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 markets and 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 seventh in a Seaside series featuring local community members who all share the same passion for the land and love of what they do.
Success in farming depends on the right degree of temperature, effort and patience. But for one local farmer you can add in a degree in science! Dan Ireland, co-owner of Saanichton’s Ireland Farms, producer of natural free-range meats, completed his Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Animal Science.
“I wanted to go into veterinary medicine, so that’s where I started. I went to UBC where I met my wife Jean. I have my degree in Agriculture and so does she, but her specialty is Food Science. So the two go very hand in hand,” shares Dan.
The Ireland’s 15-acre farm off Meadowbank Road, which boasts green fields, garden, homestead and outbuildings, is a model of care and organization. “I’m pretty meticulous,” says Dan. “I love farming; I love it. Here we take pride in whatever we do.”
Ireland Farms produces naturally raised free-range meats including beef, lamb, pork, chickens and turkeys. “We have 20 head of beef. They’re Limousin which is a docile breed,” says Dan, adding with a grin and a nod to his own ginger curls: “I chose them for their red hair. It’s like mine.”
This is a farmer who is in his element and has his pulse on the details of the farm operation. From the choice of livestock breeds, the placement of feeding structures, the kind of feed, right down to key details like the temperature of the brooder that houses the baby turkeys, there’s evidence of an in-depth knowledge of animal farm management and livestock production. It’s all a science and Dan understands it well.
While Dan wasn’t raised on a farm, his interest and love of farming goes way back. He started at age 12 with Pendray Farms in the Blenkinsop Valley and his grandparents operated several farms.
“They were here in the early 1900s and first farmed Sidney Island,” says Dan. “They moved to an area called the Uplands Farms (adjacent to Uplands Golf Club), then they relocated to Turner Farm on Sayward Road and that’s the present day Cordova Bay Golf Course. They had 450 acres of farmland there and raised all kinds of livestock.”
As a child, Dan spent many hours at his grandparents’ farm and those early experiences had a positive impact. His career in agriculture is diverse, including running a beef ranch in Armstrong, running a breeding program raising 100,000 pigs a year for U.S. multi-national Cargill Ltd., and serving as a marketing specialist for the provincial Ministry of Agriculture. He coordinated an agriculture program for BC Expo, set up regulations for game farming, and worked on the original Buy BC program. Eventually, however, his energy and thinking turned towards his own Saanichton farm operation.
“I was at the Ministry of Agriculture for a long time. We decided we wanted to raise our own food because we knew all about growth hormones, additives and antibiotics in animals. We started raising our own animals, and it just built up from there to the point that, you know, we’re one of the largest small-scale farms on the Island,” shares Dan.
Success has meant hard work, dedication and a solid farming ethic, part of which includes maintaining a low carbon footprint. “We compost a lot and recycle everything that can be recycled,” says Dan, “We see tons of garbage and recycling cans outside of people’s houses; we’ve got one or two little boxes. That’s the only way I can measure what we’re doing.”
The farm is a bustling operation. Most of the production occurs in the spring. Customers on the central mailing list send in their orders regularly. “We receive several hundred order forms. We started the system 30 years ago. We have an old-fashioned system, but it works,” says Dan.
A significant part of the business is turkey sales at Thanksgiving and during the Christmas season. Retailers that specialize in his naturally raised free-range meats are integral to moving the high volume.
“All of our sales have always been word of mouth. We have select specialty butcher stores that sell our turkeys for us, because it’s just that overwhelming when you’ve 3,500 to sell,” says Dan.
And there’s no shortage of rave reviews.
“We have emails that come in thanking us for what we’re doing,” shares Dan. “Our customers give me the greatest praise. They bring bottles of wine, chocolates, or flowers in recognition and gratitude for the fact we’re raising the food that they want. And I think there’s no greater pat on my back.”
A love of farming, care and understanding of animals, and drive to give the best to customers; at Ireland Farms, they’ve got it down to a science.
Photo by Nunn Other Photography