The World Needs More Farmers

Blog written by Kirsten

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I grew up on the North Shore of Vancouver and in my family, conversations about where our food came from rarely went any further than which grocery stores we shopped at. I didn’t know any farmers growing up and, to be honest, farming was not something I ever thought about.

Food, on the other hand, was something we talked about a lot.  I admit I may have grown up in a bubble, but when it came to food I really thought I knew more than most. My mother is an amazing cook so I knew all my vegetables and how to prepare them, and my father was always extremely mindful about what he put into his body. Following my father’s footsteps, I grew up vegetarian, and spent most of my 20’s receiving and reading countless books from my father on diet, nutrition and the latest health ‘do’s and don’ts’.

Naturally, as the years went on, my interest in nutrition grew and so did my bookshelf. I became increasingly aware of the inhumane practices and the devastating environmental consequences of factory farming. But again, I was vegetarian, so I thought I was doing my part and making the ‘right’ choices when it came to food and the environment.

It wasn’t until two years ago, when I lost both my sister and my father in a tragic accident that my perspective on life changed.  Actually, everything changed. My life stopped and I became acutely aware of how fragile ALL life is. I desperately needed something healing to focus my energy on and learned about the therapeutic benefits of organic farming and cultivating life.

I grew garlic, kale, lettuce and herbs in pots all around the outside of my apartment. I loved being outside and I loved the feeling of dirt in my hands. You can imagine I was quite shocked when I discovered that I wasn’t very good at gardening. In fact, everything I grew died (indoor plants included). One would think that my inability to keep plants alive would be a sign for me to start a new hobby, but clearly I ignored that sign.

Similarly to some of my fellow farm students, I started googling ‘learn-to-farm’ and ‘how to grow vegetables’. KPU Tsawwassen Farm School popped up and it didn’t take long for me to recognize what a truly amazing opportunity lay before me.

Besides marrying my husband, I can tell you that my decision to go to farm school has been the best decision I’ve ever made. I first started growing vegetables in an effort to heal myself from the devastating loss of the passing of my father and sister, but now through education and the knowledge that I’m receiving from farm school, I’m growing vegetables to heal the land, heal my community and ensure there is food security for my future children and grandchildren.

I now see that all those years I spent reading books about diet and nutrition provided me with a false sense of knowledge in a world that is so disconnected from the land and our environment. Where we get our food from, how our food is being farmed and the current food systems that are in place have real, ethical consequences.

Why do I want to be a farmer? I want to be a farmer because our world needs more farmers. Environmentally and ethically speaking, we cannot continue to support conventional farming practices and the current food systems that are in place. Our planet’s future depends on more sustainable agriculture and we need more small-scale, ecologically sound farmers in order to achieve this. Farm School has taught me that there is a way to do things differently. Farm School has taught me that I can make a difference and together we can create sustainable food systems that benefit all life on Earth.

Through the support of Tsawwassen First Nations, KPU and all the dedicated instructors at Farm School, I hope to provide my community with more options to buy sustainably grown, organic produce. And my vision is that my future children and grandchildren will grow up in a community where everyone knows and trusts their farmer, just like they know and trust their dentist, doctor or hairdresser.

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This future that I envision would not be possible without KPU Tsawwassen Farm School. It is truly incredible what they are doing and I encourage anyone and everyone who has an interest in farming to take this program!

Go to Farm School

Blog written by Rob

When I started Farm School I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into. It’s not as though farm school, let alone farming, is a familiar concept. I questioned whether my decision made sense. My experiences during the first week confirmed that I had made the right choice. Let me tell you about the school, my experience, how I found myself in the program and what farm school is ultimately about.

I quickly learned in the first few weeks just how much knowledge and how many skills farmers need to have. If you want to be a jack of all trades, keep busy and have work that nourishes the soul, farming might be for you. It’s at once running a business, playing biologist, heavy labourer, inventor, carpenter, plumber, chief cook and bottle washer and more.

We learn through experience by racing to get in and out of the pig pen quickly so that we don’t get bowled over by very excited, hungry pigs, planting thousands of onions and feeding bacteria in compost tea that will, in turn, feed our crops. We learn through classes that vegetables are still alive and breathing in the fridge, bees dance to tell other bees where nectar is and that there are over 10 billion organisms in a square metre of soil! Speaking of soil, we’ve learned more than ever that the work of farmers is to steward the soil. Plants want to grow and as ‘farmers of soil’ our job is to protect and promote organisms that make available to plants the nutrients they need to thrive.

