Holding the Sacred Space and Taking Care of Business

Posted by Michalina Hunter on May 21, 2024

Minwaadizi Farm

Greenhouse build spring 2024. (Photo credit: Natasha Anderson-Brass)

In the summer of 2022 I sat down with Young Agrarians for an interview to talk about my experience in their Business Bootcamp program (you can read that interview here). At that time I was still an intern at Amara Farm with dreams of developing my own community oriented farm business. Fast forward two years and I can hardly believe that, with a lot of help, I am making those dreams come true!

Having signed a sub-lease agreement on Amara Farm property, I was able to officially launch Minwaadizi Farm in the 2022/2023 growing season, while at the same time teaming up with Amara Farm and two other local farmers to start our marketing cooperative: Comox Valley Organics. In retrospect it was maybe a bit much to launch both my business and the coop in the same season, however having the coop meant I could really focus on growing. You can read more about our coop in this Tyee piece.

My first season was the best of times and the worst of times as they say. I struggled with irrigation, wire worms and other pests, and finding my feet as a solo operation. At times I found myself questioning why I chose a career that is so physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding while at the same time being grossly undervalued by society. Without the support of the coop and all my amazing family, friends, and farming community I don’t think I would have made it through my first season. I put a lot of pressure on myself to “succeed” and now that I am in my second year I am feeling a bit more comfortable with letting things flow. Knowing that everything that can go wrong will, and strangely finding comfort in that.

Seed ceremony hosted by Amara Farm and Minwaadizi Farm in September 2023 (Photo credit: Young Agrarians)

This year I have added a second site to my operation with support from the B.C. Land Matching Program. I am still searching for longer term land access, but am so grateful that the land I farm on has amazing landowners and the infrastructure I needed to hit the ground running, so to speak! Unfortunately this spring we hit a bit of a snag with the coop and are not able to offer a CSA veggie box this season, which resulted in me having to pivot my crop plan and sales plan to be able to sell at the farmers markets and to a few wholesale customers. I was able to revamp my business plan thanks to my farm mentor whom I connected with through the Young Agrarians Business Mentorship Network. My ultimate dream for sales and production is to have a thriving CSA box program and sell the rest of my products at lower wholesale prices to community organizations who offer free or low cost produce to the community. Any profit I make would then be reinvested into the business as a social enterprise to support Minwaadizi community programming.

In addition to growing food I have also been growing community by continuing to host events and workshops at the farm, as well as continuing to work with the Indigenous Solidarity Working Group at the National Farmers Union. A highlight of this work has been traveling to Ottawa in November 2023 to co-facilitate a learning circle, which you can read more about here (page 7).

Indigenous Solidarity Working Group at the 2023 National Farmers Union convention (Photo credit: National Farmers Union)

These opportunities have allowed me to practice weaving my Indigenous culture into how I care for and develop relationship with the land.

Learning more about traditional foods, holding ceremony, and creating ritual that is culturally grounded has really helped me to see the larger meaning in my connection to the land as well as building more intimate relationships with people.

I am continuously amazed at how ceremony opens people up and brings them together in a way that I do not witness elsewhere. It helps people get out of their heads and into their hearts, where truth and change live. I am so grateful for the opportunities and openness of the organizations and communities I work with. Creating spaces and connecting with people in this way gives me hope for the future, especially connecting with young people who are interested in learning more about their Indigenous identity and how that is connected to the land.

Teaching a group of students from a local school. (Photo credit: LUSH Valley Food Action Society)

As I reflect on the past two years one thing is abundantly clear to me; community is the key to creating a sustainable farm business. The trend of hustling alone towards burnout to make a farm business work must become a thing of the past if we want thriving, healthy food systems and communities.

I also recognize how lucky I am to have landed where I did and when I did. I am now farming on two sites and working with some incredible farmers who have been in the business for decades; learning from them and benefitting from all of their hard work. I don’t blame people who choose to go it alone; working relationally has many challenges, you have to have a lot of grace and patience (this is where doing your own inner healing work comes in handy!), and things can be somewhat slower when you have to consult with others before making decisions. It is by no means a perfect solution but I believe, based on my experience, that it gets us much closer to the ever elusive work-life balance most people strive for.

I think most people were taught that hyper independence, individualism, and competitiveness is what we have been systematically taught as the only way to succeed and have value. Now is a great time to pause and reflect on whether or not that is actually working and what kind of a future we want to create for our children, grandchildren, and so on. I for one want future generations to be able to spend more time in pursuit of their dreams and passions and less time simply trying to survive.  

We need more support for people who are on the ground every day doing the work to put food on our plates rather than more institutions and non-profits amassing all the resources to create buzzword policy groups and committees. Institutions and organizations who do benefit from financial resources should put it towards directly supporting producers; there are a few great organizations out there who are committed to this, but we need more and especially more support for BIPOC folks to be on the land. 

My hope for the future is to create an Indigenous focused land-based learning program so that I can start to pass on what I have learned in my years of being on the land and in the community. I hope to create opportunities for young people who are interested in growing food, seeds, and medicines in a way that supports them to sustain a business and a lifestyle; to break the cycle of profit over people and land access for only the wealthy. I have also witnessed so many people who are yearning for a connection to their cultural identity that was stolen from them as a result of colonization. I hope to weave cultural teachings and practices into the program as a way to heal from our collective traumas and dream a bright and beautiful future for Indigenous peoples and all peoples. Please get in touch with me if you want to work together on this, I can’t (and shouldn’t) do it alone! 

I’d like to acknowledge some people and organizations that have helped breathe life into Minwaadizi: Young Agrarians; the National Farmers Union; Vancouver Island University; Amara Farm (Neil, Arzeena, Alan, John); Good Earth Farms Seeds (Heather, Simon, and auntie Edna); LUSH Valley Food Action Society; my auntie Sharon and uncle Johnny for tirelessly passing on what they have learned; mom, dad, and my sister Shannon; my amazing farmer friends (Kate, Alex, Leah, Andrea, Raelani, Kim), and last but certainly not least my incredible life partner Maarten who has been an unwavering support and shoulder to cry on when things get tough. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.   

Nindinawemaganidog (all my relations),


About the Author

Natasha Anderson-Brass is a Saulteaux, Ukrainian and French Canadian farmer, artist, knowledge keeper, and scientist. Natasha is a member of the Key First Nation, who are located in Treaty 4 territory. As a result of residential schools and the 60s scoop, Natasha was not raised on her traditional territory with her Indigenous kin or culture, but is grateful to now be learning her cultural ways from her family, including her auntie Sharon Jinkerson-Brass who learned from her great grandmother Rebecca who was a traditional midwife and healer.

Natasha began farming in 2018 and started Minwaadizi Farm in 2022. Minwaadizi Farm is a small scale organic market farm and land-based cultural center located on the unceded traditional territory of the K’ómoks First Nation. Minwaadizi means ‘they live a good life’ in Natasha’s native language, Anishinaabemowin. Natasha believes in the power of caring for the land, growing nourishing foods, and practicing culture as a way to heal from the impacts of colonization.