Having a dream and actually living it are often miles apart, but for Teresa Willman and Matt Robertson, it is all about living their dream. It’s tough, time consuming and not that profitable but, for them it is about the lifestyle not the style of life.
The couple worked for years as tree planters across the province and Teresa always dreamed about owning her own land and growing her own food — being a farmer.
“It was an idealistic dream,” said Teresa. “We set a five-year goal to be farming and we found the land in 2004.”
The 10 acres they purchased close to the Malahat Farm was scrub and they spend a lot of time pulling stumps, moving rocks by hand and clearing the land so they could start growing things.
“If we had of known we didn’t have to do all that, we’d have done it differently, but we couldn’t afford to buy an established farm,” she said.
They worked summers tree planting to get their stake together and buy equipment and during the winter they worked on their property. They quickly learned what worked and what didn’t, like the ducks that the minks killed. They made mistakes and likely did many things the hard way. Teresa said she would have apprenticed on a farm if she had known better when they first began to nurture the idea. In 2007 they finally started reaping some of the rewards and crops. They grow every vegetable they can think of in three large greenhouses and fields on two acres.
“We know about hard work.”
With that kind of start they understood why farmers are so attached to their land. So much effort had gone into the start that they were both exhausted for the first two years. They had walked away from good paying jobs to take on farming. It’s about passion and the lifestyle it affords the young family. She wants her kids to know where their food comes from and what it takes to grow it.
It’s a hard life and not very glamorous. The couple knows it is not enough to have the lifestyle, it also has to pay for itself. It isn’t easy or inexpensive to find property to farm or to keep it going. All across the country farmers are selling out and farmland is quickly being turned into subdivisions.
“The property value can outstrip what you can make,” said Matt in reference to the price of more arable land. “If you strictly buy a piece of land to turn to agriculture, it’s not going to work.”
But it is doable, says Teresa, and you can make a living off of it — if you are creative.
“The hardest thing is knowing if I can keep doing it,” she said. She has help a couple of days a week from Sonja, a neighbour who comes in to take some of the load off on the farm end, and in the summer they often have a bit of paid help when it is time to harvest. Sonja trades labour for her weekly veggies.
They sell at the Sooke Country Market on Saturdays, to local chefs, and contribute to the box program, but have had to stop doing the market in Metchosin because it is just too hard with the the kids, Kaidyn, almost two and Jasmine, three months.
Farming in and around the Sooke region is a tough go in many aspects but those who choose to do so, do it with passion and commitment. There are good, strong farmers in Sooke and a really good community of people, although there aren’t many, Teresa said.
Matt wears many hats and is skilled in different things but to make it all work, he works out, basically leaving the farm chores to Teresa. When he is home he has one arm on the kids and the other on the phone or computer, and a set of walkie talkies helps when Teresa is out in the greenhouse.
The couple came to Sooke because they love the area. Teresa grew up in North Vancouver and had never been on a farm in her youth and Matt grew up in Victoria. Their surfing days are less frequent, but still at Silver Cloud Farm on Anderson Road they aren’t far from all that is important to them.
What really galvanized the future for them was when little Kaidyn flopped down onto a bed of kale and grabbed some to snack on and said “kale yummy.”
“Living this lifestyle, we are happy to share our vegetables with people. We’re not making as much money but we are sharing what we have,” said Teresa.
Teresa Willman will be one of the panel of local farmers who will speak at the showing of The Greenhorns at the Awareness Film Night and Gardening and Farming Gala on April 13 at Edward Milne Community Theatre.
More information on this in next week’s Sooke News Mirror.