Agrarians of all types and levels came together in Terrace for the second annual Farmers Meet and Greet to share knowledge and build an agricultural network in the region.
On Sunday, March 8, over two dozen people came to Thimbleberry Farm on Braun’s Island for a potluck and farm tour, while also exchanging information and creating relationships before the growing season starts.
“I’m super happy with the turnout and I’m really happy to have had some people attending from the Kispiox Valley, the Hazletons and even from Prince Rupert,” says Vicky Serafini, co-owner of Thimbleberry Farm and host of the event.
“We really want to turn this into a regionally-attended event, because we are a number of smaller communities, so I think if we spread the network a little wider we’ll just have more types of people in our farming community.”
Last year was the inaugural Farmers Meet and Greet, which Serafini says was an overwhelming success. As a new farmer herself and relatively new to the Northwest, she stumbled upon a lot of challenges and did not know who to contact for guidance. She decided it would be beneficial to create an event that could bring growers and farmers together to share advice, especially details that are specific to the region.
Serafini now counts many of the meet-and-greet attendees as good friends and is eager to welcome newcomers into their community to help support more local and sustainable food production.
“I would say there’s definitely a camaraderie now amongst people who are farming or even just backyard growing. It’s nice to just see those people around town, catch up and ask them how their gardens or their farms are doing,” Serafini says.
“It has also connected me to other farmers who I can now contact when I have a question about something farm-related… although other farmers in the area are technically considered my competition in a business sense, I actually see them as colleagues who can help me become better at my craft.”
One of the attendees, Hannah Schwartzentruber, has farmed many years across the country as part of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) and was discouraged to see few agricultural community initiatives when she first moved to Terrace.
Living at Bluegrass Meadow Micro Village, a tiny home community north of Terrace, she tried to introduce a small-scale garden but found there were a lot of missing links on how to grow food in this type of climate and felt her crops weren’t as successful as they could have been.
Following the last two meet and greets, she has gained more support from other local farmers to help improve her green thumb and is also eager to add a communal chicken coop at Bluegrass Meadows.
“It’s really great to see something like this happening in the community because we need more producers… we need more availability and accessibility as young farmers, I feel very willing to work. I have the time, energy and capacity for it but it’s really tough to get into the game,” says Schwartzentruber.
“For example, being able to personally own land is completely out of the question anytime within the next five years so I’m left wondering how can I cultivate the skills that I want to have in farming before I’m actually able to make that investment down the line.”
This summer, Schwartzentruber has connected with Cameron Bell, a young agrarian who runs Farmer Cam’s Food by leasing out land at Hidden Acres Farms. As Bell expands his business to meet the demand for more winter storage crops following the run of the first winter market in Terrace, more hands are needed, which provides great opportunities for those eager to dig into the dirt and gain that experience.
Schwartzentruber says it’s really important for young people to learn these skills as there hasn’t been an emphasis on the passing of knowledge from older generations of farmers, which is a crucial gap that needs to be filled.
“There are a lot of opportunities here, there’s a lot of land but there aren’t many people growing. In the past, there has been a history of food production but a lot of the older farmers are retiring,” she says.
“Young people are starting to come up to this region because the growing climate here is pretty agreeable… I think that mentorship in farming is huge, it’s a really tough job and there are lots of little unknowns, like the quirky things that you only learn by doing.”
The Farmers Meet and Greet was supported by the Young Agrarians, a provincial organization that connects young farmers with land and other members in that community along with other related sources.
Jolene Swain, central and northern B.C. land matcher for the Young Agrarians, says they’re pushing for more mixers like this to bring people together throughout the region. Attending the event, she was happy to see how much enthusiasm and positivity there were amongst the attendees.
“It can be pretty tough to get started up, we want to see new farmers succeed and not burn out in their first five years. If you don’t come from a farming background and you don’t have the experience, go farm with someone else first and see what other people are doing, learn from their mistakes.”
She says she was also glad to see people attend who were just interested in casual backyard gardening or learning about their local food options, which is a big step forward for food sustainability in the region.
“We’re lucky in the Northwest in some ways because we’re so much further isolated, so those skills are still here in terms of growing, preserving, and maintaining a local food system,” Swain says.
“Although we have a lot of food that gets brought in, it’s a challenging area to get to. So the more people growing locally, the better… supporting the local farmers and our local food system as much as you can, will benefit everyone living here.”