Seeds of Synchronicity – Young Agrarians South Interior

Article blogged from the BC Organic Growers Magazine! 

By Michelle Tsutsumi

Ian&Ashton Weeding-135On a mild, hazy day in September, a young couple keen to leave their professional jobs to become homesteaders dropped by Pilgrims’ Produce Organic Farm just outside of Armstrong for a tour. Living five minutes up the highway on rented land, Chris and Maxine Andruik’s enthusiasm for raising chickens, growing good food, and dabbling in hops was a breath of refreshed energy at the tapering end of a busy sea- son.

It wasn’t until a month later, when Chris and Maxine invited the Pilgrims’ Farm crew to their open house, that the full meaning of that chance meeting became clear. It was surprising to see so many young people at the gathering who were engaged in a similar journey toward farming or food production.

As people told their stories about what they were doing and where they wanted to be in the future, an idea was broadcast to the handful of young farmers in the room: “Let’s start a young farmers group!” Murmurs of agreement rippled among the crowd. Throughout the winter, you could find this small group of young farmers every Friday morning at a window table in the Brown Derby, enjoying their “over-easy-sausage-rye- toast” breakfasts. You could sense a collective sigh of relief that others who had a shared desire to do meaningful work and contribute to the local community had been found.

What started out as a handful of people, self-titled the “Young Farmers – Armstrong/Spallumcheen,” has grown to a network of at least 40 people who span from the North Okanagan to the Thompson regions of British Columbia. This is, in part, thanks to a fortuitous Young Agrarians (YA) Mixer + Sleepover hosted at Summerhill Winery in January. Not only were participants engaged in a co-created workshop environment, but they walked away inspired and with new lifelong friends.

YA attracts both aspiring and practicing farmers, as well as community members who support a holistic food production cycle. It was a natural decision after the Mixer to form a YA hub. To keep up with an ever- changing compilation of members, the group name was changed to YA – South Interior.

Two key aims of YA are to link new farmers with each other, as well as to connect new farmers with existing farmers. Since February, this has been possible through monthly potlucks and farm tours that have been hosted at different venues with attendance ranging from 20 to 60 adults and children. Sharing food is complemented by resource and knowledge sharing, mentoring, and opportunities for group purchasing of equipment and materials. A third aim of YA, soon to be launched, is an online resource that will address land access issues.

The type of farming that YA – South Interior members are engaged in runs the gamut from being employed on an established farm (Wild Flight, Left Fields/Cran- nóg Ales, Pilgrims’ Produce), to continuing a family line of farming (Meggait Farms, Golden Ears Community Farm), to starting up on a new piece of land (Wild Moon Organics, The Rudy Family Farm, Roots Up! Vegetable Farm).

Rudy's Planting-135Just as there is a wide range of working scenarios, the farms vary in size. Steve Meggait has launched into a series of projects to keep himself busy on 150 acres. He is raising pigs and has contracted with an existing chicken producer to be a satellite site for their opera- tion. Because there are so many ideas to get off the ground, Steve is looking at options like cooperatives to ensure his farm is sustainable and utilized to the best of its potential.

Wild Moon Organics is a new partnership between Richard and Shelli Quiring and Chris and Maxine Andruik (which necessitated a move just down the road from the house where this YA story began), focusing on the wholesale-scale production of a few select crops, in addition to raising chickens and heritage cows on over 80 acres outside of Armstrong.

Michael and Courtenay Rudy, of The Rudy Family Farm, are in the process of moving their existing farm in Lake Country (where they have carrots and garlic planted) to a new six-acre parcel they purchased outside of Armstrong. Even though they haven’t quite moved in to their new place yet, they’ve got potatoes planted and are preparing space for their chickens!

In addition to the wonderful range of vegetables they already grow for markets, they have grand plans of in- corporating more animals into their operation.

Roots Up! Vegetable Farm is a new (ad)venture for Ian Hart and Ashton Sweetnam. Interestingly, after spending several seasons working on another farm, they posted an ad in newspapers advertising their de- sire to lease land. A perfect-fit response came in from a couple that has an organic farm near the Salmon River between Salmon Arm and Armstrong.

Ian and Ashton pounced on the opportunity to lease an acre from them and have received their organic certification in their first year of operation. For their inaugural season, they are attending two markets per week (Vernon and Salmon Arm) and are launching a CSA program. Their CSA program runs from summer solstice to fall equinox and comes in two sizes with a weekly drop-off in Salmon Arm.

In getting to know these young (or new-to-farming) people, a curious observation has surfaced. Despite hearing from numerous existing farmers about their choices to discontinue their organic certification, the majority of the YA group will be going through the organic certification process.

When asked why, the resounding answer was all about community and sharing experiences with people who are interested in similar things – being part of a group that lives life from certain underlying values and beliefs (e.g., being stewards of the land, working along- side nature rather than against it, and building social, cultural, and economic sustainability within their com- munities).

Who would have guessed that a random farm tour would evolve into a thriving, expanding network of young, or new-to-farming, agrarians in the South Inte- rior? Synchronistic seeds have been planted. Germina- tion was successful. YA – South Interior is flourishing!

Michelle Tsutsumi is the Assistant Farm Manager at Pilgrims’ Produce and contributes to a thriving local food community through the Food Action Society of the North Okanagan and Young Agrarians – South Interior.

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 Michelle Tsutsumi and Kathryn Hettler of Pilgrim’s Produce at Armtrong’s Shoots n’ Blooms Festival, Spring 2013. More photos from the festival viewable on FLICKR.

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