With a little nurturing, agriculture in the Basin is steadily growing
By mid-June, vibrant green Simpson and Red Sails lettuce are ready to pick at Cranbrook’s 3 Crows Farm, with Salanova and Romaine coming along soon. These are some of the Columbia Basin-grown greens, grains, meats and more that fill farmers’ markets, supply restaurants, feed residents, attract visitors and provide a living to about 1,160 farmers.
Spread between 884 farms, the Basin boasted 104,710 hectares of agricultural land in 2016—about 4.7 per cent of such land in the province. Much of this is dedicated to alfalfa, while smaller portions produce hay and fodder crops, barley, fruit and berries, oats, corn and mixed grains. In the livestock industry, cattle and chickens dominate.
Although the period from 2001 to 2016 saw a decline of 15 per cent in the number of farms in the Basin—particularly those that raise cattle and chickens—the number of farmers growing vegetables increased by almost 50 per cent. This lead to a 27 per cent jump in vegetable production, while the area used to cultivate fruit and berries doubled in size.
Residents want to see a resilient and vibrant agriculture sector in the region, with access to Basin products. Columbia Basin Trust is committed to supporting this, whether this means providing technical resources to help farms become more productive and more profitable, providing agriculture-specific business development advice, improving access to markets, or helping a farm search out the financial help it needs.
On the following pages, read about a couple of farms that make our area proud.
Multiple plots for multiple benefits
Teamwork is key for 3 Crows Farm owners Christian Kimber and Michael Stevens, who combine urban and rural farming, sharing resources, skills and land to obtain the best from all scenarios.
Kimber, for example, gets two additional weeks in spring and fall on his urban plots in Cranbrook that Stevens doesn’t get on his parcel about 10 minutes outside of the city. Urban gardens, on Kimber’s property and yards borrowed from neighbours, also provide vital microclimates.
“If I’ve got a pest issue in one, I can grow arugula in another one and the pest simply won’t be there,” Kimber says. “I get less wind, less frost, less hail—I get more deer than Michael, though, in a funny twist of fate.”
After living on all three coasts, Kimber moved to Cranbrook 10 years ago, thinking small-plot intensive farming could work well. Stevens was already growing his own food when the duo joined forces. They regularly sell out at the Fernie and Cranbrook farmers’ markets, and supply 10 restaurants, with Kimber delivering by bicycle.
They grow lettuce mixes, squash, garlic and microgreens. Modest indoor operations extend the growing season, but capital to expand operations is limited. The farm could also benefit from access to irrigation consultation, soil and water testing, and rentable equipment for small beds.
Even so, their unconventional farming method has proven its worth. “We’re getting five times the amount of produce in a square foot than conventional farming,” says Kimber. “Our alliance as farmers allows us to have diversity.”
Living the dream
Farming skipped her mom’s generation, but Angela Weir happily rejoined the fold when she and Gord Spankie started Crooked Horn Farm eight years ago.
“We can’t really pinpoint it, but we both kind of always wanted to be farmers, in our hearts or in the back of our minds, as young people,” she says. “We needed to do something really positive with our life and our work.”
She worked in restaurants and he was a painter in Vancouver, where they were backyard and community gardeners. They eventually relocated to the Slocan Valley after a “fairly randomly chosen trip” with friends.
“We wanted to move to a community that valued organic food, rather than having to educate people about organics.”
Now they harvest 0.6 hectares of vegetables and salad mix, selling at the Nelson farmers’ market and to restaurants, stores and producers. They have summer help, but the couple does most of the farming and marketing, leaving little time to research challenges.
“Because we’re right off the river, there have been some interesting deposits of soil over the years. We go from very light and sandy on one side to heavy clay muck on the other, and everything in between.”
There’s no doubt in Weir’s mind, though, that they were meant to farm.
“Farming felt like a really immediate and natural thing for us to move toward.”