We’ve landed… on Denman Island!

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood… and we have taken the one that leads to a small island in British Columbia. But more on that in a minute. First, we should tell you about our summer interlude in Pemberton.

Another Season in Fantastic Pemberton

Emily’s data collection complete (219 surveys and a pile of interviews and focus groups with producers and other people involved with the Costa Rican and Mexican dairy sectors), we arrived back from Latin America at the end of May. We decided to settle back in Pemberton for the summer where Sam could pick up some farm work while Emily started processing the data, and the search for land could begin in earnest. After a fantastic reunion with friends and our furbeast Hunter, we settled in at Plenty Wild Farms, a business new to Pemberton. Sam (and Hunter) worked a couple of days a week for rent, as well as back and Rootdown Organic Farm where we did our apprenticeship, and on a couple of other farms in the valley. It turned out to be an ideal arrangement. David and Alyssa are inspiring in their vision and dedication to building their new business, and we learned a heap working with them. In particular, we were inspired by their intensive small-scale veggie growing system, adapted from Jean-Martin Fortier’s The Market Gardener. Having seen both a walk-behind and a compact tractor in action, we’ve decided on a BCS walk-behind tractor for the scale and type of veggie growing we’re planning, as it allows for very efficient use of space, facilitates succession planting, and fits tidily in the confined space of a greenhouse. The lower price tag compared to a more conventional tractor also means we’ll be able to afford more implements up front. Eventually, a larger (probably second hand) “workhorse” tractor will likely be purchased to help us with heavy lifting and hauling jobs, but we’re hoping we can trade with neighbours for tractor help with the odd big job in the first few years.

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Walking in the field behind Plenty Wild.                    Walking in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park.

Finding a (Proto) Farm

While on a trip to look at properties in the Comox Valley, our real estate agent convinced us to look at 10 acres on Denman Island, a Northern Gulf Island just south of Courtenay, that really wasn’t on our radar. While this property is ALR, it hasn’t been farmed in about 50 years, has more than a few trees, is separated from Vancouver Island (and most markets) by a ferry, and the house needs more than a little bit of work to prevent it reverting to rainforest. But we decided to have a look anyway, and what we saw, coupled with a very attractive price tag, got our imaginations turning. We started looking into land clearing options and imagining all the things we could do with the trees that would come out of future fields – re-siding the house, building a barn… And we started thinking about the possibility of forest-reared pigs and agroforestry systems. Some other pluses: the place has surface water, is a 5 minute walk to the village, has good, uncompacted soil, a rental cabin to help with the mortgage, and lots of bedrooms and bathrooms to welcome visiting family and friends.

It seems that Sam and I both have healthy imaginations and a weak spot for projects. And so, in the fall, we made an offer that was accepted, and on November 1st, said a sad goodbye to Pemberton and moved to what we are calling our proto farm.

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Fetching sticks in the ocean off Denman.                Looking down our new driveway.

Let the Projects Begin!

Since we moved, we’ve been working on this:

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Clearing garbage and old wood out of the bush. Bush finds include metal bowls, a trampoline, and a fishing net.

And this:

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We got 5 pigs. We’re experimenting with winter pig rearing, and a breed that’s new to us – Large Blacks. These ladies have great personalities and we’re loving them!

And this:

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Renovating the house – it needs a new exterior to get rid of rot and prevent further damage.

And this:

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Taking down trees. Friend Ian came over for a therapeutic chainsaw break over reading week – it’s amazing how much more light we’re already getting in. And, a pile of firewood to keep us warm next winter.

And this:

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Repairing the rental cabin to make it cheerier and more functional and weather tight. It should be ready to rent again April 1st. Any takers?!?

And this:

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Our solution to our mouse problem: meet Merlin, a two year old SPCA kitty with lots of personality… he and Hunter are already good friends (except when Merlin tries to steal Hunter’s bed after 7pm).

Our seed order and greenhouse plastic have arrived, we’ve got a compost heap underway, and we’ve been speaking to a Man with a Machine about helping us take out some stumps. We’ve newly registered Two Roads Farm as a business, and new logo, updated website and social media presence coming soon. Lots going on – stay tuned!

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