How a hidden flower meadow in B.C.'s backcountry is bringing fresh lessons in sustainability to the city
Valley Buds Farm CSA grows variety of blooms using natural methods, distributes them via East Van skate shop
Hidden in the Squamish Valley is a plot of land carved out of the dense green forest where a variety of flowers grow in a pollination paradise for bees.
Naturally fertilized by the stalks and leaves of last year's plants and protected from aphids by local ladybugs, this little backcountry farm is focused on spreading a sustainable and organic message to flower-loving locals in East Vancouver.
At the Valley Buds Farm, flowers such as gladiolas, lilies, cosmos, snapdragons, scabiosa, jasmine nicotina and sunflowers make up a harvest that may not be as familiar to those who have already heard of Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs.
CSA is a subscription-based system that usually brings produce directly from farmers to local consumers. The Valley Buds CSA, on the other hand, provides fresh flowers — and distributes them through a neighbourhood skate shop.
Nestled in the front corner of the Antisocial Skateboard Shop on Main Street, between the magazine library and the decks, there's a fridge that contains bunches of blooms ready for CSA members and lucky passersby (some non-CSA flowers are available) to pick up.
Flowers that are normally grown in places as far away as South America for the large grocery chains are available to buy here the same day they're harvested.
They're grown, harvested and transported by Antisocial Skateboard Shop owner Michelle Pezel and local photographer Alana Paterson, who spend about two to three days a week at the farm.
Having a sustained interest in both skateboarding and flowers for most of my life, I've long been fascinated by the variety of blooms I would see while visiting the shop, so I arranged to spend a day at the farm this summer while Michelle and Alana harvested flowers and produce — they also grow beans, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, peas and squash — for the upcoming week.
Both Michelle and Alana had previous experience around the Lower Mainland growing and harvesting flowers and vegetables, and they credit their shared love of "skateboarding and seeds" for kickstarting their friendship.
Valley Buds Farm came about through an opportunity with the Young Agrarians, a network made up of food growers and lovers including farmers, beekeepers, community gardeners, activists and organizations.
The night before I visited I received directions through a text message: get off the highway, coupla lefts, coupla rights, 14 kilometres this way, turn at the green truck, and, hey, there's no cell service. I loved that, it sounded like an adventure.
The winding route through the Squamish Valley led me through lush forests and, as I turned down the last strip of road, a canopy of trees opened into a captivating collection of flowers and veggies.
Michelle and Alana were already busy when I arrived, jumping from flower row to flower row, imitating the bees that were also buzzing around, visiting the freshly awoken flowers that morning.
In between filling buckets with blooms, they helped me learn the names of some flowers and shared some insights into what it means to be a sustainable farm.
Michelle, Alana and I talked at length about the importance of tending the land naturally, like not removing grasses and weeds between growing beds, or using ladybugs to take care of your aphid problem instead of pesticides.
Also important is understanding that things in the current season should be appreciated while they are here.
Bouquets found in grocery stores often travel thousands of kilometres, mostly coming from the Netherlands and South America to satiate our desire for year-round demand.
Some of the beauty of the changing seasons is lost when we don't consider how these plants are arriving on our shelves in the winter.
There was a delicate balance to our morning on the farm, racing the heat of the emerging sun while taking time to enjoy the field, telling stories and exchanging ideas.
As the sun started to poke through the morning clouds, the truck was packed up as Michelle and Alana had to hurry off for a delivery in Squamish before heading back to East Van to fill the fridge for CSA members, and further spread their blooming message of sustainability.