2018: Year One in Review
The holiday season has been a time for reflection, as part of a cooperative process of planning for 2019! We can't possibly move forward into year 2 without acknowledging all that was accomplished in our first year of farming this land. So if you're looking for a read... curl up with your coffee, favourite beer or glass of vino, and relax as we share some of the highlights of the Happy Hills Farm kick-off year.
It's crazy for us to think back to this time last year, when we knew that we had a large empty field waiting for us under a hundred feet of snow (that little did we know at the time would persist into MAY!). We can remember the feeling of anticipation that was building as the Spring (slow...ly) crawled closer. Not to mention the nerves. Would Rossland accept our new farm? Would we grow enough food? Could we ACTUALLY do this? How would our kids take to long farm days? There were so many questions. And so few answers.
Fast forward for just a moment to the end of October, just a few short months ago.... and it's just as crazy to think that in 5.5 short months we built nearly 70 fifty foot beds; one greenhouse that has weathered the winter like a champ; a chicken brooder; the start to our farm stand; two rabbit hutches; and a perimeter fence around the garden that withstood all the wildlife we were so nervous about..... to name a few things :). I honestly don't think we truly believed we could make that much progress in one short summer. Especially with three kids in tow, who - let's give credit where credit's due - adapted to farm life like the true superstars they are.
We are proud of ourselves, its true, but we're so focused and determined to do even more that there is no time to dwell on that right now!
Although we do feel that 2018 was a successful first year, there are definitely a few things that created hiccups along the way. The first thing, as mentioned above, was the snow. Remember the spring time? When the snow just wouldn't go away? We had snow on the fields literally until May - the longest we have ever seen snow last in our 6 years here in Rossland. We chuckled at the time, thinking "of course, in our first year farming...." and we avoided discussing how much time we were losing on starting our crops.....! And, of course, we can't forget to mention that when all this snow did decide to melt, we had our own farm version of the Columbia River running through the upper fields to deal with! (This water is actually a good thing, though. We had so much ground water in the early season we had to irrigate less (but the beans were angry, as you all know), and, now that we have a better idea of how the water naturally flows, we can use it to our benefit by building trenches to control it....and eventually we'll build ponds to collect the water and store for future use...)
Most of our followers know that we don't have a big tractor. And, we don't plan (at this time) on bringing one into our fields. We use a walk-behind BCS tractor (think:: snowblower, but for dirt + fields) to initially till up our dense pasture. From that point, we work by hand. We carefully work section by section to remove all grass, weeds and rocks from each block. We then shape and build the beds, after precisely measuring and staking them out. Each block has ten 30"x50' beds. This might sound easier than it actually is - we're not working with flat terrain here folks, so not only are we building and shaping our blocks, we're also creating a tier system that keeps each bed as level as possible. It's fun, challenging and some of the most labour intensive work we (ok - maybe not Dan) have ever done. And it's worth every minute. We're preserving the integrity of the soil and existing biological systems we are starting with, and that's important to us and the future of the food we are growing here. But - it was time consuming to do this, and made our late start to the growing season even later.
It's important to acknowledge at this point.... just how much help we had with the initial, seemingly never-ending, task of building our first blocks. We had multiple volunteer work parties, and some truly dedicated folks come out day after day to help us dig, sift, haul rocks, measure, dig some more and eventually shape and prep our beds for planting. You folks know who you are - and if you happen to be reading this - I hope you know that we will be eternally grateful for the time and effort you put in at the farm. We won't ever forget your generosity.... and the fun we had with you! And of course... those superstar kids of ours! They did not hesitate to get their hands dirty, to pick up a shovel or bucket, or to grab the stakes and tape measure to help out however they could. It's a pure joy to have the opportunity to build this farm with our kids, and let it be known that they are just as much a part of this team as Dan and I are <3.
I think the next thing worth mentioning, that was a major accomplishment for us, was our fence! Phew! Dan and Andre (our dear friend and awesome farm hand) spent a lot of time building each post with upcycled wood, and then with the help of new friends who stayed with us for a few weeks and helped at the farm, each of these posts was placed around the garden in hand-dug holes that were 3 feet deep. I think we have about 130 posts! Then of course Dan built and installed gates, added the wire fencing, the rope at the top and finally the electric wires. It was a feat! And it worked. The unwanted animals stay out.... and the wanted animals stay in. Well, sometimes. What can we say? Our chickens are friendly and love to come out and play, haha!
I know Dan was super proud to get our greenhouse up! You should see him now :)!! The beauty is still standing strong, despite the snow! You know what that means, right? We CAN (and will!!) grow food here through the winter, friends! We picked up an old wood stove that we're installing right now, and we're seeding our cold greens to plant out at the end of January. Day light hours move back in our favour starting February 12, and if all goes according to plan (ha!) we'll have fresh garden greens for you starting as early as the February indoor farmers' market. Yeah! Here are some photos of the greenhouse build:
So for those who are wondering..... yes we do plan to build greenhouse #2 this year! Some of you saw our expansion in the works during the Fall, and we'll have it well underway once the snow melts. We're adding on just outside the existing fence, and have tilled up enough land for the next greenhouse (100' this time!) and another block of beds. Our 2019 infrastructure expansion will also include our (proper) farm stand (yes!!) and a new wash and pack station behind the farm stand.
Another pretty exciting accomplishment for us in 2018, was the investment into our new grow room! We're currently using this for our winter microgreen production, but it will also come into play as we start all of our seedlings for 2019. We source all of our seed carefully (certified organic, and as local as possible, when possible) and we prefer to start our own plants rather than purchase seedlings from outside sources. At this point its too tricky (and expensive) for us to have our grow room at the farm, because we have no electricity there. But, it is good to have goals, and you guys know we have a few (!!), so its not too surprising probably to hear that our end goal is to have a solar system setup on the farm for us to power certain things. Like a big beautiful grow room!
I feel as though I could go on and on about all the great things that happened this year, but I think I'll finish with a picture story, instead. Mostly because its hard to capture everything in words..... especially the emotion contained in all of the following photos.
But - I will mention one more thing. From the get go, one of our biggest passions and main goals with growing food and building our farm, is to inspire people (of ALL ages) to become engaged with the food on their plates. And that to us, continues to be our single proudest accomplishment. If we can help and encourage people - kids, adults, our community - to think more about what they are eating and why; to LOVE the food that they choose to eat; and to become inspired and passionate about choosing local food and/or growing a bit of their own - than we are reaching our #1 goal. And that alone makes us SO happy and drives us to jump right back in head first for another year.
Thank you so much for reading, and for supporting Dan and I, our farm-ily, and our crazy beautiful dream. Please drop a comment and let us know what you think! Or what your favourite part of our first year was - was it a certain crop? was it visiting the farm stand on the weekends? was it volunteering with us? was it stocking up each week at the farmers' market? We'd love to hear your feedback!
Happy New Years to each and every one of you! May 2019 be filled with an abundance of love, laughter and good food!!
Miche, Dan, Calla, Mica and Cedar..... the faces behind Happy Hills Farm
Some of our favourite moments below. Our farm day with the One Tree Adventures crew; our first farm tour (Golden City Days weekend); vending at the market; our weekend farm stand; tiny people on the farm getting their hands dirty; the smiling dirty faces of our kids..... :).