by Emily Olsen –
On a second tour of Haliburton Farm with EcoFarm School Instructors Elmarie Roberts and Rhona McAdam, I decide to bring my nine-year-old son Silas along with me. Enamoured by my first visit, led by Haliburton Community Organic Farm Society (HCOFS) member and EcoFarm School Coordinator Ann Eastman, I want my son to experience this place. Ann admits: “People want to grow food, to farm, but are so disconnected from our food systems, they just don’t know where to begin. Generations of sustainable food growing knowledge are disappearing.” I really don’t want this to be the narrative for the next generation, so I want to expose my children to something more. I feel this is the place.
A narrow wood-chip trail runs through the exquisite farm, a path navigating through diverse native plant species, organic fruits and vegetables, flowers and foliage. Friendly farmers crouch among rows of lettuce or chard and lend a smile that comes easy amidst the hard work of weeding and the midday’s harvest. My son is impressed with the height of the sunflowers and can’t believe how many bees there are.
“Look, a frog,” Elmarie points out to Silas. “If you head over to the rockpile by the trees back there, you’re sure to find a lizard or two.”
There are many inhabitants, structures and dwellings in this incredible ecosystem; a hawk has found its way into one of the greenhouses, likely hunting a small creature. Barn swallow bird boxes, bat houses, native bee cavities and luscious hedgerow (including my favourite Nootka rose bush) are all part of the healthy biodiversity at Haliburton.
Haliburton Community Organic Farm, located just off the Pat Bay Highway, sits on land purchased by the District of Saanich in 2002 after proposal by a developer to remove it from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) for residential development. HCOFS was formed as a result of community members and concerned citizens wishing to preserve the ALR land with a vision to “be a leading model of community-supported, small-scale sustainable organic agriculture carried out in harmony with local ecosystems.”
Since the District of Saanich took ownership, HCOFS leases the land to provide active urban farming; ecosystem rehabilitation/restoration and organic agriculture tours. There are six businesses on the farm currently that supply food for the Food Box program on site, Farm Markets in Greater Victoria, and the Haliburton Farm Stand, while growing their business and working in a collaborative and cooperative environment to advance their skill sets and knowledge in small-scale agriculture.
Home to a farmhouse with classroom space and a near-complete industrial kitchen, the most recent addition to the farm is the EcoFarm School: Farming, Nutrition & Biodiversity offered by HCOFS in partnership with Royal Roads University. Developed with funding from the Victoria Foundation and Vancity, this school aims to teach students organic farming, encompassing practical hands-on teaching and classroom study inclusive of methodology, business, holistic nutrition, biodiversity and ecosystem restoration.
I stand before the Garry Oak Meadow learning about the camas harvest and the history of the volunteer efforts to revitalize the wetland marsh. I understand the importance and significance of what is being done here and why it is evolving the way it is. The school is a natural progression; this must be taught, and learned and shared.
Elmarie reflects on the idea “EcoFarming is one option to all-round well being.” True Eco Farming ensures space for everyone and everything. “Haliburton Farm is a model of sustainable, small-scale, certified organic farming in harmony with the surrounding ecosystem. Our living spaces could do well with more farms such as these that have stood the test of time. It is truly a model for others to mimic,” she concludes. With the wealth of knowledge from the members, instructors and experienced farmers, the EcoFarm School will provide valuable tools to those students and ultimately support the success of local Food Security, for everyone, my child included.
Four upcoming sessions run Fall 2017, Winter 2018, Spring 2018 and Summer 2018 with spots still available for the Fall 2017 classes.
For more information about the EcoFarm School or to register visit https://secure.royalroads.ca/cscourses/ecofarm-fall-fundamentals. To discover Haliburton Community Organic Farm for yourself and book a tour, visit https://haliburtonfarm.org.