Photo credited to Rake and Radish Farm.
In this post we continue to feature BC farmers as a part of our Grower Profile storytelling initiative, giving you a snapshot of the farmers in your community. It's our goal to provide you with stories about the food growing close to home and the amazing humans who are making it happen. Explore this series to learn more about what drives these folks to make the bold decision to be a farmer and tend to the land.
In this interview we speak with Ardeo Mann, farmer at Rake and Radish Farm, to learn more about their farm.
Can you tell me a little bit more about you and your farm?
I’m Ardeo, i’m non-binary and queer and also a white settler. On my dad’s side my roots are Ashkenazi Jew (from Poland and Ukraine/Russia) and Serbian (from Bosnia and Herzegovina) and on my mum’s side my roots are from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
I'm 24, a little younger than the stereotypical farmer people may have in their minds. I’m farming on the unceded territory of the W̱SÁNEĆ lands, specifically on the north side of PKOLS which is an important historical meeting spot.
Currently I have just over a half acre that I'm farming for my market garden and I grow just over 40 different crops between vegetables, strawberries and flowers. My farm is in an amazing location, it backs onto this big park, there are big trees everywhere, always eagles flying overhead, and it is quite quiet. I don’t drive and so I bike everywhere and it's only half an hour to downtown Victoria, it's a really cool place to be farming.
How did you come up with the name Rake and Radish?
It was Christmas and Hanukkah before COVID began, and I had just gone back to Salt Spring where my family lives. I made my family help with brainstorming names before they could leave after the holidays and I had decided that I liked the format of something and something. It was during this brainstorming that the Rake and Radish name was born!
Why is farming important to you?
On the personal level, I just really love farming. Doing something that is so hands on and tangible, at the end of the day I can see what I’ve done. And getting to feed people. There’s lots of people in my CSA that I know and will be getting to know. Knowing that I’m feeding so many different people in the community. I also like getting all excited about seeing the great things that people are making with the food. Getting to incorporate my values into it [farming] and building those relationships is rewarding.
How is your local, or regional community important to your business?
It’s all based on my local community- the land, the ecosystem I'm farming in, is really a part of that local community. The bird neighbours- there has been a murder of crows following my as I rototill and there is also my CSA, as my farm is 100% run on my CSA program. This year we will have 60 people as a part of it. And knowing that I'm going to feed them all season. I wouldn't be able to farm without them, the money side of farming is more important than I'd like it to be.
The farming community is really amazing also, sharing tools with the farmers farming next to me. Being able to share a chat or complain now and then. For example, voles had eaten all of my squash seedlings and I was out of seed. I messaged my farmer neighbours and they offered me seed and then shared their squash starts with me which was so amazing. Having farm mentors in the community who are open with their knowledge and skills and wanting other young farmers to succeed. Other industries seem very competitive and in this community everyone is so open to sharing their knowledge.
How has COVID affected your work? Has it been positive or negative?
I started this farm right as COVID was starting. I signed my lease on a Friday and on Monday everything was shut down. So I'm very excited about farming without a pandemic. I have farming experience before the pandemic, but Rake and Radish launched during it and it has been challenging. At the beginning of COVID everyone was trying to get supplies, and I just needed a fence post and some seeds at the time. But it all worked out. There's many things I didn't know you could do 6ft apart from people like putting up a greenhouse and building a fence, but it can be done! It has been challenging not being able to have people over to the farm or have work celebrations. With travel restrictions my dad hasn't been able to come help so i've lost one of my biggest farm volunteers.
On the other side, there was an overwhelming response for my CSA. I got help from Young Agrarians with my business plan and thought we'd try for 30 customers for the first season of the CSA, and within a week of announcing it I had 50 people sign up and another 20 on a wait list, which was a bit overwhelming and also amazing! It pushed me a little to get my act together and pull off a full CSA. This year the CSA has steadily filled up, it has still been a good response.
What do you see as an ideal future for local food?
Two main parts for me would be to make it more accessible both for the eaters and the growers. This is something that I've been trying to work through with my farm. Alot of farmers I know are basically subsidizing the cost of food personally, trying not to have it too expensive for their customers. They are absorbing the cost of the supplies and the time that goes into it. People are making very much below min wage for the time they're putting in and this seems to not be uncommon when i've been talking to farmers. I'm working so much and seeing lots of people farm for 5 years and then burn out.
In my ideal world farmers would be able to work and make a living and are compensated well and maybe don't have to work 7 days a week, 12-16 hour days. And this organic food is accessible and not only for people who are wealthy. In my ideal world these two things would be reconciled. And this amazing food would be affordable for folks to access. Sorting that out would be ideal in my ideal food future.
I’d also add that colonization and agriculture are linked in so many ways and how agriculture has been used in colonization and devaluing Indigenous food systems, and this needs to change. In an ideal local food future, agriculture doesn't step on Indigenous food sovereignty.
What would you like folks to know about supporting local farmers?
Building off that last part I think people know that farmers work hard, but sometimes they don't fully know how hard or the long hours. I've watched farmers I worked for, work hard and long days and then when it was my own farm I grasped that I had to do all of that. Grasping how long and hard a farm season is, it’s important for people to get a sense of that. And there's always things that are unpredictable or challenging- like a late frost for example. And, especially with climate change everything is unpredictable.
In terms of supporting local farmers, buy stuff from them. People are always encouraging but remember to make buying from local farmers part of your weekly grocery shop. I know that isn't accessible for everyone. But, sometimes farmer prices are on par with the grocery store so try to build that connection with a local farmer and make it part of your routine. Join a CSA or whatever way works best for you.
Do you currently use any regionally grown seeds on your farm? Where from?
I've been growing the raxe radish from UBC farm and BCESC and it's been great! With the farm name being Rake and Radish, I knew that I needed to learn how to grow amazing radishes. I'm on the quest to grow the perfect radish and that radish [raxe] has been helping on this quest!
Have you experienced any benefits from growing regional seed?
I can't completely generalize with this. The radish has been great and more forgiving than others. Even if it has been in the field for a little bit longer it is still ok and doesn't crack much.
Are there any varieties you’d love to see the coop offer?
I want to have a better look through all the things, sadly my main barrier to ordering more local seed is the price, though in some cases the price is better than bigger seed companies. And hopefully as I progress on my farming I can spend less on fencing and irrigation and more can go towards seeds. I've had to go with cheaper options that will do the thing. As a beginner farmer I've been growing the varieties that other people I've worked for have grown and hopefully in my 3rd year I'll branch out and try some new and fun varieties and not just one kind of beet or carrot that I know has been successful on the farms I've worked on in the past.
I’m very grateful that the seed coop exists and hope to support it more in the future!
Interested to read more about the experiences of BC farmers? Check out more interviews in this series.