Closing the circle

Blog written by Justine Gabias
July 10th, 2018

I grew up surrounded by plants and flowers. My grandfather was a flower grower and florist in 50’s Quebec. His greenhouses were filled with carnations, poinsettias, and chrysanthemums. My mom and her siblings spent their childhood running around those big greenhouses, and eventually all seven children got involved in the family business, which later became a flower shop and garden centre. My mom became manager of the flower shop, so my two sisters and I spent our early years in the company of roses, azaleas, baby’s breath, tulips and birds of paradise. To me, playing in empty boxes of fern and salal was normal, and often extremely boring. Flowers to me meant waiting for my mom to finish work so we could go home. It is only now that I realize how amazing my childhood was, how accessible beauty was to my sisters and I.

Blog Photos

When I became a teenager, I started working in the garden centre in the summer, watering geraniums, weeding potted trees, moving bags of soil. And I have to tell you, I HATED it. I’d cry about it. Unlike my mom and sisters, I had no interest whatsoever in gardening; I was an artist, I couldn’t care less about begonias or tomatoes.

Life had set me up with everything I needed to become a grower, and yet I refused to even acknowledge it. So I took a different road, moved to Vancouver, studied art, worked in a University. And then, last winter, life cleared her throat and said hey, how about now? Are you ready now?

That little nudge was the moment I learned about the KPU Farm School program. I was sitting in my windowless office, realizing that, even though I loved my job and the financial security it brought me, I was just spinning my wheels. My career felt like this great pair of shoes you hang on to—the shoes are awesome, everybody tells you how great they are, but they’re half a size too small, and they’re just uncomfortable enough that you can’t walk very far with them. It just didn’t fit, no matter how hard I tried.

When I landed on the Tsawwassen Farm School website that November morning, something clicked. It was one of those rare moments of clarity when I knew exactly what I needed to do. So I contacted Caroline Chiu, the program coordinator, and she was extremely generous with her time. She gave me all the info I needed, answered all my questions, and gave me a tour of the farm. It was wonderful to have access to her knowledge and experience, as she had gone through the program herself and knew it inside out.

Fastforward to now—it is almost mid-July. And I have not an ounce of regret. I love it. I love every aspect of farming, and I have discovered that my personality is way better suited to it than I thought. I believe that humans have the natural ability to grow and nurture things. It requires no special talent. I am realizing that ‘having a green thumb’ is not an esoteric gift (which I never received); it is hard work, paying attention, learning the plants’ and animals’ languages, and having the capacity to learn and adapt. Farming requires organization, a creative mind, a knack for problem-solving, patience, a good work ethic, a big heart, a strong back, a large brim hat and tons of sunscreen. It is also extremely dependent on community and relationships. It has been so great meeting folks with different backgrounds, hopes and dreams. The farm staff is small, and the cohort is just shy of 15 students, so we get to know each other pretty well, especially when we are weeding side by side! My peers have become my second family, and I can’t wait to visit their farm one day to help them build tunnels, plant garlic or harvest new potatoes.

The 8-month program is a balanced mix of in-class lectures, fieldwork, and field trips to various farms. We learn everything we need to operate a small-scale farm, from crop production to business management, and everything in between. The instructors, guest lecturers and farmers we meet are all incredibly knowledgeable, humble, and supportive. I am still blown away by the spirit of generosity that permeates farming. All the young farmers we have been lucky to meet are happy to share their wisdom and experience with us future farmers. There seems to be no trade secrets, no signs of unhealthy competition—they are rooting for our success, hoping we make it, and that more people join the small-scale, organic growing movement.

After spending the Spring prepping the field and planting seeds, the farm is now in full swing; we are harvesting weekly and taking turns working the booth at the Mount Pleasant Farmers’ Market. I truly enjoy the market, where I can put my artistic skills to use and talk to amazing customers and vendors. It doesn’t beat giving the piglets belly scratches, pulling beautiful turnips out of the ground, or sharing a big post-harvest feast with my peers, but it’s close! Fresh food—the one you contribute to grow, and can share with people you care about—tastes magical. The act of eating has changed for me; nourishing yourself with vegetables and fruits you have grown sustainably feels and tastes SO. MUCH. BETTER.  Especially the potatoes. Oh man.

