Farmers and growers of all kind came together at Thimbleberry Farm to network and learn from one another at the first Skeena Bulkley Farmers Meet & Greet on March 9.
With almost 40 people attending, the Saturday event invited the public via Facebook to come out in pursuit of building a stronger community surrounding local agriculture.
“We’re new to farming and we’ve hosted this meet and greet because we wanted to see what everyone is growing, producing and what everyone is interested in, in terms of local food and production,” says Vicky Serafini, host and co-owner of Thimbleberry Farm. “The turnout was great, everyone was really enthusiastic and it’s just great to hear the different angles that people are coming in at with food production.”
At the gathering, there were no stereotypical story-book farmers in overalls and a straw hat but instead a miscellaneous mix of young and old people eager to pass along their plate of knowledge.
“We had home gardeners and growers, people that are interested in full-scale, off-grid farming, we have people in-town hobby farmers and we also have some local producers,” says Serafini. “I think it’s important for people to understand that farming isn’t necessarily about having five or 10 aces, slaving away. You can produce a lot of food on a small scale, you don’t have to be producing a lot to sell it at the farmer’s market.”
Serafini moved to Terrace with her husband in 2014 and considered farming as a potential retirement plan but when they came across their current three-acre property on Braun’s Island, they realized they could incorporate small-scale farming on only .25 of an acre as part of their lifestyle.
Within a year (and while welcoming a newborn baby into the family), they managed to start a garden up with a variety of vegetables, raise egg-laying hens and even a few rabbits — which Serafini says is a popular meat for many Portuguese and Italian families in the area, and encourages others to try. They were able to produce enough to sell regularly at the farmer’s market and she says they’re looking forward to the years ahead.
“We’re hoping to grow our own farm business but we also wanted to help develop the overall farming community in this area because we have a great climate, Terrace has a great agricultural history and I think it would really benefit from growing its own food,” she says. “Hopefully we can get more young people into farming and learning from the older generation.”
She says that veteran farmers hold valuable information beyond just general advice. Each region has its own specifics when it comes to understanding the geography, climate, and soil of the land and here in the Terrace area, that knowledge and experience is being lost as many retire or pass away if no one steps up to acquire it.
“A lot of the farmers are willing to pass on [information] so that the younger farmers don’t need to start from scratch because sometimes starting from the beginning can create a serious disincentive for people to get into it,” Serafini says. “Farming is a very steep learning curve, you have to be a jack of all trades and the master all of those — you are either doing it well or it’s not going to be worth your time.”
Cameron Bell, one of the young attendees at the event, started his own farming business called Farmer Cam’s Foods where he’ll be growing his own organic crops such as tomatoes, beets, cucumbers, onion, and salad mix to sell for this year’s upcoming Farmers Market.
But instead of purchasing land to harvest his produce, he’s decided to set up a license agreement with landowners at Hidden Acres in Thornhill to use a part of their land for his business.
“I’ve been fortunate to get to know some folks who own land, who were able to negotiate an agreement that I could use their property for an agreed price… the resources are out there but you have to be flexible and be able to put in the time and effort to find that information,” says Bell.
He says that becoming a farmer nowadays takes some creativity and that many young people don’t always have the financial freedom to own property. By renting out land from somebody who a few extra acres to spare, it benefits both sides and has allowed Bell to enter the farming industry at an earlier age.
“There are barriers, there are things that will slow you down but I don’t think there’s anything that would stop somebody that’s dedicated from starting a farm business from doing so.”
Having worked on farms throughout B.C. and Ontario for the past three years, he says that due to the special climate in Terrace he hopes to eventually grow fruit and nut trees on his farm as his business expands.
He says he’d also ideally like to continue growing to the point where he can hire up to ten staff and become the largest vegetable producer in the region.
“[Terrace] is a growing area, there’s going to be more consumers in the area over the next decade and I look forward in doing my best to ramp up production so we could be supplying as much local food here to residents as possible,” Bell says.
“Farming is important because people live here and people need to eat, there’s more interest in local food these days and even restaurants are trying to buy local foods specifically.”
With the “simple” farm life reinventing itself onto social media, Bell says he doesn’t see it as just a trend as it’s important to see it as a necessity as climate change begins to change where and at what capacity we can grow food.
“There are ways for technology and society to capitalize on these opportunities to be supporting local businesses and farms to be getting their food from their own bioregion… working towards local food security is very important at this day and age.”
Local farmers will have their product stands up at the Skeena Valley Farmers Market every Saturday beginning May 4.