Anne & Sam: Market Farmers On Cortes Island

Originally Published on Cortes Radio.ca. This radio broadcast was funded by a grant from the Community Radio Fund of Canada and the Government of Canada’s Local Journalism Initiative

Podcast: Interview with Anne Dzakovic and Sam Gibb about their life as market farmers on Cortes Island.

Congratulations to Anne and Sam on the safe and successful birth of their second child, Graciella!  Just prior to their departure from Cortes Island to await her arrival on the big island, I had the pleasure of  interviewing Sam and Anne at their home on Blue Jay Lake Farm.

Big Fir Farm

Anne and Sam run Big Fir Farm, a small market farm;  it’s their primary livelihood, and they sell fresh produce at the Friday Market and through the Co-op.  In this interview, I ask them what it’s like being a small market farmer, producing organic local food for a living.  How hard is the work?  How many hours a week?  What kind of crops have they found successful?  What kind of planning and logistics do they practise?  What advice would they give to other people who feel inspired to support local food systems by becoming producers?

Sam and Anne tell us how they got into farming, what skills they started with and what kind of learning they did along the way.  They explain why starting small makes sense, and how much can be done with small plots (quarter to half acre).  They discuss the pros and cons of machinery use, the farmer’s yearly schedule, symbiosis between livestock and vegetable operations, produce prices, time management, and much more.

If you’ve ever been interested in farming or gardening for market, and would like to know more about the real experience of small-scale farming on Cortes Island, this interview should be worthwhile listening.  If you’re interested in the Hundred Mile Diet and other local food initiatives, the can-do attitude and proven track record of these local food producers should provide encouragement and inspiration.

The interview was so good that it was very difficult to cut extensive sections to make it fit into the one-hour radio show format.  Therefore I’ve edited the cut material into an Extras podcast;  if you enjoy the radio show, do check out the Extra Material!

In the Extras we go into deeper detail on the logistics of the farmers’ market, the challenge and joy of raising their son on the farm, some tactics that have enabled them to defeat pests without using chemicals, the importance of family time in a farmer’s busy life, and more.  Not to mention invaluable advice on what to do when the cows get into your vegetable garden!

At this somewhat sombre and unsettling moment — when many of us are uncomfortably aware of our utter dependency on long supply chains and elaborate industrial infrastructure — Sam and Anne’s six seasons of producing good healthy food for local residents are (for me anyway) a heartening success story about resilience, ingenuity, creativity and right livelihood.  

These are two people who love their work and are learning and becoming better at it with each passing year.  As Anne says, “There’s no Plan B… it’s hard to think of any reasons why we would want to leave.  We’re making money and putting a bit of money in the bank each year, and it’s awesome having a few months off each year and doing a job that fulfills us.”

Sam: “It’s not always fun when you’re doing it;  well sometimes it is.  But… when I look at my life and I think about what I do, it’s brilliant. ”

Both Sam and Anne believe that there’s room for more market farmers and gardeners to serve Cortes.  While the most conventional summer crops are mostly supplied by Big Fir and Linnaea, they feel there are opportunities in shoulder season, extended-season, more unusual crops, and storage crops.  There are also underserved markets (like the Saturday Market at Gorge Harbour).

“We do talk to Linnaea sometimes and just, you know, hang out and be with peers, but we don’t get that very often.  So that’s why it would be nice to have more farmers on Cortes, just to have a few more peers that we could throw some ideas around with…”

Anne and Sam are grateful for the years of farming experience embodied in their friends and landlords, Henry and Margaret Verschuur.  They emphasis the importance of local knowledge and mentorship for young farmers getting started:  “Take the advice of the people who are already on the land.  Like if you’re sharing, if you’re leasing land from someone who has done some farming and gardening there over a period of years.  It can be kind of tempting just to plough ahead and be, like, ‘No, I know what I’m doing and I’ve got my ideas and I’ve read a few books…’  Of course Henry has taught us a lot, and some of the things he’s taught us go against the advice that you would read in a lot of books and experts.”

Anne and Sam offer a lot of reality-based advice for anyone interested in pursuing small market farming as a livelihood.  They’ve made it work, and they explain how.  I thoroughly enjoyed this interview (local organic food being a subject very dear to my heart) and would like to thank Anne and Sam for graciously welcoming me to their home during the last few days before their pre-partum departure.

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