The land that Earthwise Farm sits on has a long and turbulent history. For decades, developers have tried to do what developers do, develop the land. The Southlands, located in Tsawwassen, a part of South Delta, is not in the agricultural land reserve, but the municipality has designated the 537 acre parcel for agricultural use. It is also in Metro Vancouver’s Green Zone.
Century Group, the developer, who has owned the property since the early 1990s, has an innovative plan for the land, based on sustainable design principles and with local food and human-scale farming at its core. They have been engaged in a long and expensive community process and have submitted several plans to Delta officials. The latest one in July of 2011 contained an application to amend Delta’s Official Community Plan and to rezone the property. A decision on the Southland’s future will likely be made this fall.
In the midst of all the controversy, a 2.5 acre community farm has been quietly operating. Century Group allowed Earthwise Society to use the land at no charge and to upgrade a few of the existing out buildings for its programs. Earthwise also has a long history in Delta. As Delta Recycling Society, they ran both the recycling depot and demonstration gardens at other locations for many years. In 2006 they moved to the Southlands and created the Boundary Bay Earthwise Organic Farm and Garden. James Gates is the farm manager, with duties that extend well beyond farming.
With the help of volunteers and apprentices, James grows a wide variety of vegetables including leafy greens, root crops, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, squash, kale, chard and heirloom tomatoes.
“We try to grow varieties you can’t find in the grocery store,” says James. Earthwise has an on-site farm store that is open twice a week and a 30 member Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA). They also provide a Family Harvest Box for low-income families – all require a steady supply of fresh produce.
It helps that the farm runs an Apprenticeship Program for young farmers and engages the help of many community volunteers. A Delta couple looks after the tomatoes in the two hoop houses, for example, producing over 2000 pounds of heirloom tomatoes each summer.
The Earthwise Society has many other educational programs including an Organic Master Gardener program, workshops on a variety of topics including composting, “Birds & Bugs,” and tours for school and community groups. One of their key programs for the past two years has been “Feed the Bees,” a community wide campaign to support healthy pollinator populations.
They also run two high school programs. The first is offered as a for credit science course in Sustainable Resources, those students work in the garden weekly. “Field to Fork” is for high school students in the Culinary Arts program.
Other site features include a one-acre ecological garden with native and drought tolerant plants, a community garden and an outdoor bake oven for community gatherings. All of the Earthwise programming encourages Delta residents to become stewards of the land and promotes ecological gardening and farming. The group has a strong and loyal following in the community.
The farm was granted organic status this year, certified by the BC Association for Regenerative Agriculture. The decision to go organic was two-fold according to Executive Director Patricia Fleming. “The organic designation reflects the farm’s commitment to organic agricultural methods and the importance of letting the public make informed choices about their purchases.”
James adds, “The organic designation is about branding for us too. It helps to open up other markets.” The garden also sells to two local restaurants and a grocery store.
While James has some of the usual challenges that other farmers have with growing food, the biggest challenge for him is the other duties. “Managing volunteers and other programs takes up a lot of mind space and body energy,” he says.
At the same time, he gets a real kick out of working with the Grade 11 and 12 students. “It’s great when you see their eyes light up, like when they’re standing in the rows of veggies they are growing for a meal at the end of the school year. They feel so satisfied and kind of proud that the vegetables they have chosen to plant are now growing.”
There are surprises too, on one occasion a group of girls became fascinated by the farm’s new tractor and its hydraulic system.
As for the future, Century Group has integrated Earthwise into their plans, which will be decided on this fall. The existing gardens will be at the heart of the village square. For details on the proposed Southlands development, visit Imagine Southlands.
This article first appeared in BC Organic Grower Magazine, Summer Issue, 2012, Volume 3, Issue 15.