Tamara McPhail was wearing her paramedic’s uniform, when she met with Cortes Currents over ZOOM. She was on call and the phone could ring at any moment.
“I often say that I had to get a job to support my farming habits because farming just doesn’t quite pay. I mean, it pays in a lot of ways, but just in terms of the financial things: If you need to send your kids to university or buy a new car or invest in a new wood stove, there’s just not a lot of extra at the end of the year,” explained McPhail.
She talked about the anxieties connected to running Linnaea Farm.
During the winter it has been: ‘did we grow enough hay? Is there enough food? Is there enough sawdust to care for the animals? Now it is Spring and the weather is too cold for planting.
“Maintaining the farm is a pretty big job. There’s a lot of infrastructure, livestock and people,” she said.
While McPhail is acutely aware of Cortes Island’s housing shortage, Linnaea needs residents who want to farm.
“Not everybody wants to shovel manure in the barn. Unfortunately all winter, that’s what we do. So, we have some good folks living on the farm. We have some people that are convalescing from major diseases on the farm. We have a core group of us that work on the farm, and a few of us have jobs off the farm,“ she said.
Linnaea Farm has explored a number of different avenues the past couple of years:
- they are members of the soil apprenticeship program,
- and take in WWOOFers (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms – a worldwide effort to link visitors with organic farmers)
- the Linnaea Farm Food Guild, which was launched after the pandemic hit in 2020.
They opened up the food guild to new members this year. There are currently about 60 members, who order whatever and whenever they wish.
Linnaea just had its first field day, with farm stock, seeds, kitchen goods, and more.
Once some of its freezers are empty, Linnaea will partner with other local farms to give guild members access to a wider selection of goods.
Carly Anne Mersereau and Kirsten are going to be running the Guild production kitchen this year.
“I don’t have what Carly and Kristen are planning to do in front of me. Definitely two to three times a week, from what I envisioned them doing, but they probably have bigger plans. So, possibly five of the seven days will be utilized for that and then we’ll have that powerful youth camp coming. They’ll be using it very intensively for two and a half to three weeks and there’s a few other events that are going to be using that space,” said McPhail.
She could not give any specifics about Linnaea’s involvement with the food bank, meals on wheels or the better at home program, aside from
“That stuff is all in the works right now.”
As she watches the prices of so many things rise, McPhail said “It’s definitely going to impact us” – but also too early to say how.
So, what about the money that she and Adam Schick earn at the farm?
“Well, it’s hard to break that sort of piece down into an hourly wage because it’s darn right depressing. I think the last time Adam did it, he was making just under $7.50 an hour,” said McPhail.
“People believe that food should be cheap. I don’t know how many times we sold this beautiful cauliflower that is over two pounds and we’re like asking $5 or $6 at Mansons Friday Market and people are like, that’s too expensive. It is hard for us to make people understand what it takes to produce the food, unless you’ve actively done it yourself. You have no idea because food has traditionally been so cheap and it’s been brought from so many different avenues that most of the time we no longer know where our food comes from, who has produced that food, and what it has taken to get it onto our tables.”
People still expect to pay $3 for that cauliflower.
She added, “I often think about what it would have been like years ago when you had family farms and the butcher and the family baker. We do have one of those on our island. We do have a lot of really skilled people and I would always really encourage people to source as local as possible because the further that food chain goes and the more it stretches, the less resilient and strong it is.”
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