November, when and how did it become November? These are the deep thoughts of a farmer as the season comes to an end.
Today, we made our veggie boxes into the sunset. It has been wet, it has been cold, but that bit of sun allowed us to warm up and reminded us of why we do what we and how much we love doing what we do. Harvesting in autumn on our farm involves several almost lost boots to the mud, several falls in the mud, which of course follows with extreme amounts of laughter. Seriously, if you haven’t fallen over in the mud in a while, I highly recommend it, you can even come out to the farm and I will lend you my rain gear.
It has been an amazing second season for us here at the Tsawwassen Farm School. Our students have grown into farmers, and we have grown into a little family. There is something really special about working with a group of people as a team to accomplish goals, and that is what the farm is. The farm is team work, it is community, it is love and it is a lot of caring. The times you can really feel this the most is when we are making our veggie boxes when we all come together and work as a team to harvest, build and create these beautiful boxes of earth’s glory. Having your support as a member makes all of this possible. You are doing so much more than buying vegetables. You are supporting a program that is building farmers, and in return, together, we are building a community. Together we are supporting a more sustainable world and for me as a farmer and as a person who cares very deeply and passionately about this earth, well for me, that is everything.
As this season comes to a close and as I have grown to know a lot of you, I thought it would be really special to share with you my story of how I came to be the little farmer that I am.
Deep down I think I always knew I was destined to be a farmer. I has been a fun, interesting and beautiful journey that has taken me to where I am now. 10 years ago I started wearing plaid shirts (I know, I know, so did everyone else) but I was buying shirts to represent the future that I wanted to have. 5 years ago I declared to my parents that I knew what I wanted to do with my life, I wanted to be a farmer. I think that was the first time ever my dad said to me “now that is a great idea”. 4 years ago, my dad passed away suddenly. That hit me and my family hard. My father and I didn’t always see eye to eye on things and before he passed away we were on our way back to having a relationship that we both deserved. After my dad passed away, I felt lost. I felt like my dad would never see me become the person he always knew I could be. It was then and there that I decided that I was going to do it and I was going to do everything that I could to become a farmer. I wanted to be someone that my dad was proud of, someone that I was proud of. 4 years ago I made my first major farm investment and I bought myself a truck. I saved up money so that I could quit my job and go travelling to Europe to go work on farms to see if this is what I really wanted to do. Sure enough, two years ago I quit my job and I headed off to Europe.
One day I was working on a farm in Ireland, harvesting edible flowers (YES! there are edible flowers and they are delicious! side note: technically everything we eat starts with a flower but we will save that story for next season ). While I was harvesting flowers, there were bees swarming around me moving from flower to flower, pollinating, just doing their thing as I did my thing and i was just like THIS IS IT. This is exactly how I want to spend the rest of my life. I want to be a farmer.
When I came home from traveling, I was looking for jobs and opportunities for first generation farmers. Let me tell you it is hard to become a farmer when it doesn’t run in your family. I was looking around for different internships and opportunities and one day my friend mentioned Richmond Farm School, so I went on the KPU website and I started investigating. I honestly had no idea that a program like farm school actually existed. This was literally the program I was dreaming of. You actually get to learn how to run and work on a farm…like that is the best!! When I was in high school no one told me I could be a farmer. Yet, here it was a program that was designed to make farmers. It was March 1st, 2014 and Richmond Farm School had already started, but then I saw that there was the Tsawwassen First Nation Farm School and it was starting on March 9th! I immediately got on the phone and called the program coordinator, Corine, and the next week, I was in farm school. I was on my way to becoming a farmer!
Two seasons later with an amazing farm and absolutely beautiful program, I can say to you that I am now a farmer. I am a person I am so proud to be, and I am a person that I know my dad would be proud of. Everyday I get to do what I love, and every day I get to do something that reminds me of my dad. And that, that’s the best. It is actually the best.
I want to thank you so much for your support of this program. It is so much more than vegetables. We are creating farmers, we are making dreams come true and we are building a healthier and more sustainable world.
