In November 2006, I got involved in a fight to save Formosa Nursery, a forty-six acre organic blueberry farm in Maple Ridge. Translink, BC’s transit authority, had decided to put a highway right through the farm, even though there was already a planned and gazetted road nearby, meaning it was legal and government sanctioned. After a valiant struggle by the family, their friends, politicians and activists, a campaign called Hope, we lost the fight and the bulldozers moved in. It was heartbreaking for all of us, but I can only imagine how broken the family was. Golden Ears Way (originally called the Abernethy Connector) opened in June 2009.
I decided to pay owners Ting Wu and Risa Lin a visit, to hear how they were doing and how the highway had affected their farm. I had tried to get out to their farm by transit during the farm fight and when I did a trip plan on Translink’s website, ironically it came up as “No use.” That means you need at least three transfers and would have to walk more than half a kilometre from the last bus stop. That is still true despite the new highway. Fortunately today I had a friend driving me. As we drove up to the farm, I noticed how different it felt. The area used to feel very rural, like farm country. Now there was a major intersection on their doorstep.
As we sat in their kitchen chatting, we could hear the traffic roaring by. Ting and Risa told me the big trucks and the motorbikes are the worst. But the highway has brought a criminal element to their farm too. “They steal radiators, batteries, electrical wiring, aluminum fittings and they’ve even broken into the freezer,” says Ting.
The break-ins never used to happen before, when the farm was in one piece and the family was on-site throughout the night. Now their house, which sits on a five-acre section, is split off from the rest of the thirty-five or so acres. In the morning when they want to go to the farm, they have to get in their vehicle and drive across the highway to get there. Sometimes Risa takes the golf cart, which is illegal to drive on the road, but if she has a load of materials, it can’t be helped. The highway took out the greenhouse, propagation buildings and their nursery area, where Risa used to grow and sell annuals – about five acres went to pavement. Ting had to reconfigure the farm, moving thousands of mature blueberry plants out of harm’s way. Translink wanted to destroy them: in their opinion the plants wouldn’t survive transplanting.
We drove over, in the golf cart, to take a look. It looked to me like the farm was imprisoned by a chain link fence. Too bad they couldn’t have dug them a tunnel at the same time, so that the farmers could have accessed their farm more easily. A large new warehouse sits inside the locked gates, it will become the processing area. Armed guards would not look out of place there, perhaps the only way to keep vandals out now. Their new guard dog Max can guard the house, but not the farm. Remnants of the Hope campaign are tucked in a corner.
Despite the challenges, the farmers have persevered. They are looking at ways to diversify and make their operation more sustainable. They have added raspberries and strawberries to their repertoire. Risa would like to build waist high raised strawberry beds, to make it easier for the seniors to pick the berries. Ting worries about the cost. They are both interested in the agritourism potential. Risa has visions of a healing garden, a destination place for the city-weary to come and revive. “I just want to make people happy. To come, relax, let nature heal,” she says. Both of them could use some of nature’s healing themselves. All the hard work and stress of trying to save their farm took its toll. Ting still battles with the gout that began at that time. Risa has arthritis. They could use some extra helping hands, volunteers are welcome.
As we drive around the farm, it’s obvious much Ting and Risa love their land. And how committed they are to farming organically. They have retained their organic status and are certified with Fraser Valley Organic Producers. The biodiversity is rich and evident. They have a resident hawk, eagles fly over regularly, coyotes roam. When I ask if there are any pest problems, Ting tells me the beaver who live in the slough sometimes eat the trees, but that’s about it. Risa points to the grove of beautiful trees, cedar, birch and other varieties against the backdrop of Mount Baker.
Back in the bustling kitchen, Ting and Risa’s kids Jessica, 18 and Jonathan, 13 wander in and out while we’re having a delicious farm fresh lunch of freshly picked greens and mushroom stuffed focaccia bread. The kids are doing very well in school. Oh and the transplanted blueberries, they’re thriving too.
This article first appeared in BC Organic Grower magazine, summer 2011 issue.