Photo credited to Two Roads Farm
Welcome to the first interview in our Grower Profile series!
With the rise of industrial agriculture in our increasingly globalized world, local, small-scale farmers are more important now than ever. At BC Eco Seed Co-op we’re proud to be a farmer-first business. Over the years we’ve met and supplied many BC farmers with seeds grown close to home and getting to know our customers has been one of the biggest motivations in our business.
Grower Profile is a storytelling initiative giving you a deeper snapshot of the farmers in your community. It is 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 Emily of Two Roads Farm to learn more about her farm.
To start off, can you tell us a little about you and your farm?
We’re a small family farm thoughtfully growing mixed veggies on Denman Island in the Comox Valley, British Columbia. We grow a variety of vegetables on just under two acres all together, including several greenhouses. 2021 is our sixth commercial growing season.
In 2021, we’re growing: spinach, salad greens, head lettuce, beets, carrots, fennel, celery, celeriac, chard, kale, cabbage, asian cabbage, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choi, beans, peas, radishes, rutabaga, garlic, tomatoes, tomatillos, cucumbers, peppers, basil, eggplant, zucchini, squash, parsley, melons, parsnips, potatoes, onions, leeks, chicory, radicchio, and a few flowers.
Why is farming important to you?
Food is important and I think that we have a lot of work to do in Canada and North America, working toward a food system that is sustainable socially, environmentally, and economically. There is also lots of work to be done working toward local food security. Covid has really highlighted the problems we’ve seen in our supply chains.
How is your local, or regional community important to your business?
They basically are our business. We sell everything we produce in the Comox Valley and most of that we sell on Denman. Our community has been amazing. When we came here there was a much higher proportion of people shopping in town at the grocery store and now people have shifted their eating habits and have been buying locally. We’ve had a lot of people come out and support our market card program, and our business.
How has COVID affected your work? Has it been positive or negative?
Overall, if you looked at the (2020) season financially, it was quite a successful season. But a fairly high cost to farmers, farming with two small kids we didn't have as much child care as would be ideal through the season, and we ended up with a much higher labour bill which affected us as owners despite the business overall being fine. I think this will be a familiar story with a lot of small scale farms, even businesses that looked okay on paper still struggled.
What do you see as an ideal future for local food?
This is a tricky one. There isn't any one answer about what local food should look like, COVID highlighted that. In Canada we probably want to focus on making a more robust local food system and this probably looks a little different in different regions. Small scale farming requires a high up front capital investment making it difficult to get into and we’re so used to in our society for paying little for food and not used to the social and economic costs of paying for local food and this can be difficult for farmers in the first year to make enough.
What would you like folks to know about supporting local farmers?
A big one is to try it out. Try buying local food. If you haven't bought local food before you'll probably be surprised by the quality of it. Rather than thinking of it as expensive, try to think about what you're gaining. If something costs more it probably costs more to produce it. Just give it a try!
Do you currently use any regionally grown seeds on your farm? Where from?We do, we ordered bean seeds from BCESC this year and some of our seeds from Adaptive Seeds as well, in the US but still in the Pacific North West.
Have you experienced any benefits from growing regional seed?
It’s hard to tell if you're not doing a controlled experiment next to non regionally grown seeds. The crops that we’re growing that were borderline doable in this area we especially look for regionally grown seeds that are adapted to the conditions we face here, especially the damp weather.
Are there any varieties you’d love to see the coop offer?
The beans are great. Speaking as a coastal farmer, the heat crops that need a certain number of heat days to mature in the Pacific North West- squash, melons, we prefer things that are better adapted to our region. We’re also looking for things that grow well for the challenges and diseases that happen with the damp weather we experience, and things that do well overwintering would be awesome too.
Interested to read more about the experiences of BC farmers? Check out the interviews with our members from across the province.