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 fourth in a Seaside series featuring local community members who all share the same passion for the land and love of what they do.
On a warm sunny day, there’s nothing more delightful than puttering around in your backyard garden.
Evelyn Marsh feels the same way, except her backyard garden is two acres in size.
… that’s a lot of puttering!
When Evelyn, owner of Marsh Farm, a U-Pick farm in Central Saanich, became an empty-nester, she decided to carry on in the footsteps of her grandmother and start a vegetable garden. It was a decision that would impact not only her life but the larger community around her.
“When the children grew up it became really boring not having them around running and playing. So I said to myself: “I’m not going to be one to sit around and watch the cars go by. I don’t quilt, I don’t sew, I don’t knit, so I’ll do what my grandmother did: I’ll grow a garden,” shares Evelyn.
What began as a small area producing enough veggies to stock a couple of picnic coolers is now a garden that produces a dizzying diversity of vegetables, fruit and herbs. Visitors of all ages arrive to pick their favourite foods, but it’s the little ones that hold a special place in Evelyn’s heart. She’s not only passionate about tending a garden of vegetables, but caring for the next generation of gardeners too.
“If you get good food when you’re young, your bones grow well, your heart is strong. Children are healthier,” she says. “We started the U-Pick, and it’s so wonderful you know to see the little children coming and running through and picking their own greens. It’s a fulfilling thing.”
Evelyn’s love of children goes way back. She and her husband raised nine of them, many of them foster children. And, her interest and care for young ones continues even now. She grows blackberries that are thornless, so that young pickers don’t prick their tiny fingers, and makes each young one feel welcome in her garden.
“Visitors come and they park. The little kids carry baskets. I usually have little
toys like windmills or bubbles that
they can play with while mom and dad shop,” says Evelyn.
The kindness and care she extends to young people is often returned. Sometimes they engage in the work of the farm like members of the Saanich Peninsula U11 basketball team “The Grind” who recently helped with weeding crops.
The farm also provides a place for the not-so-young to enjoy the bounty of nature, fresh air, friends and community connections.
“I do it for the young and the old. The older folks, they used to have gardens, and now they’re in wheelchairs or nursing homes or assisted living where there are no gardens,” she shares. “They can come here and wheel around and pick berries. It brings back memories.”
No matter the age, though, visitors are bound to find their favourite produce at Evelyn’s farm because the selection is astounding. Just name the vegetable, fruit, or herb, and you’ll likely find it here, including rare ones like the marion berry. One customer travels from the mainland every year just for this item alone! Produce is grown in raised beds of sea soil and everything is done organically.
“It’s all contained in beds. I don’t want to lose the sea soil to the earth. We use organic cow manure and kelp-only fertilizer. Grandma did it; we don’t need anything else,” she shares.
Evelyn has always been keen to grow healthy foods and share them with others, but the current spotlight on sustainability and the local food movement has got her thinking about larger issues a little more every day.
“If we get to the point that we don’t have people growing the food locally, we’re going to be in a little bit of a problem. Where is it going to come from? When people come here and pick a strawberry, it’s fresh, it’s local. They see what a vegetable looks like without a cellophane bag around it,” she says.
Evelyn’s garden is a fair size, so she putters around it in a golf cart. She’s just as passionate about her seeds, soil and sunshine, but as the days wear on, she’s looking to the future. As far as what this means, well, in Evelyn’s own words:
“I’m hoping at some point we have a community garden here. Instead of me doing it, everyone can do their own. I just want it to continue, I want everyone to continue growing locally and people buying local.”
Photo by Nunn Other Photography