On behalf of the TFN farm school team and students, Thank you for being a part of this all. We look forward to growing with you next season.
Until then, we sincerely wish you all the best for the next few months.
See you in the spring.
I was the fortunate first child of my hippie parents who decided to leave the big smoke for the countryside of Ontario late in the 70’s. I grew up wandering free building hay forts and mazes in the fields, taunting cows and picking fruit and veg, blissfully unaware that all my country friends were being put to work doing farm chores. Or was I so fortunate, looking back? I actually remember begging one friend to let me do her chores gathering the eggs and then being disappointed that it wasn’t the idyllic scene I thought it should be. We moved out to Tsawwassen shortly after that and I’ve felt like some out of place farm-kid/suburbanite/city-slicker hybrid ever since.
Fast forward several decades and I still hoped for this bucolic ideal of a farm that could be beautiful, holistic and environmentally sensitive, and yet still profitable for the farmers (God-forbid I have to farm alone!). And I still cherished the desire to be a part of that if it was at all possible.
Now several months into the Kwantlen Farm School Program, in conjunction with Tsawwassen First Nations, I am so pleased to have a model to base my future farming on. And I’m in awe of the rock-star teachers that take time to guide us through this idyllic agricultural world. So I know looks aren’t everything, but they can sometimes really serve a function. Flowers add charm but also serve as a deterrent or trap crop to pests. A clean farm deters rodents and disease. A variety of crops is an economic benefit when your customers are visually pleased by the vibrant colours, but its also healthy for the soil to rotate crops. Ok, I couldn’t think of a practical purpose for the flirty red colour of our chicken barn, but what’s a bucolic scene without that red icon?? Overall, the esthetics of the KPU TFN farm lands draws people in and points to a disjunct we have in our society between how we think farms should look and how they quite often look.
Its no secret that farm lands are getting more and more co-opted into larger parcels as farmers face increasing pressures to maximize profits with mono-cropping in a competitive market, and that agricultural life across Canada looks a whole lot different than it did 50 years ago or more. And I’ve only started to scratch the surface of this idea, but, what if farm esthetics points to a whole bunch of other interesting subjects our society is just starting to address: The care that a farmer can extend to a more manageable size of the environment, its waterways and wildlife, is stretched thin over a larger farm; The intensity of building soils on a small scale organic farm with diverse crops and bird friendly cover crops (among other things) has a direct pay off in the health of our guts and therefore the rest of our bodies and our mental health; The beauty of accomplishing a seemingly insurmountable task with others without the heavy soil-impacting machinery and/or chemicals gives my inner (ok not so inner) hippie a little glow that was missing in the big-city life I was leading. (Ok, so it turns out I also just really like weeding…snide remarks aside 😉
What if small scale organic farming really is the answer to our personal health issues; our community’s needs and our need for connection within that community; and the ever-pressing environmental challenges that I, for one, sometimes feel quite powerless to help with. I do know that I love learning all about it every week with our passionate teachers and my awesome fellow students, and that this city-slicker is getting schooled on what chores are really like (hard yet fun), but that the hard work has some revolutionary, healing and tasty payouts!
Check out #kputfnfarmschool2016 for a sampling of some of my favourite farm moments.
-Sara Ciantar (student)
We have been working closely with Vancouver Farmers Market initiative “VFM Direct” where they aggregate produce and deliver to various marketing channels.
In addition to our weekly veggie box program and attending various farmers market, we have been supplying our produce to food establishments such as Cafe Medina, Rocky Mountain Flatbread, The Flying Pig, Seasons Harvest and Lepp Farm Market through this program.
This week, we are the feature farm on their twitter account.
We offer only the highest quality, freshest and healthiest produce to our community!
