Krista and Brian are participants in the B.C. Land Matching Program, which provides land matching and business support services to new farmers looking for land to farm, as well as landholders interested in finding someone to farm their land. Visit the B.C. Land Matching Program page to learn more about the program and to find a Young Agrarians Land Matcher in your region.
In 2019, I had the opportunity to meet Krista and Brian early on in the B.C. Land Matching Program’s work in the Kootenays. To start on their journey of growing and selling bare root nursery plants and seeds, the pair living in the Nelson area needed land.
The farmers were introduced to a warm and generous couple who have lived in the community of Harrop, a lakeside farming community located across a ferry about 40 minutes drive from Nelson, for many years. Still residing on the land, they had reached out around the same time hoping to see a flat, cultivable area of their property used by new and young farmers in the area and this acre of land was exactly what Krista and Brian needed to get their feet in the farming door.
Their match to this land and subsequent agreement support was the first in this region through the program. The program wouldn’t be able to thrive without the desire of awesome landholders like these to share their land with others in support of local production (thank you!).
To learn more about Zero Fox Tree Crops, check out the inspiring and informative update below that Krista and Brian sent in about how they got started, what the first three years of farming have brought and where they’re headed!
How did Zero Fox Tree Crops get started?
Krista and Brian started Zero Fox Tree Crops on leased land in Harrop, B.C., during the spring of 2019. Armed with growing experience and a business plan, the first few years of developing the raw land into a farm plot came with many learning opportunities, struggles and successes.
The key to growing perennial bare root nursery plants from seed was finding the seed to plant. They knew it would take time to develop a perennial seed stock collection so they took the first year to grow vegetables, herbs and cover crops.
What did the first few seasons bring?
The field at the farm encompasses around 1 acre of growing beds and, after an initial tractor tilling, all the beds were shaped, amended and maintained by hand. One of the first big farm purchases the farmers made was for a long-tined broadfork to prepare a deep, friable soil for the long roots of the future perennial plants. Cover crops were grown, hand mown, and covered in silage tarp to be later worked in with the broadfork.
A large area was established with perennial medicinal herbs totalling over 40 varieties of different plants. At the end of the first year, 15 beds were planted with a variety of perennial seeds in the hope that they could accomplish their winter stratification in place and come up the following year.
The second year of the farm in 2020 brought new challenges of a pandemic, sporadic germination and seed collection. The two rookie perennial nursery farmers waited to see what trees and shrubs would sprout from their fall sown direct seeded beds along with wondering what medicinal plants would return after their first attempt at a Kootenay winter under snow.
A mixed bag of success and failure would result as almost all of the medicinal plants came back and flourished while only 3 of the 15 perennial seeded beds would come up at all resulting in a healthy amount of aronia berry, apples and mulberries but an overall disappointment and realization that perennial seeds are much trickier than vegetables to grow.
Additionally, a few kinds of nut trees were successfully grown in raised air prune beds supplying oaks, hazelnuts and walnuts to the collection of trees that year. Determined to keep experimenting to find success, the farmers knew they had to focus efforts on collecting fresh locally-adapted seeds and plant them in a protected environment to avoid suffering the same losses in the future. The fall was a success for seed collection and the farmers were eager to see if they could learn from their mistakes the following year.
What’s changed in the past year?
2021 was ushered in with great optimism as the first perennial nursery sales took place in the spring. The farmers’ expectations were exceeded when they sold their entire stock of plants. Brian and Krista were convinced that they were growing something people wanted and with a bounty of fresh local seeds and cuttings they got to work planting from April through the end of May. By June, seedlings of trees and bushes had sprouted and were beginning to thrive.
The growing season continued through a brutal heat wave and wet soggy fall, but by the end of the season everything had flourished and thousands of plants that could be brought to market were harvested. To continue the cycle of seedling succession, many thousands of seeds were collected and planted that fall, with extras being saved to be sold as an additional marketing opportunity to sell stratified perennial plant seed.
What’s next for Zero Fox Tree Crops?
Now in the winter of 2022, Zerofoxtreecrops.com has been fully designed and updated with current inventory. The farm is currently focusing on marketing and taking orders online to be mailed across the country. Plants and seeds are beginning to sell quickly as the coming growing season approaches.
All orders will be shipped out in the spring once the snow melts but before the plants break dormancy. Bare root nursery plants don’t require any kind of potting up and the farmers plan to hire seasonal help to put orders together, wrap their roots in wet sawdust and send them out in the mail or prepare them for onsite pickup.
The 2022 growing season carries lofty goals for Zero Fox Tree Crops as the farm is looking to double production, take on project design contracts and increase the species selection from 26 to over 50 different trees, bushes and herbs available for purchase the following winter.
The B.C. Land Matching Program is funded in the Columbia Basin by the Province of British Columbia, with support from Columbia Basin Trust and Patagonia.
Krista and Brian found land through the B.C. Land Matching Program in 2019. We’re so excited to see how their fourth season goes on the land and what’s to come!
Do you have land you’d like to lease to a farmer? Are you a farmer looking for land to lease? Learn more about the B.C. land Matching program here, or email email@example.com.