Jill Winstanley and Sylvia Hancock share the farm and the chores.

Farm share is a growing movement

farmers take part in second annual Farm & Food Garden Tour

Jill Winstanley, best known in Sooke for her talents as an artist, is turning her creativity to something a little less pictorial and whole lot more pastoral.

A farmer at heart, Winstanley and her partner Simon are farm sharing with Sylvia Hancock and her partner JP and their two little girls.

Bella Terra, along Kemp Lake Road, is a five-acre farmstead where the women are trying to grow and produce everything they need food-wise. They do everything themselves from milking cows, growing food, raising and butchering meat birds to making cheese.

“I always farmed and had animals and stuff and I’m getting back to it,” said Winstanley. “We do everything ourselves from start to finish.”

Bella Terra is in its fledgling year and the efforts made by these young farmers is beginning to pay off mainly because they share the work load and the costs. Jill and Simon bought into the farm.

Farm share is a way for like-minded folks to accomplish their goals of becoming self-sufficient. The Winstanleys had been coming to the farm regularly over the past two years and this year they settled in full time.

“We knew each other’s visions, “ said Hancock. “It’s a solid partnership without expectations. It grew from there and we’ve added pieces as we go along. I provided the property, Jill has knowledge — it’s a symbiotic relationship and we are learning by leaps and bounds.”

Farming, as everyone knows, is a lot of hard work and dedication and if the load can be shared, it is easier all the way around. While they aren’t certified organic, they do attempt to do things as organically as possible. Their chickens are in “chicken tractors” which is a system of allowing the birds to free-range in moveable cages. The chickens get all the benefit of being outdoors but not the risk of predators. They fertilize the fields at the same time. Bella Terra is raising 300 meat birds this year, along with a few milk cows, goats, and turkeys.

It is sustainability through diversity.

Both of the women have outside jobs to help pay all of the bills, but their goal is to be on the farm without the need for outside work. That’s for someday, but right now they are learning everything they can. The kids, Jacinthe and Jemma love being on the farm as much as the adults do.

On Sunday, August 14, the Bella Terra Farm will be one of 11 farms and growing gardens in the second annual Farm & Food Garden Tour sponsored by the Sooke Food CHI (Community Health Initiative) and the District of Sooke. This year the farms are all in the western end of Sooke, says Phoebe Dunbar, one of the organizers.

Farms of interest include Edward Tuson and Gemma Claridge’s farm where they are raising pigs, have earth ovens and are part of a cow share. Don Collis at “The Swamp” shows people how he reclaimed three acres from a swamp back in 1974.

They all have interesting stories to tell of how they got into the business/lifestyle of farming.

“All the people are there to share the information,” said Dunbar. “you can learn a lot and not in a ‘preachy’ way, there’s a lot of information out there.”

Dunbar says the Sooke are now has approximately 30 working farms. Of the 16 proteges who took the farm mentorship program through Sooke Food CHI, nine of them are now producing food.

“It’s nothing like what it was,” she said, “but a few years ago there was not many.’

The self-guided farm tour is a great way to spend a day, said Dunbar. “You could even cycle it.”

Fresh produce will be for sale and the information, of course, is at no charge. Kids under 15-years-of-age get in free while the adults pay. Advance tickets can be purchased at Shoppers Drug Mart, Double D Gardens. Westburn Garden Centre and the Sooke Country Market. In Victoria tickets are at the Moss Street Market (Saturday) and Dig This.

Sooke Food CHI is a local non-profit regional food security group, serving communities from Port Renfrew through to East Sooke.

For more information on Sooke Food CHI, go to: www.sookefoodchi.ca