In my first 2 months at Tsawwassen First Nation Farm School TFN), I have learned:
• Organic farming is extremely difficult and strategic and I realized that I don’t pay enough for food
• It is important to measure production on the farm based on what can be done in one hour such as:
-weeding 40 fruit trees
-planting 71 cauliflowers , 90 onions, planting 34 potato’s, including the placing of ‘amendments’ (gaia green, glacial silt, lime, compost)
• My favorite way of seeding is using the Jang seeder, which is much easier then planting on my hands and knees
• We need specialized organic compost (it gets trucked in from Abbotsford) to help make the vegetables grow
• Raised beds works great in combination with irrigation lines complete with drippers to ensure each plant gets sufficient water
• Planting cherry trees at the orchard. I look forward to watching them grow 3 feet this year!
• Planting organic strawberries and raspberries that come from Quebec
• There are 9 (secret) ingredients in the TFN potting soil and it gets mixed by hand
• You never say the word ‘dirt’ it is always ‘soil’ and it’s made up of clay, sand and silt
• Learning how to ride a BCS tractor that was manufactured in Italy (it is way easier then digging soil by hand)
• Learning to drive the New Holland tractor and pulling the shovel plow is a lot of fun
• Beetles love eating broccoli and cauliflower (as much as we do) it’s imperative that we plant trap crops
• Spraying pesticides to control weeds and bugs is not sustainable and will eventually destroy our health
• For the first time in my life I have witnessed the delivery of more than a dozen squealing little pigs to the farm in a minivan
• It’s interesting to watch the pigs interact with each other and how quickly they grow and how important they are to a sustainable farm
• The chickens can, at times, be a little aggressive and feisty, but they lay great organic eggs that taste amazing!
• Electric fences keep chickens and pigs from running away and keep’s coyotes out
• Watching bees in the hive and observing the queen, is so interesting. It’s sad that the Varroa mites are killing some of the bees
The specialist guest instructors at the TFN farm have been very interesting, enthusiastic and patient. They have passed on abundant knowledge to us through their teaching and personal experiences.
• Corine is our super hardworking, experienced farm teacher
• Kent is our orchard expert
• Farmer Scott provides personal anecdotes
• Brian demonstrates how to work with bees
• Deborah loves bugs
• Emma is passionate about soil
• Grey teaches us about irrigation
• Dawn educates on indigenous plants
I enjoy the TFN specialized program because I experience hands on learning and acquire skills that I can take into the real world of organic farming.
One of the best experience’s on the farm is getting to know and appreciate my fellow classmates. I love being a part of the Saturday potlucks, eating cheese cake, various salads, sausage, crabs, salmon, bannock and so much more.
I’m looking forward to my next 6 months at TFN! What will I learn next?!
Farm school has officially started and we are excited to have another year of great students. It is always inspiring for me to listen to our students’ background and how they come from all walks of life. They have different career backgrounds and levels of experiences in agriculture, yet here they all are, committing their time and money to make a drastic lifestyle change by learning about sustainable farming. I can already tell that they are a passionate and eager bunch! The students will be spending a lot of time together and we look forward to seeing them grow as a cohort, in which they will potentially be each others’ most valuable resources in their future farming journey.
Even though school had just started, farming and seeds do not wait! On the first day, we already had them shovel compost soil to cover up the gaps of our greenhouse. It’s important to seal these gaps because we do not want air to be going in nor escaping. It was also time to relocate the chickens from the warmth of the greenhouse to the fresh green pasture outside. Many students got their first experience with catching and herding chicken, as well as moving the chicken coop. Those chickens are sure fast runners!
I told you this cohort is an eager bunch! As it was the Easter weekend, farm school did not have classes; however, we still had some students come out and work! As I’ve said, there is never a down time at the farm, so you can always find something to do. As our clay land is still holding a lot of water, we start the season by prepping the beds in the greenhouse for sowing early crops. April is also the time for starting seeds, so that once the land is dry enough in May, we can start transplanting!
Finally, as staff, we always remind the students that the farm is for them and we want them to give input on how to develop it; so, we can’t wait to see the accomplishments that they will make at the TFN farm!