by Jo Barnes –
Many years ago living on the Saanich Peninsula required people to draw their sustenance directly from the land upon which they lived. While most of us today rely on grocery stores, markets, or at best tend to backyard gardens, there are still those in our community for whom living off the land is a way of life.
This is the first in a Seaside Magazine series featuring local community members who all share the same passion for the land and love of what they do.
She was born on an acreage and has a corporate finance degree, but her heart lies with the animals and plants around her. You can take the girl out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl.
Born and raised in the Cowichan Valley, Brea Segger, co-owner of Ravenhill Herb Farm in Saanichton, is quite simply living her dream of caring for the land she lives on, growing food organically and sharing sustainable living with the greater community.
“I’m literally one of those people who wake up every morning and say ‘wow, I’m so fortunate to be here!’ Yes I’m living my dream,” shares Brea.
After working many years as a business and organizational manager handling mergers and acquisitions, Brea moved from Vancouver back to the Island where she met her now-husband Todd Howard. Together, and with another partner, they built Pacific Rim College which offers education in holistic medicine and sustainable living. Brea became Director of Operations and went on to create the Holistic Doula Certificate Program, but her love of nature and childhood dream of farming continued to call. After the birth of her children, she began to listen to that inner voice.
“I asked myself: ‘What do I want to do?’ I wanted to grow food and have animals,” she shares.
In 2014 the couple had been entertaining the idea of buying property when one of the college instructors told them about a farm for sale, called Ravenhill, situated off Mount Newton Cross Road. Even before she saw it, Brea had a strong hunch it was the kind of property she’d always envisioned would be her home.
“As she was describing it, I said ‘that’s the place!’” says Brea. “The property called to me. I knew I had to be here.”
By the end of that year the couple had purchased the property. Nestled among tall Douglas firs and copper beech, Ravenhill Herb farm is 10 acres of stunning natural beauty overlooking the Saanich Inlet. It’s here that Brea and Todd grow herbs, vegetables and fruit, raise chickens and goats, and offer sustainable farming programs to schools and public tours. The farm also serves as one of two campuses for the College’s Permaculture Design Program. It’s daily work that involves much detail, but that comes naturally to Brea.
“I have spatial awareness; I can see the big picture and put it into small details.”
Ravenhill is a quiet retreat where often the loudest sound emanates from a farmyard chicken or a raven calling out high above the trees. The winding entrance leads into a West Coast woodland site which boasts a 106-year-old farmhouse; onsite pond; outbuildings for animals, storage, and plant culture; and a vegetable and herb garden where Brea is in her element.
“For me it’s so fun. At first, it’s the seed sprouts, and I’m so excited. I talk to these like they’re my children!”
Herbs are sold from the onsite farm stand, through website order, and used in the medicinal pharmacy at Pacific Rim. Produce from the veggie and herb garden and eggs from the chickens are harvested and used to provide daily food for the family.
“I really love that we have so many food options here. We’re in this very productive West Coast Vancouver Island area where we can actually have food all year around.”
It’s a lifestyle linked to the land. For Brea, it’s important to pass along to the next generation the importance of our relationship to environment. Her own children, Ela and Oliver, are growing up in a setting where daily they can roam and connect intimately with their natural surroundings.
“We raise them to appreciate nature. When kids understand the intricacies of nature and how that relates to our life and how we’re not separate, that is important to me,” says Brea. “My grandparents’ generation had the skills of growing food, raising chickens and sewing or knitting your own clothing. A lot of these skills have been lost and not passed down. Bringing these skills back is really part of the food security movement.”
Living off the land ultimately means giving back to it. It takes time, energy, learning and commitment but in the end, it brings the joy of harvest. And for this woman, it means coming home, finding your roots and your place in the world.