That’s what food should taste like. And that’s how our food system should be: local, sustainable and accessible to all. It is not lost on me that I am here in BC as a guest, and as a guest I must make sure that I am a good steward of the unceded land I stand on. I want to learn how to contribute to the healing of the land, and nurture the beings I share it with. That is partly why I chose Tsawwassen Farm School—because of its focus on sustainability and connection to the Tsawwassen First Nation. I am so humbled and grateful to be able to learn from inspiring instructors, lecturers, and from my Tsawwassen First Nation peers. Their wisdom is a gift.

The future is exciting—there are so many interesting possibilities for next season, it is almost dizzying. I could start farming right away on one of the farm’s incubator plots, work on a ranch to learn more about sustainable meat production (and finally wear my ranch hat!), or perhaps start my own business relating to food security or education.

I also sometimes dream of following in my grandfather’s footsteps and grow flowers. Even though he’s not around to mentor me, I’d love to get to know him through farming, and maybe, finally, close the circle and carve my spot in the family business. Sometimes you have to go home to find out who you are.

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Farm School Stories Vol. 1 – Making a difference

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The Farm School is an integral extension education program of the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. The program is dedicated to teaching people of all backgrounds, experience and professions the science and art of small-scale, biodiverse, ecologically sound organic farming. At the end of the program, students have the knowledge, skills and confidence to start their own farm operations and become important actors of the food system.

Watch our promotional video to see what our students do at the farm!



May 16th, 2018

2018 is an exciting year for our farm school programs as we have two programs with full cohorts. The Richmond Farm School was on hiatus for 2 years due to the restructuring of the curriculum. We launched the program this year and immediately received a full registration. Both programs, Richmond and Tsawwassen, have full cohort of 14 students each with a growing waiting list for 2019. This is increasing proof that the desire for people to be involved in the local food system, advance resiliency in the food system and to get reconnected with working on the land is growing.

What have the students been learning so far?

Beekeeping

Brian Campbell teaching students about the anatomy of bees, the importance of bees and other natural pollinators for the ecosystem and food system, and our students taking turns in handling and inspecting bee hives. Our Richmond students also caught a swarm of bees for the first time!

Land preparation and planting

The farm is our classroom. Students setting up the caterpillar tunnels which will be planted with tomatoes and eggplant. They are also learning about crop planning, seeding, management of hogs and chickens. The year is just starting and they have so much to learn!


Staff Highlight

Not only is the program creating opportunity for people to take the first step in learning about the food system and growing food, we have an exceptional team of instructors who have extensive agriculture background and are passionate in transferring their knowledge.

Daniel Garfinkel
Richmond Farm School Manager & Instructor

edfDaniel is is deeply passionate about food,  farming, and community. He has been growing, cooking, and educating for nearly a decade. His dedication to the local food movement is highly contagious and evident through his work as a chef, Master  Gardener, Beekeeper, Permaculturist, farmer, educator, and consultant. His non-conventional path of learning has  led him to both applying and expanding his knowledge at multiple farms locally and abroad in search of new sustainable agriculture practices. Daniel is also the founder of Vancouver  Farming Co., a non-profit farming organization dedicated to feeding the members
of our community who need it  most, first.

 

 


Sarah Clements
Tsawwassen Farm School Market Crop Production & Practicum Instructor 

23690310601_e694f27da8_oSarah’s formal food systems education began at UBC where she completed a Bachelor of Science in Land and Food Systems as well as the Practicum in Sustainable Agriculture at the UBC Farm. Sarah spent three seasons working at the UBC Farm as the Practicum Mentor, CSA manager, and manager of several production fields. She also worked for Victory Gardens Vancouver, building food gardens in the city and teaching people how to grow food in their own backyards. Sarah is passionate about growing local, sustainable food and hopes to empower BC’s next generation of organic farmers! In her spare time, she enjoys singing and playing fiddle in a bluegrass band.


Community Supported Agriculture Vegetable Boxes

**Get your weekly box of certified organic vegetables for the summer now!**

Both programs operate on a fully cost-recovery basis where all proceeds go back into supporting the operation, the students and the staff. On top of being an educational farm, we are also a working farm where we have various revenue streams including selling at the farmers markets, individual vegetable boxes and to restaurants around Metro Vancouver. These are important revenue streams for supporting the program and to demonstrate the business aspect of farming to students. Our students take part in attending the markets, harvesting and packing the vegetable boxes.

