Living Off the Land – Hidden Track Farm: Keeping Farming Dreams on Track

by Jo Barnes | photo by Kathryn Alvarez Photography – 

They had a dream about having a farm. But while keeping their dreams on track, they had no idea it would include actual tracks … of more than one kind!

Chad Pacholik and Erica Letchford, of Hidden Track Farm, began with a farm on Oldfield Road which was beside abandoned train tracks, and then moved to their present location in North Saanich, which is adjacent to another well-known track, the old Sandown Harness Raceway.

“The site was home to an equestrian property,” shares Chad.

“It has a 500-metre track which we’ve been told was a warm-up track for Sandown.”

“Our farm name reflects history. Our first farm was on Oldfield Road,” adds Erica. “You could see the original location of the tracks of the Victoria and Sidney Railway right behind our property.”

The current North Saanich farm on John Road is a beautiful 11-acre property which this farming couple is working hard to restore the soil quality and revitalize the land.

“It is a multi-year project to restore and transform this farm,” says Chad. “From the start it needed maintenance and rebuilding. The ground was compacted from years of horse use.”

The couple got their first taste of farming at the former location on Oldfield Road, which had its challenges.

“In 2016 we bought a smaller property on Oldfield Road. It was a mixed farm. We had flowers, chickens and pigs,” comments Erica. “But it was the swampy end of the valley, and it proved to be a challenging site.”

Transforming an 11-acre property into a viable farm is a daunting task, especially since both Chad and Erica work full time at other jobs. Chad is a consultant in disaster risk management and Erica is a project manager in the field of energy efficient buildings. They started the work of establishing the farm with one specific focus.

“It is exciting and overwhelming. This year we are focusing on one acre and growing a variety of flowers such as dahlias, snapdragons, roses and mums,” shares Erica. “We’re working with Island Flower Growers Co-Op which has been a game changer for me.”

Reflecting the name of the farm, their choice of property has brought “hidden” benefits. The historical connection with Sandown Raceway land has found an unforeseen echo with the new Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture, which occupies the rest of the former racetrack land. In their pursuit of farming knowledge and expertise, Chad and Erica have been working closely with the new Sandown Centre for education and support. “We have a great relationship with Sandown Centre,” remarks Chad.

“We leased land there during our transition year between farms to maintain our dahlia tuber stock,” adds Erica. “We were also invited to participate in their Soil Lab. We’re trying to use the natural systems to build and bolster soil.”

As well as flowers, Chad and Erica offer farm fresh pork. Not only do they enjoy raising pigs, but these animals in turn are beneficial for the farmland restoration. “It’s a lot of fun to raise pigs. They have a ton of personality,” notes Chad.

We pastured them under the Garry oak trees this year,” says Erica. “They love to dig and have been incredible in eradicating invasive plants like blackberry bushes.”

In keeping with their goal of rebuilding organic soil material and restoring degraded soil biodiversity, they have found that livestock can play a role in this as well. “We have sheep grazing on the land,” says Chad. “They help to keep the grass down and fertilize the soil.”

The couple are skip-a-generation farmers. Neither was raised on a farm, but they both had grandparents who were farmers.

However, relearning the knowledge possessed by previous generations means using methods other than the traditional ways of having these skills passed down by family members.

“We’re the YouTube generation. We watch videos and follow podcasts,” comments Erica. “We take courses and workshops and find useful books in the library.”

For these enthusiastic farmers, it is incredibly satisfying.

“I like problem solving and coming up with ways to figure out things,” says Chad, adding with a smile: “A farmer needs to be many things like a mechanic, plumber, and carpenter.”

Whether it’s collaborating with Sandown Centre, connecting with customers or chatting with neighbouring farmers, for Chad and Erica, the whole experience is an opportunity. They hope to invite others to recognize the value of local food security and sustainable farming.

“It’s so important to support farms and invest your time and money in the local farm movement,” shares Chad.

It takes hard work, but at this farm, the goals of sustainable farming and ensuring future food security are not hidden at all. Chad and Erica are on track towards their dream.

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