Sit down to any of Mike Murphy's Victoria restaurants — 10 Acres Bistro and Bar, Pescatores Kitchen,
Commons & Raw Bar — and you'll taste ingredients harvested directly from his own Saanich Peninsula farm.
How did you go from restaurateur to farmer?
The CRD (Capital Regional District) was legislating that all our compost had to be packaged separately and picked up separately. I said, "Well, why don't I buy my own farm and do my own composting?" It sounded like it'd be such a simple thing, and then one thing led to another. Had I known then what I know now, I'm not quite sure I would've been so eager to do my own composting.
Did you have any farming experience at all before you bought 10 acres?
No, I had an ill-fated experience when I was about 27 when I was in Nanaimo. I bought a farm. Five acres out in the Yellow Point area. Bought some sheep, figuring it'd be a great time to have the lambs once a year for a barbecue, but it was all fenced for cows. The sheep got out. They just ran through it. I'd be called three or four times a day, "Mr. Murphy, can you come catch your sheep?"
Now we're just trying to find out what we do best that really makes a difference being grown here and brought into the restaurant. Some things the difference just isn't enough to justify it, but our meat for instance, knowing exactly how it's raised, knowing exactly what they're eating, knowing that they're always outside, is a huge plus. We do pigs. We got turkeys, rabbits, ducks, and then we've got a lot of hens for laying eggs.
You were just describing what you're growing in the orchard.
We've got 70 apples of six different varieties, 72 pears of six different varieties, cherry trees, plum trees, quince, persimmons, lemons, limes, nectarines. Then we got canes. We got our grapes, lingonberries, marionberries, loganberries, raspberries, blueberries, currants, a little bit of everything. They'll supply our bakery. Oh, and the kiwi and the strawberries.
Tell me about your favourite thing that you've got growing here right now.
Well, the one I'm most excited about is the honey. I'm just dying to get the honey. With everything you read about the bee population in general, to have this success is really quite exciting. I'm loathe to just let people use it to sweeten their tea, so we're going to have to come up with some special desserts.
So really, it goes both ways then. There's some things you think in the restaurant, "We need to have this, so we're going to have to grow it," and sometimes you just have something, and then invent something for the menu.
Exactly. Then there's a lot of collaboration between the chef and farmers. In August, unfortunately, everything is ready. The first thing we learned over the years is we try to really stagger our crops. We don't ask the chefs to do — if we've got an extra 1,000 pounds of tomatoes that want to be canned, August is not the time to ask them.
Has there been a most embarrassing moment?
Our first year with turkeys, we neglected to clip their wings. They roost down in the lower field, but they'd be in the neighbour's yards. The eeriest thing was going down at night and seeing 40 turkeys roosting up in the trees.
What's it like for you when you get up in the morning, surrounded by all this?
It's great, other than when I'm surrounded by the 70 ducks. Last couple of mornings they've been a bit of a nuisance. For the most part, it's fantastic. It's a lovely piece of land.
What kind of change has this brought into your life?
It certainly rejuvenated myself in the restaurant business. I've been at it a long, long time. You start going over the same territory too many times, and it becomes too routine. You lose some of that enthusiasm. This has made it big fun. This is a whole different animal. There's not a lot of us in North America that can actually boast their own farm connected to their restaurant. It gives all of us a real shot in the arm.
To hear the full interview with Mike Murphy at the 10 Acres farm, listen to the audio labelled: 10 Acres Cooking Club.