a garden good enough to eat

"The best fertilizer is the gardener's shadow." -Author Unknown

Just as a kitchen is often the heart of a home, a vegetable garden can also bring people together…..family, friends, neighbours and sometimes even strangers. Though my pal, Heather is an urban gal like myself, she is fortunate enough to have direct access to the farm experience through her own immediate family. And because she is my pal, last weekend I was fortunate enough to see it for myself, as she had kindly invited me to join her in visiting her sister, Moira and brother-in-law, Brent. For the past 18 years, they have been living on a picturesque 14.5 acre spread in the equally picturesque area of Courtenay / Comox. Located about half way up the east coast of Vancouver Island, the journey from Vancouver involves a 1.5 hour ferry ride to Nanaimo, followed by a 112 km drive up island….making for a total travel time of about 5 hours, door to door.

When approaching their property, it is a garden that is the first to greet visitors. When first meeting Moira and Brent, their connection to the land and its rhythms become immediately apparent, in their pace and in their communication style. Somehow, they seem graciously direct, more thoughtful than your average urbanite in their (un)natural setting. On the second day of our visit, Brent led Sunday afternoon’s lunch guests on a walking tour of the land. As we made our way through the beautifully scenic wooded trails towards the Tsolum River and the family swimming hole, I asked him when he had last been on this particular walk. After an unhurried pause to recollect, his response was charming and typical of someone so in harmony with their environment, “During the last full moon”.

Occupying some 1/4 acre (about 10,000 plus sq. ft.), they have created 2 separate gardens mostly to grow food for themselves. They supplement their diet with other foods such as eggs from the neighbours and venison salami (yum), which is processed locally from deer that Brent has hunted. Trade within the community is practiced simply for good will, friendliness and enjoyment. As I walked around the garden to make note of all that they grew, I realized that there were far too many items for me to list them all: A= arugula, B= blueberries, C= Carrots, D= Dill, E= Echinacea, F= Fennel, G=Green Onion…..all the way to Z= Zucchini. Because the garden yields far more than they could ever eat fresh, much of it is preserved for later use through freezing, canning (relish, chutney, fruit and tomato sauce), pickling and some drying. Other food, such as root vegetables and apples, are kept over the winter months in dry storage. While processing some food is neccessary, Brent says that the focus is still very much about eating fresh and extending the harvest. With proper planning and plant selection, fresh food can be made available from the garden almost year round. They have also developed a tea to sell; a blend of their own grown echinacea, ginger and mint. It is available at The Tea Centre in Courtenay (where it is sold as ‘Glacier Blend’) and also at Teaz in Vancouver (where it is sold as ‘Echinacea Blend’). For the last 15 years, they have run a large scale fish composting business which has not only provided an income, but has also greatly supporting their soil fertility and food production. Today, they continue to make compost on a smaller scale.

When I asked Moira how all this began, she said that before she and Brent had ever met, each of them already held a keen interest in owning their own land, growing their own food and feeding their (eventual) children well. When they finally did meet, their individual dreams became a collective one which they naturally incorporated into their new lives; first as a couple and, eventually, as a family with two boys. She chose to home school their children, which proved conducive to maintaining a large garden. This lifestyle was a commitment that required a great deal of time and hard work, void of financial reward. However, the experience worked out well, having provided a different kind of wealth, one without job burnout and poor eating habits, and one where teaching their children how to grow and appreciate good, healthy, fresh food has been just as important as any course in mathematics or chemistry.

According to Moira, as long as you grow food, you will never be lonely. I believe that she is right, and look forward to a return visit at the end of this summer, just as the garden’s bounty is ready for harvest. It will be exciting to see such growth, especially after witnessing its June beginnings. I also look forward to visiting my new friends.....and eating some more of that venison salami.

As a side bar, we were joined by another visitor that weekend. Third sister, Hornby Island based painter Coral Barclay, was in town to attend the Saturday night opening of her show of paintings at the Comox Valley Art Gallery. That evening we all joined her in celebrating her latest body of work, later going out for a glass of wine and....something to eat!


Anonymous said...

What's the deal with the eggs?

Very unusual colours...

diane thompson said...

ethnically diverse group of chickens, I guess?