working on a diversified small farm. And Simone and Sarah have been fantastic at striking a balance between giving Aurélie and I the right amount of information, while also trusting in our past experiences and our abilities.

Our days have been busy and mostly varied. While the onion transplanting took up one full day last week (and my back and shoulders felt it!), for the most part we are working on several different tasks in any given day, and so nothing gets to be too boring. It is also much easier on our bodies this way, as different muscles are worked in different ways, and repetitive stress injuries are avoided.

The day might start with chores (if it is my day in the rotation), which right now includes feeding and watering the chicks and chickens, opening the greenhouse, and watering the seedlings. Following that we might do some seeding, some transplanting, general farm clean up, spreading of compost….you name it. And while much of this I have done on other farms I have worked on, things are done a bit differently on every farm, which I find interesting. I have also learned new things already, and played with a few fun farm tools that are new to me, namely the flame weeder (I’m sure I will write more on this later!), the Jang precision seeder, and a small 3 inch stirrup hoe.

And while my body was a little shocked in that first week with it’s sudden return to eight hours of manual labour per day, topped off with a couple days of riding my bike 13 kilometres to and from work and temperatures reaching the high 20’s, by the end of last week I was hitting my stride. My muscles were not so stiff and sore in the mornings, I was drinking enough water during the day to not be dehydrated at the end of it, my energy levels were far higher than before I started working. In short, I was feeling good.

Because that is the thing – hard work feels good. Hard work, and farming in particular, feels good to me in a way that I struggle to explain. It clears my head, it energises me, it makes food taste better, and sleep so much sweeter. And while I enjoy the physical aspect of the work, I know that a large part of it for me is also that I love doing work that I feel is important, work that will, if all goes well, nourish and feed people and the land.

Farming, it seems, has gotten in my bones. It is something I love even when the weather is too cold, or rainy, or too hot. As Wendell Berry says, “Farmers love the weather, even when it is making them miserable.” I enjoy farming even though the tasks can be repetitive or boring, or if my muscles are tired and sore. Even in the midst of the various states of discomfort that go hand in hand with all types of hard work, I am happy if I am farming. I can rest assured in the knowledge that I am working hard to do something the world needs more of these days – that I am growing good food for good people while trying to take care of the earth.

Introducing Pemberton and Rootdown Farm

For the 2015 season, I will be farming in the beautiful and fertile Pemberton Valley in BC. I am working at Rootdown Organic Farm for the two amazing and inspiring women owners and farmers, Sarah and Simone. I will also be working alongside the other employee for the season,  Aurélie, another young woman farmer who hails from Québec.

And so it will be an all woman farm crew, on a new farm, in a new climate, in a new part of BC – a whole slew of firsts for me! 

Rootdown is also different than the other farms I have worked on previously in another couple of ways. For one, it is smaller, with about two acres of mixed veggies in production each year – all of the farms I have previously put in full seasons with have had a minimum of eight acres under cultivation, and as much as twenty. Another is that they raise a small number of pastured pigs every year. I have had very little experience with livestock, and zero experience with pigs. And thirdly, they are certified organic, which will, surprisingly, also be a first for me.

And so I am very excited to learn more about a smaller scale, certified organic, mixed veggie production, with the added element of pigs! Should be a good year.