by Jo Barnes | photo by Amanda Cribdon Photography –
Music. True proficiency requires hard work, perfecting your techniques, and developing a deep understanding of what you are doing. Surprisingly, all of this can be applied to farming.
And, when you have both in your background, it’s a harmonious blend of skills and results.
Overlooking the waters of Elk Lake, picturesque Star Hill Farm was established by Teresa and her late husband Bernard Turgeon. But they brought more to farming than their love of land, because both were well known in the Canadian opera scene.
“My husband Bernard had a 50+ year career as a prominent Canadian opera singer,” shares Teresa. “I am a pianist and master vocal coach.”
The name of the farm takes its origins from life and home. As Teresa succinctly puts it: “My husband was a star, and we live on a hill.”
The “star” refers to Bernard and his prodigious international talent. “He performed in many places. In 1967 he originated the title role in Louis Riel with the Canadian Opera Company to celebrate the centennial of Canada,” says Teresa.
The “hill” refers to the farm’s hill location above Elk Lake. The property features old growth fir and maple trees and two large fields which yield the main crop of this farm: asparagus. From the moment you come through the main gate, you are embraced by tranquility. Save a few birdsongs or the occasional clip-clop of horse’s hooves passing by the main roadway, it is quiet.
“We bought the land in 1978. We were immediately taken in by its beauty,” shares Teresa.
At this time, the couple were heavily involved in music, Bernard developing the opera and voice programs at UVic and Teresa busy teaching music. During the 1980s and 90s, Bernard performed in many Pacific Opera productions, and in 1989 served as Director of Opera McGill University. Teresa worked as a coach and accompanist there and in the community. The couple resettled to the West Coast by 2000 and began thinking about farming options on their land.
“We started with asparagus and walnut trees,” says Teresa.
After discovering that the young walnut tree’s roots were rotting due to the lower field proximity to the lake perimeter, Bernard and Teresa opted to grow asparagus exclusively. This type of farming also allowed them to continue their musical pursuits.
“It fit with our teaching lifestyle and worked well for two people,” shares Teresa.
Like learning anything new, asparagus cultivation had its challenges. “We learned by doing a lot of research!” says Teresa with a big smile.
After Bernard passed away in 2016, Teresa has continued to run the farm. While she doesn’t come from a farming background, Teresa is an avid gardener, an activity which has come to take up more of her time and interest over the years.
“I am passionate about gardening since moving here,” she comments. “It’s a gorgeous area. It is idyllic.”
Here asparagus flourish, often reaching eight to nine feet high. Teresa is a dedicated vegetable grower and takes an organic approach. Manure is used to enhance soil quality and barley straw is used to help keep down weeds and serve as mulch. Using fertilizers like kelp meal, seaweed spray and alfalfa pellets and an annual regimen of care are done to bring out the best in crops.
“I fertilize the tops in the spring, then in the fall, for the roots and integrity of the stalk,” says Teresa.
The asparagus harvest season, once in full swing, demands Teresa’s full attention every day. Typically it begins in late April and runs through the month of June. It requires cutting off the spears from the stems, which is labour intensive.
“All day you spend cutting,” shares Teresa. “It’s the same thing you do steady for two months.”
Farming this type of vegetable is ideal for this female farmer who says:
“It suits me perfectly. I have one main season and then the rest of the time I can tend my garden.”
As with her work as a voice coach or pianist, attention to detail and hard work reaps rewards. Teresa sells her asparagus at Dan’s Farm and The Local General Store. Customers attest to its quality.
“Clients really like the asparagus. It is well received,” comments Teresa. “They are very happy to have fresh picked homegrown asparagus.”
For Teresa, it is satisfying to know the fruits of her labour are appreciated. The opportunity to farm and give happiness to others enriches her life.
“To be on Vancouver Island and working a farm, I feel very blessed,” says Teresa.
Like many on the Saanich Peninsula who tend the land with care and enrich the community around them, this female farmer is no exception. But in this case, a contribution to the musical community and the yield of excellent asparagus makes the harvest a double one.