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We deliver to three KPU campuses (Surrey, Richmond, Langley), East Vancouver and Tsawwassen. The subscription of these boxes run from mid-June to the end of October. Every week, you get a box of freshly harvested organic vegetables from the farm delivered right to your office! We are only one month away from the first box and spots are filling up very fast, so don’t miss out!

All our veggies are certified organic!

For more information and to sign up, visit our website.


If you have any questions regarding the programs or the vegetables boxes, please don’t hesitate to email me at caroline.chiu@kpu.ca.

Caroline, Farm School Manager

Rosella’s Journey with Farm School

Blog written by Rosella
November 7th, 2017

Part of my retirement plan was and still is to pursue a higher education. While taking one of those classes at KPU in Langley, a video about KPU’s Tsawwassen Farm School showed up. Well, it sure got me intrigued. I have never heard of a farm school before.

I arranged for a visit to the farm in February 2017. The moment I stepped onto the farm, I knew that I was going to attend Farm School. This was when I met Archie, the red-coloured piglet. The farm school staff got us immersed into helping right away.

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Archie at 3 weeks old

I learned so much, and still, I want to learn more. What Farm School has taught me is being a farmer is a lot more enjoyable than being in an office. Farmers are generally more happy even with the ups and downs of weather (we had a wet spring), the pests (flea beetles, loopers, etc.), and trying figure out what is happening to the plants (not enough nutrition, powdery mildew, too much water, not enough water, etc.).

I have more appreciation of what farmers do in order to get vegetables and fruits ready for us to enjoy. I never knew what a CSA was until this year (Community Support Agriculture). If I really had known what that entailed, I would’ve signed up for one of these weekly boxes for a season’s worth of vegetables and fruits a long, long time ago. Organic vegetables sure do taste good!

Farm school has shown me what farmers need to know in order to run a successful farm. Direct seeding or in trays, what kind of soil the seeds like to germinate in, the biggest thing I wanted to know was why my home garden did so well the first year and not the next. It was the nutrition of the soil! Whatever was taken away should be put back. This was something I wish I knew a long time ago.

I have learned about:

  • pruning fruit trees
  • driving a tractor
  • welding
  • taking care of the farm animals (pigs, chickens, ducks, turkeys, and cats)
  • irrigation
  • bees
  • pests and how to manage them
  • soil, how to get it alive for healthy vegetables
  • how to plant by direct seeding and with transplants
  • weeding
  • how to sell your produce
  • don’t put tomatoes in the fridge

So many new vegetables I got to try, I did not know you could eat so many parts of the plants, like the scapes, before they bloomed, from garlic. I did try most of everything, even the ones I wasn’t very fond of (beans).

We visited quite a few places to see how they farmed, some of which gave me a good idea of how I could continue with the farming experience.

Even though this was a Farm School, learning how to become a farmer, I felt more alive and a part of a community. One of my favourite things to do on the farm was weeding.

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Rosella weeding potatoes
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Rosella getting some of the 10,000 onions ready for transplanting

I am feeling a sense of loss with farm school coming to an end. I have met a lot of very nice people. Overall it was an enjoyable experience. I am so glad I took the time out of my retirement plan of furthering my education to include attending KPU’s Tsawwassen Farm School.

Rosella

Reflecting on the past school year

Blog written by Nancy

Writing this post as farm school winds down is giving me a chance to reflect on the year.  What a year!  I can honestly say that this has been one of the the best of my life.  I came to farm school after several years of volunteering on a farm, experimenting with organic growing in my own garden, and completing a permaculture design certificate.  Farm school seemed like the next step in my learning journey.  I wasn’t sure where it would lead but I knew that I needed to nurture my interconnectedness with nature.  This is where I learned and practiced how to steward the land in a regenerative way.

