Field Trip to Pemberton

Our little team set out on an adventure – an overnight trip to beautiful Pemberton! We set out early Friday morning June 7, and had a chance to visit 3 small organic farms in the Pemberton Valley.

Rootdown Organic FarmPemberton 011

Rootdown Organic Farm is run by Simone and Sarah, two UBC farm practicum grads, who manage about 2 acres of mixed organic vegetables, raise 20 pigs, about 100 chickens, and now 2 lambs. This amazing little farm grows a huge variety of crops in a fairly small space, and maximises the use of the land. What is so inspirational about these farmers is they are so relatable for us practicum students – just a few years ago, they were like us, learning about farming, and now they are running an increasingly successful business. They have a 40-share CSA, sell to restaurants in Whistler, and at farmer’s markets. They have experimented with different irrigation methods, using groundwater, river and ditch water, and learned from their experiences.

Their pigs are an interesting project. They started a few years ago with just 2 pigs, for their own meat consumption, and learned a lot about pigs, who are very smart, through a few mishaps and escapes, and how to use electric fencing to keep them where they are supposed to be. Now up to 20 pigs, they give these guys a great, free life in a part of the field, before they are sent to the butcher to become meat that has been pre-sold as half-pig shares.

The best quote from Simone as to why she loves farming: “It’s never boring!”

Lambs

Lambs

Pigs

Pigs

Helmer’s Organic FarmPemberton 020

The lovely Helmer family runs Helmer’s Organic Farm, where they grow 7 acres of organic potatoes a year. Each piece of land is left to grow cover crops for 4 years, building soil structure and fertility, then tilled and planted with potatoes for just one year before being cover cropped again. They grow 18 varieties of organic potatoes, 8 that no one else grows, choosing for taste and variety, not only for hardiness or ability to grow well.

Being so well established in the area, the Helmers have worked for a long time with other potato and seed-potato farmers in the area, to convince them that organic farming doesn’t mean there will be an increase in pests and disease in the area. This was an important learning fact for us – as organic farmers, I think it’s easy for us to get on our high horse, believing that ours is the “better” way of farming. But it’s important to remember that we will, for the foreseeable furture, be working side-by-side with conventional farmers, and they have a lot to teach us, and that we can work together to ensure that all of our farms benefit.

Potato field

Potato field

Ice Cap OrganicsPemberton 033

Ice Cap is another family run farm is run by a husband and wife team, Aleasha and Delaney, assisted (?) by their 1 and 3 year old children. They cultivate 7.5 acres, half owned, half leased, growing a wide variety of crops that they sell in 60 CSA boxes and at 3 Vancouver farmer’s markets, as well as some sales to local stores. They told us about the benefits of selling at a farmer’s market, including the ability to get direct feedback from customers, and having the ability to sell what you grow, whether it’s a large or small amount. They told us about the farmer’s market system, which is seniority based, which can make it hard for a new vendor to get in. Often, new vendors start by going every other week, and get the less-than-prime locations, but can work their way up to better spots.

They have learned, at Ice Cap, the costs of over-tilling with tractors, which can turn fertile soil into dust, and have cut back the number of times they work a field. Not having enough land to leave some fallow for a season, they do their best to keep the soil fertile with amendments and reduced tilling.

Beautiful Pemberton

All of these farms are set in the beautiful, fertile Pemberton Valley, which is known for its seed potatoes. The small town centre boasts an organics grocery store, and Mile-One restaurant, where meat is from the Valley – although frustratingly, all livestock must be processed at a facility in Chilliwack, so in reality, a one-mile burger may have grown up close by, but still traveled a ways. The dramatic backdrop of snow-capped mountains on all sides is breathtaking, and I fell in love with the valley. The soil is rich, built by fluvial and glacial deposits, and not nearly as rocky and sandy as the UBC Farm soil.

We spent the night camping at Rootdown farm, being eaten alive by mosquitoes and sharing an amazing potluck dinner. After a morning of weed blitzing at Rootdown – an extra 12 pairs of hands can do a lot of damage to the weed population in a short time – we headed back to the city, stopping for a tour of the Squamish farmer’s market on the way.

Tent set up at Rootdown

Tent set up at Rootdown

Potluck feast

Potluck feast

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