Hello! My name’s Eugénie. I’m a photographer from Portland, Ore., currently on the road in the great Northwest. I’ve just wrapped an artist’s residency at the Tofino Botanical Gardens, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and am now heading to Alaska by way of British Columbia’s mainland and the Yukon. I’ll be checking out farm life along the way, traveling in my truck, and having deep conversations with Tilly, my pup and trusty co-pilot (shown above ignoring me, as usual).
This is what I saw during the second leg of my trip in Pemberton, British Columbia. Check back next week, where I’ll be showing the next installment of photos from my road trip here on Modern Farmer. And you can see every part of my journey here.
In the Valley of the Spud
Welcome to Pemberton! Or Spud Valley, as it’s known in certain circles. Potatoes have populated this place for decades, and in more recent times organic farmers and outdoor athletes have moved in too. Nestled in the Coast-Interior transition zone just north of Whistler, the Pemberton Valley is like somebody’s dream girl: breathtaking and fertile. Just don’t bring in potatoes, as the ones around here are pretty squeaky clean thanks to the valley’s isolation, and they’d like to keep it that way.
2 Generations, 600 Acres and 3 Enterprises
Here’s one way the farming looks around here: Head out to the very end of Pemberton Meadows Road, and you’ll find the Kuurne family farm, owned and operated by two generations, working 600 acres, in three separate enterprises: seed potatoes, the Pemberton Meadows Natural Beef program and Camelsback Harvest. Camelsback, which offers U-pick organic strawberries, market vegetables and pork, is run by the daughter Carrie and her husband Rémy, both of whom left their city life as engineers in Ottawa three years ago to move back to the land. The family setup is complex, but its diversity keeps the large farm resilient.
From City Life to Country Life
The day is a scorcher, and it’s been dry for a while. Everyone’s baling their hay. Rémy surveys the progress, and talks about what it’s like to transition from city life to a farm. In short: never dull, no free time, and they eat really well.
Here’s another way it looks: Mid-valley, Rootdown Organic Farm, a two-acre Salmon Safe mixed vegetable CSA and pig share that was started by two young women who met at the UBC Farm, in the Sowing Seeds farming apprenticeship program. Salmon Safe means the farm is working to protect water quality and native salmon, a certification system that spans the west coast from northern California to this part of BC. The mighty Lillooet River cuts down the valley, which is also criss-crossed with creeks. There are surely plenty of salmon that are grateful for Rootdown’s efforts.
The farmers of Rootdown run a tight ship. The property is all straight lines and bounty. Fun to explore.
Owner Sarah McMillan harvests and chucks zucchinis under the blazing sun. Everywhere, everyone is hot.
Even the chickens are roasting. This one tries to make a run for it.
The pigs, a cross of Tamworth and Berkshires, put on a good show, barreling out from under their shaded pen to flash mob the food tubs and mud puddles. Along with the chickens, they are rotated through Rootdown’s fields for the mutual benefit of animal and soil.
A Farmer in the Legislative Assembly
But good God this heat. Get me out of the truck. Who knew that an oversized farm girl with water misting out of her head and hands would ever be such a welcome sight. Smart move from North Arm Farm, an organic U-pick berry operation and farm stand that is owned by Pemberton’s former mayor, Jordan Sturdy. Sturdy is now the MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) for the West Vancouver/Sea-to-Sky region, which tells you something about the regard for farmers around here.
Staying to Raise a Family
And finally it can look like this: at the very beginning of Pemberton Meadows Road, abundant food for a single home. I drop in on my friends Naheed and Robbie, locals who were first drawn to the valley for the outdoor play, and have stayed to raise a family. Last year they finished building their new house, a clean, open design that is a modern twist on the valley’s traditional farmhouse. Two thousand square feet of south-facing terraced vegetable beds sit just outside the back door, complete with large stone retaining walls designed to capture and hold the sun’s heat, insulating the soil. The design clearly works, as her tomatoes are going bazonkers.
An Energy-Efficient Farmhouse
Naheed’s taking a break from her career as a designer and athlete in the ski industry to focus on home, her two young kids and growing and preserving the bulk of the family’s food. On the inside, the house is a model for energy efficiency: achieving the same effect as the garden, south facing windows soak up the light, while the concrete floors insulate, keeping the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Temperature regulation through your feet, Robbie calls it.
A master gardener and a master chef, tonight’s no exception for Naheed, who whips up a salad of beets over a bed of kale, mint and peas. We sit out back, guzzling wine, reminiscing, looking down on the garden where our meal just grew. It’s late but still light out. Finally, everything’s cool.
The Interior and Northern British Columbia