Farm Legacy Letters: Mary Alice Johnson, ALM Farm

Posted by Alex on October 05, 2020 2 Comments

To future generations:

Thirty years from now, I want people to remember that my farm was a beautiful productive healthy place to find good food and to learn about producing good food.

My farm consists of three properties, the 10-acre main farm with an old farmhouse and outbuildings, a wooded 5 acres contiguous to the farm, and a third 2.5 acre property 4 km down the road where I live and grow some crops. I have owned the main farm since 1986 and purchased the second property in 2008. These properties are located in the Otter Point district of Sooke, British Columbia. The nearest small town of 7,000 people is centered 8 km from the farm, and Victoria, a city of 90,000, is 40 km away. 

Young people started asking if they could come live at the farm and learn how to farm with me. Over the years well over 200 people have spent time living and learning at the farm. Production increased and now stays pretty steady with vegetable production being the biggest thing we grow, followed by fruit and seeds and lastly flower production. 

We grow vegetables, herbs, grains, flowers for the fresh market, tree fruit, berries, kiwi and nut trees. We preserve pickles, jams, dried fruit and vegetables. We have a small seed company that grows over 200 varieties of vegetables, herbs and flower seeds. We grow and sell seedlings primarily in the spring and early summer. We teach workshops and courses both on the farm and at the local colleges and for other organizations such as garden clubs. Much of all three properties are forest still. We farm less than 4 acres of the 17.5 acres we own.

My strongest memories of the farm are wonderful lunches, and pizza parties with friends and farm staff. Watching my grandson play and then learn to work on the farm. Hosting other farmers to share ideas. Having a group of chefs over to connect with good local food. Watching my son and his new wife plant a tree at the farm 33 years ago and seeing it grow into a beautiful pin oak. Watching the first fruit tree blossoms in the spring.

I remember listening to the wings of a raven as it flew over the farm and settled in the tall trees at the edge of the cultivated areas. Bringing in the harvests. Biting into that first tomato of the season. Building the cob house at the farm – one of the first on the island. Saving the old barn and making a very functional structure. 

My number one goal for my farmland is that it continues to produce great food for my community. This is important to me because eating local, organic, largely plant-based food is the most important step we can take to affect climate change and also this food tastes so good and is good for our health.

I want young people to have a place to learn how to farm. Practical hands-on knowledge of farming will let a young person know if they want to try to set up their own farm and if not, they will certainly appreciate the work and skill that goes into it and want to eat good local food. I have built up many long-lasting friendships with those who have come to the farm to learn and live. 

As well, I wish to pass on an inheritance to my children that is not a burden to them. I have 2 children and 3 grandchildren to whom I wish to leave a legacy. My farm is not in the ALR but I don’t want it to be split up into single dwelling residential lots and I don’t want the forest cut down. I want it to continue to produce food using the best sustainable practices currently known and I want it to be a beautiful place for my customers and folks who work or have worked on the farm to be. I want the people who grow the food and seeds to have a place to live on the farm so they can wake up in the morning to the birds singing and watch the sun go down.

It is not easy or particularly financially practical to operate a farm. It is impossible for a farmer to pay a mortgage on the land they farm from a farmer’s income. If our society wants to have farm land cared for and kept productive, society must find ways to make that happen.

Mary Alice Johnson

ALM Farm, Sooke BC

Read Legacy Letters from other farmers and write your own letter to future generations here: youngagrarians.org/legacy-letters

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