“As much as I’m a farmer that grows food, I realize how important the forest is to my water and without water I don’t have a garden. I’ve been spending way more time on forest management then on trying to grow something I can sell for five bucks”.
We weren’t the only ones in our group that were deeply impacted by Sara Adair’s words during our afternoon visit to her off-grid farm in Argenta. Sara hosted Young Agrarians and farmers from across the Columbia Basin on August 25, 2018. We were shown around not only Sara’s beautiful property but also given tours of several other small-scale farms located in the communities at the northern end of Kootenay Lake. It would have been impossible to remain unaffected by her words, considering our surroundings.
We spent the two days encapsulated by a blanket of wildfire smoke while visiting eight different farming operations in late August, 2018. The interconnectedness of life, the beauty and the complexity of farming in the Columbia Basin was palpable. We camped out on a farm in Johnsons Landing for the night, waking up to a choir of roosters and a breakfast prepared from ingredients donated by local sponsors.
We had the unique opportunity to hear business planning tricks of the trade straight from some of the most experienced farmers in the area. Some fruitful discussions involved cover cropping techniques, forest and water management, CSA models, off-grid living, permaculture practices and work-life balance. Despite the challenges faced by the farmers we met that run farming operations from these remote communities, what was clear was that there is a resilient network of farmers, new and experienced, that depend on one another and cooperate in order to mutually ensure survival and success in a changing world.
We met farmers near retirement who had formally and informally mentored the younger farmers in the community and communities nearby. Some farmers were working on shared land in a cooperative context, others were leasing multiple parcels of land from different land owners in the community. However they were doing it, they were making it work and doing that in a sustainable way that rang true to their personal values. This kind of cooperation and a dependence on like-minded community members is something that will become increasingly important for young and new entrants to agriculture and farming.
Here are 6 of our MANY takeaways from these farm visits:
- We need water for gardens, we need healthy forests for potable water, we need potable water and food to sustain life. We need to protect our old growth forests and better maintain abandoned second generation forests, especially those located near watersheds that communities rely on.
- We must not forget how to use our hands.
- Cooperation amongst networks and communities of farmers, especially those in rural and remote communities, is increasingly important in the face of high land prices, organic standard developments, access to markets, a changing climate and competition with large conglomerates.
- Small-scale farmers need more access to secured markets through institutional and business procurement practices.
- Small-scale farmers need access to financial support for land improvements.
- It’s all about the cover crops!
To keep the momentum going following this inaugural tour, other events have taken place across the Basin and more will be organized over the fall. These events seek to promote and support ecological farming and farmers in the region and provide an opportunity for knowledge and information sharing.
Young Agrarians will be posting more information on our regional YA Facebook group about other events so please join our online community! As part of our B.C. Land Matching Program events, Young Agrarians will be hosting a Land Link Workshop in Creston on October 27th, which brings together land owners and land seekers and involves an expert panel – please head over to our event post and RSVP for this free event.
Young Agrarians would like to thank the gracious hosts and participants who welcomed us to their land and shared stories and food.
- Earth Temple Gardens
- Grandma’s Farm Vacations
- Grizzly Bear Solutions
- Half Moon Herbals
- Johnson’s Landing Retreat Center
- Karen Newmoon
- Kaslo Sourdough
- Kootenay Co-op
- Sunnyside Naturals
- Vince McIntyre
- West Kootenay Organic Chevre Goat Cheese
- Willet Peak Organics
Thank you so much to Columbia Basin Trust for providing the funding that made this event possible!
*Blog, video production and music by Hailey Troock with editorial support from Brittny Anderson. This video was filmed within unceded Ktunaxa, Syilx and Sinixt territories in the communities of Johnson’s Landing, Argenta and Meadow Creek, BC, on August 25 & 26, 2018.