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.

rose 3
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.

rose 2
Rosella weeding potatoes
rosel 1
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

Advertisements

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.

nancy chicken
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!

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.

edf
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