Sitting on my paddle board in the middle of the lake five years ago, I started dreaming about a different way to grow food and build community in the Okanagan.
As I reminisced about my childhood here, playing in rolling orchards and abundant gardens, the inspiration came quickly. I imagined a space where people could experience ways to work with nature instead of against her and where biodiversity would thrive. An abundant farm where gardens and orchards resembled forests instead of sterile rows. A haven with lush soil and healthy food dripping from every branch and stem. A place for yoga retreats, weddings, school lessons and farm tours.
One, maybe two small hiccups… I’ve never farmed before and I had no idea where to start. I also didn’t have any land. I was currently living in Alberta in a career and a life that had chewed me up and spit me out.
But here’s the funny thing, when you abandon all you know and chase your dreams because you can’t live through the reality of ignoring that calling, the universe rises-up and meets you head on. You have to follow the path that makes you feel most alive.
So, I quit all three jobs I had, sold my house, put a dying relationship out of its misery, and packed what I needed… in my Volkswagen no less. Whoever says you can’t farm out of a car would have loved to see me travel across provinces with a hay bale strapped to the roof of my Golf.
What happened next has been a series of big, little and legit miracles.
You need land to farm?
A fenced acre of wild, unused land that you can experiment with?
You need a landowner with a similar mind set willing to work with you to accomplish the same goals of creating an abundant landscape?
Poof… Wish granted!
IT ALL STARTED WITH A SEED; ONE IDEA,
ONE DREAM, ONE LITTLE PIECE OF HOPE
It’s called having a vision, then you feed it, care for it, give it the space to grow, and soon your dreams are unfolding around you.
They have taken root and you are now suddenly, shaking the hand of a customer at the market who buys your greens every weekend.
You’re sitting at a local restaurant, ordering your produce off the menu and grinning like an idiot because everyone there is being nourished in part, by your work.
During my first year, I wanted to see if my dream could be a reality. Could I grow a head of lettuce and sell it? I leaned heavily on my permaculture design and installation experience, but this little farm operation was amateur at best, and I spent more money than I made selling my produce at the Naramata and Summerland markets.
Common mottos on the farm began;
I have no idea what I’m doing,
I’m just going to wing it (pertaining to something I most definitely should NOT wing),
I’m making this up as I go along!
Am I doing this right?
These proclamations persist even now, but I’m learning along the way. Every year I make mistakes, and every subsequent year is an opportunity to, well, make new mistakes, and then to adapt and overcome.
Year two, brought new partnerships with local chefs and expansion into the Penticton Market, but I still didn’t break even. I began to use bio-dynamic farming principles, which added to my success and also started to utilize more of the land. My strategies became more intentional, but with more land came more challenges and more tears. Wrestling a 5-foot wide, 50-foot long bale of chicken wire, trying to unwind it yourself for a pea trellis will drive you to drink. Passing all my favourite wineries on the way home was very convenient. My hands go far beyond the help of the best manicurists, my back protests daily, but with every spring, all I can think about is starting my little baby seedlings and nourishing them through the season.
By year three I was really on a roll. I had developed full-time local chef partnerships, regular customers at the markets and notable efficiency on the farm. I was making fewer colossal-sized mistakes but was perhaps still too ambitious. The farm had grown to the point where I needed help and I was definitely burning the candle at both ends. Since the first seed was planted, I had done all the marketing, invoicing, planting, weeding, ordering, harvesting and delivering. I was an independent one-woman show apart from intermittent acts of kindness from friends and family who came to lend a hand. I had to continually remind myself of the process of eating an elephant. One bite at a time.
Now here we are in 2020, my fourth year as a fearless female farmer and I am ready to make an explosive leap forward. There are plans to develop a new cidery at the Blue Bee Orchard and I have accepted the role of planting, developing and maintaining the orchard using a concept new to the Okanagan on a commercial scale. With a holistic poly-cultural forest garden (many species of trees, shrubs, berries, herbs, and flowers planted strategically together), innovative bee and chicken habitats, a multi-purpose event space, a locally inspired farm stand, and community events planned, my dream is becoming a reality. This is a place where several methodologies will converge. Permaculture foundations are to care for the earth, care for the people, and enjoy a return of surplus. Biodynamic farming works with the natural cycles of the season and the soils. Although not organically certified, I integrate natural pest management and build my soil with different compost methods, living mulches and cover crops. All ‘fertilizers’ are naturally derived set on restoring deficiencies in the soil.
Amidst the transformation and catharsis of this journey, I have found endless joy and gratitude. The guidance and support of my family and friends has sustained me, the generosity of locals has held me up during times of uncertainty and through the power and beauty of nature, I have learned patience and humility. When you dream of building community, it is suddenly all around you.
While the farm itself continues to grow and evolve, this female farmer will no longer be solo. I will be joined by a loving partner and there are plans to hire additional help in order to tackle new endeavors to provide produce to the Penticton Farmer’s Market, local wineries, coffee shops, bistros and more.
“Happiness is the joy you feel when you’re striving for your potential”
– Shawn Achor
I welcome everyone to experience the magic of this valley on our farm. Please contact me directly through my website www.plottwistfarms.com, visit me every Saturday at the Penticton Farmer’s Market, follow the ups and downs of real farm life on Instagram @PlotTwistFarmsBC and @thebluebeeorchard.