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)