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Catching my first chicken

While it’s hard to summarize an experience like this, here are some highlights:

  • I got to really connect with that part of myself that was always fascinated with nature and how things grow.
  • I had so many firsts… taking care of chickens, driving a tractor, pruning tomatoes, making compost tea, helping to build a shed and caterpillar tunnels… it was exciting and challenging and confidence building.
  • I felt inspired and empowered by all of the women involved – teachers and fellow students – it makes it seem more possible that I can also make my personal dream of being a farmer a reality!
  • I got to share my tractor driving with my young nephew who’s obsessed with them – what a cool auntie 🙂
  • I got top notch instruction. This school has amazing, passionate, highly experienced and knowledgable teachers.
  • I saw how farmers need to be flexible and adapt to the ever changing conditions of weather and the ecological state of the land.
  • I noticed how much happier and fulfilled I feel living in alignment with the natural rhythms of the seasons and the earth.
  • I spent time with folks who also geek out on soil, plants, birds and insects.
  • There was Nena the farm chihuahua sunning herself on the beach (sandpile) and the joy of her finally flipping on her back for a tummy rub from me.
  • And of course, there were the farm kittens – Thelma and Louise.

And then there is the oasis that the 20-acre Tsawwassen Farm School is becoming.  Amongst the conventional potato and blueberry farms here exists a parcel of land that is reclaiming the soil through sustainable farming practices.  The soil is coming back to life.  This is evident not only in the numbers of bumblebees and ladybugs (and caterpillars) that showed up this year, but also in the numbers of birds feasting on the abundance and finding homes to raise their offspring.  We found a tree swallow nest in the spring, the sunflowers provided a fall feast for a local flock of red winged blackbirds, and raptors overhead regularly scan for rabbits and voles.

Farm school hasn’t changed my perspectives on food and the earth.  I think I was already in the process of making those changes; of seeing the value in small-scale, local, regenerative food production.  What it has done has deepened my resolve to become a steward of the land.  I’m not alone in my longing to have a more intimate connection to the earth.  It has brought me into contact with other people who also see the value in taking care of the earth so that it in turn can take care of us.

 

One step closer to my dream

Blog written by Janine

My Opa, while making supper one night, said “if you can’t cook, how can you look after yourself?” That stuck with me. Striving to be more self-sufficient and wanting to see a sustainable food future, I took his advice a bit further – if you can’t grow food, how can you look after yourself, and those around you? I have been dreaming of farming for many years, but growing up in the city it seemed so out of reach.

I couldn’t find a farm job where previous experience wasn’t required and I was hoping for an educational setting. After hearing about the Tsawwassen Farm School I took the leap to learn how food is grown.

Every day at farm school is eventful, unpredictable, and full of teaching opportunities. I have learned to drive a tractor, predict the lifecycles of common insects, catch and wash a chicken, melt metal with welding equipment, identify a queen bee amid a buzzing hive, eat and use new parts of plants, and build  healthy, life-sustaining soil.

I still have so much more to learn. Most importantly, I’m developing the attitude farming requires – be open to change, any day could through you a curve ball.

I am so grateful for the knowledge, confidence, and friendship that this experience has given me. I have met many people who inspire me with their passion for sustainable agriculture. Thank you! A shout out to my fellow farmers-in-training for building such a supportive atmosphere. I’m so excited to see how we all continue to grow.

I look forward to a future of farming!

Grow…

Blog written by Collett

Photo credit: Rosella Reimer

Is the first word that comes to me when I think of a farm.

Growing is to increase by natural development, as any living organism becomes larger over a period of time.

Growth is what I’m experiencing at this time within myself as I’m preparing to farm at 50.

The Farm School is all about growth, from seedling, the soil, fruits and vegetables, the animals, pests and of course us students.

As a female entering into small scale farming there’s an unknown that is both scary and super exciting.  I feel that if I allow myself to keep it small, take the information that I learnt at farm school like: the farm is an ecosystem, tilling damages soil, plants love to be watered early in the morning, weeds can teaches us about the soil, honey bees like to fly in a straight line, there are beneficial pests that control bad pests, soil amendments, cover crops, farm smarter not harder and so much more.

As I move forward it’s important that I implement techniques that will benefit future generations: in how I water with less water, allow nature to take its course, grow food in harmony with nature, grow food for the bees and share the bounty with other.

Collett

 

The World Needs More Farmers

Blog written by Kirsten

kirtsne

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.

kisten

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!