Growing the very things that sustain human life is very empowering. It’s extreme DIY. It’s also very enjoyable to spend the entire day outside. For these reasons, I have always wanted to homestead and no one thing I’ve ever done has prepared me for it. Five years ago, a friend encouraged me to go to farm school. I didn’t. I was working for a tech/communications company helping governments engage their citizens online. That work was done remotely, online and inside, and it started to feel like it was no longer the right fit. I wanted to work with my body and my mind, outside, and with a team of people. I had worked outside before as a landscaper and grew perennials but farming was a whole different domain. I enrolled in a few classes in a plant science program to see how I would do in a learning environment. I was certain I would go to farm school, almost. In wavering, I told my boyfriend, twice – having a direct impact on his plans – that I was giving up on the idea of farm school to then finally change my mind one more time. “I just have to do this.”

I’m really happy with my decision. Three months in, I still don’t know where and if I will farm. Regardless, I’ve learned valuable skills that will be with me for the rest of my life. The farm is a living laboratory of organic agriculture and life. We’ve learned to work with what you have. Try something and if it doesn’t work, try something else. It’s like life. It’s an educational farm where the by-product is food and transformative personal change. Many other students are in the same situation, on the cusp of life changes or making decisions about their future. Their stories are inspiring and encouraging. We’ve bonded as a solid team from this shared experience of working together, eating together and growing together.

The staff at the farm know how special the farm is – they created it. They’ve put incredible care and attention into building a program and a farm from scratch that is rigorous, practical, and thorough. They answer all of our questions, consider and accommodate our requests and with such a small group, they’ve become friends. Life changing, life supporting and life-giving – this is what the Tsawwassen First Nation Farm School is really all about.

I didn’t know if the program was for me and in retrospect, I made the right decision. If you’ve been thinking about it for a while, and you have been for a while, take the plunge and go to farm school.

The Beginnings of Farm School

Blog written by Katherine

I am beyond excited to be a part of the 2017 farm school cohort and I can’t believe it’s already the beginning of June! So much has changed around the farm since the first week of classes began in mid-March and it’s nice to reflect on how much we have learned since day one.

I became aware of the farm school program by literally Googling “learn to farm” one day and was surprised to find an all-encompassing program right here in the Lower Mainland. The idea of learning to farm was then tucked away in the back of my mind for a year or so, not knowing how it would fit into my current life and career as an accountant. How did anyone become a farmer if they didn’t have a family history of farming or hadn’t completed an agricultural science degree from a university? Now I understand that quite a few new organic farmers don’t have this type of background and many have turned to farming as a second career. How cool is that?! This year the stars were aligned and I was able to take a break from being a full-time accountant in order to learn all there is about farming. I had doubts about whether I could hack it working outside in all sorts of weather conditions and temperatures (being an office-dweller for the past 10 years) but so far there have been no bad days on the farm (some more rainy and muddy than others).

My fellow cohorts come from various backgrounds and career paths but the one thing we have in common is the strong desire to grow delicious food in a way that nurtures the soil and environment. It’s a beautiful thing to work alongside like-minded people who are super supportive and enthusiastic about anything new coming our way. The teamwork and camaraderie is amazing and I look forward to every day on the farm.

Given the soggy and cold spring we’ve had this year, we’ve covered a lot “in-class” material including market crop production, orchard management and plant science, soil science, integrated pest management, and beekeeping. We’ve also been introduced to seeding, irrigation, carpentry, and livestock management. Now that it finally feels like spring we’ve been learning about harvesting, tractor operation, transplanting and direct seeding using the Jang seeder, making and amending beds with the walk-behind tractor, building two movable caterpillar tunnels… and the list goes on! At first glance it’s hard to see how much thought and preparation goes into various aspects of the farm and I think that’s been the most surprising part. I used to envision farming as mostly putting plants into the ground but there is so much planning and infrastructure to consider before that step takes place. Seeing the big picture and learning throughout an entire growing season at the farm school will be invaluable in my future farming career, in whatever form that takes shape.

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Planting rows and rows of onions!

Lastly, I’d like to recognize our passionate and knowledgeable teachers and farm staff – Corine, Emily, Mike, Sara, Caroline, Kent, Deborah, Emma, Brian and Gray. Without them there would be fewer future organic farmers – so a big thank you to all!

– Katherine

Sign up for our Weekly Veggie Box!

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2017 Veggie Box CSA sign up is LIVE!
You can sign-up to receive a weekly box of fresh and certified organic fruits and vegetables throughout the summer. All grown with love by the Farm School staff and students.
You have 7 pick-up locations to choose from in Vancouver (east & west), Richmond, Surrey, Langley and directly at the farm in Tsawwassen.

For a total of 20 weeks from June 7 to Oct 21, you will get a box of 9 to 12 items at a price of $25/week/box, enough to feed a couple to a small family!

A few new things in the boxes this year:
– New crops: strawberries, raspberries, elderberries, goji berries, Asian vegetables
– Add-on options: mushroom, flowers, eggs, meat and bread

This will be the best year yet!

For more info:
http://www.kpu.ca/tfnfarm/box-a-week

Sign up now, spots are filling up!
https://csa.farmigo.com/join/tfnfarmschool

Thank you THANK YOU!

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. 

-Emily

How did it all start?

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)