LIVING OFF THE LAND – Rosemeade Farms: A Heritage Harvest

by Jo Barnes | photos by Amanda Cribdon Photography –

Some farms feature modern, state-of-the-art equipment. This local farm takes pride in the past, including the daily use of a 75-year-old tractor! Situated off Meadowbank Road in Central Saanich, Rosemeade Farms, owned by R. Norman (Norrie) and Rose Spencer, is a picturesque property where heritage is celebrated, from heirloom fruit crops to restored classic vehicles.

“We do our share of recycling and reusing. Our farm tractor is a 1946 Ferguson from England. I’ve always done all the repairs,” shares Norrie. “We transported produce to the Saanich Fair and Saturday Market for years in our 1932 Ford pickup.”

The 152-year-old agricultural fair holds significant meaning for the couple. For five years, Rose ran the Tea Garden at the fair, serving tea and pie to the public. In 2017 the couple, who recently celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary, were made Honorary Members of the North and South Saanich Agricultural Society that organizes the Saanich Fair.

The Spencers have had a long family history of farming and building on Vancouver Island.

“My grandfather, from Devon England, had a homestead at McCoy Lake in the Alberni Valley around 1894. He then moved to Alberni in 1902 where he had a mixed farm,” shares Norrie. “My dad was in construction.”

Rosemeade Farms is the result of years of planning, hard work and vision. “It has been a place of opportunity,” comments Rose.

The couple purchased the land, which was just vacant acreage at the time, in 1987. The land was cleared and work began on the family home, which Norrie designed. A teacher in woodworking and electronics at Claremont School at that time, he understood his way around tools and building techniques. A large detached carriage house was added as well as the creation of a beautiful man-made pond which became known as “Lake Rosemeade.”

Chosen for its good, well-drained soil, the property was enhanced with the planting of east coast oak and maple trees. Fields were prepared and strawberries were planted. Like so many things on this farm, this crop selection was done with a nod to the past.

“My dad grew strawberries on the Elk Lake Ridge,” notes Norrie.

Over time, other crops were added including raspberry, thornless blackberry, honey berry, marion berry, tayberry, sweet green and pinot noir grapes, sour cherry, rhubarb, apples, plums and pears. Some came from seedling stock from much earlier generations.

“We have Cascade berries. They were developed in the 1940s at the Saanichton Centre for Plant Health,” says Norrie.

As well as the home and produce areas, outbuildings were added including heated garages. These were not your typical one- or two-car garages, but instead they were extensive structures for up to seven vehicles as well as shop space. And of course, these buildings were designed for the purpose of preserving the past as they are used to store and restore Norrie’s classic cars. He is a long-time car enthusiast, another interest shared in the family line.

“My cousin Doane Spencer got me into it all,” comments Norrie, adding with a smile: “It’s a hobby gone wild.”

As well as restoring his award-winning 1932 Ford cabriolet, he has lovingly maintained a 1932 Ford Model P BU and 1931 Ford AA Truck. An interest in cars and preserving them has meant developing new skills and new connections with others through membership in clubs like the Vintage Car Club of Canada and the Early Ford V8 Club. Norrie and

Rose have hosted many club picnics and also other events on their property like weddings and social gatherings.

With the 2021 season upon us, 2,000 strawberry plants have been planted and, as in previous years, it will be U-Pick service once again. Customers bring their own containers and pick the berries but, in keeping with Covid regulations, groups are limited to smaller numbers. For detailed information, the public can visit
www.rosemeadefarms.com.

“It’s cash only. People need to phone ahead,” says Norrie. “We have small groups so we can safely isolate people.”

As well as its fields where the berry vines grow, the 4.75-acre property boasts tall trees, grassy lawns, beautiful winding paths and of course Lake Rosemeade, featuring fountains and a covered bridge. The description on the farm website –

“A Nice Place to Pick” – couldn’t be more accurate.

“There are lawn areas, a lake and picnic tables, and there’s lot of space for parking. Customers like that they can bring their kids,” says Norrie.

Adds Rose: “It is a nice place to pick berries.”

Many have come to the farm for just that: a box of delicious berries. Others have held celebrations there to mark milestone moments in their lives. Rosemeade Farms stands as an example of a place where heritage is honoured and where the owners have forged enduring community connections.

 

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