Photo credited to UBC Farm
Member Profile: Evan Goh of UBC Farm
BCESC Member since: 2014
Tell us about the farm:
The UBC Farm is located on the unceded territory of hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓-speaking xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) people. The farm is an integrated production, research and education space that has had a seed program since 2012. I joined the farm in 2018 and assisted in the seed production until taking over the program in 2021.
How did you get into farming and what inspired you to start saving seeds?
I volunteered for a few months in 2017 on a small-scale seed farm on Vancouver Island, and it was both my first farming and seed-saving experience. Somewhere between the rows of ripening seed crops and the racks of yogurt containers full of seeds from years past, I caught the seed-saving bug.
Why is seed saving important to you?
When I hold seeds that I have helped save in my hands, I feel an indescribable connection to the past, the countless generations of plants that led to this seed, and also a connection to the people who were there every step of the way. I also think of the future, the fruit this seed will bear, and the potentially countless generations of plants and people that it may touch. This feeling is simultaneously humbling and empowering. I am honoured to be a part of a cycle of people and plants moving through time. The people shape the seed, and the seed shapes the people. Who is to say who shapes the other more?
Tell us about your current seed operation:
We focus on saving seed from 4 or 5 key practical crops each year that we can sell in bulk through the co-op, things like kale, arugula and radish. Besides this, we save smaller amounts of things that we can take right out of our main market production fields, or sneak into extra odd fields around the farm. We also have a few long-term breeding projects that we have going like our Golden/Chioggia beet cross. We end up with around 20 varieties a year, ranging from pole beans to cosmos that we sell through the co-op or our own packets.
What is your favourite seed to save?
Nothing beats the rushing roar of freshly threshed beans rolling through the winnower.
What is the best part of seed saving? Most challenging?
The best part of seed saving is running my hands through a tote of smooth, cool, well-cleaned seeds after a day of threshing and winnowing. The most challenging part is getting to that point consistently and without too much frustration.
What seed saving projects are you inspired by right now?
I love reading about the breeding projects going on at other co-op members’ farms. Seeing what is possible to breed in our climate is both practical and inspiration for our own projects.
What is your favourite/most used/well loved seed saving tool?
Our farm’s mint-green hand-cranked winnower is flexible and consistent for most of our seed needs.
Why did you decide to join the BC Eco Seed Coop?
Our farm has been a longtime co-op member, and I have inherited the seed program here from my predecessor, Mel Sylvestre. I am excited to be a part of the mission to supply quality local seeds to BC growers.
What is your favourite seed saving or starting resource/book/mentor?
Fellow co-op member Mel Sylvestre (of Grounded Acres Farm) has been the ultimate seed production mentor, and I am proud to be following in her footsteps at the UBC Farm. Besides that, the Organic Seed Grower by John Navazio is a solid book.
Any tips or lessons you could share with a home gardener or new seed saver to help them succeed?
It is a huge world of possibilities for seeds out there and that can be both inspirational and overwhelming. Mistakes and accidents can lead to amazing finds! They can also lead to complete crop failure! Experimentation and observation will help you learn fast, but staying organized and keeping good notes will help you retain what you learn. Get to know a few plants well before you branch out. If you are looking to get into seeds professionally, find a mentor to take you under their wing. [If you're operating a new farm and looking for guidance to grow your business check out The Young Agrarians B.C. Business Mentorship Network which pairs new and seasoned farmers together]
How has COVID-19 affected the work you do? Have you had to make any interesting changes to your farm or business as a result? What have you learned from it?
Covid-19 definitely came with the one positive note that gardening, farming and food security in general have been boosted in the public consciousness. Besides that, to be honest it has been a lot of tough changes: drafting safety plans, cancelling programming, changing sales outlets and just feeling removed from the once tight-knit farm community.
Learn more about the farmers who grow your seeds through the interviews in this series.
Interested to see how COVID has affected local seed farmers? Read our Farming in the Face of COVID-19 series here.