Last year marked the beginning of our "Farm of the Month" series on the Tend Blog, where we highlight the amazing work and delicious produce and food that small organic farms are producing across North America. We took a few months off this winter, but we’re back with May’s featured farm: Paradise Valley Produce run by Rachael and Dane Sherstad. Check back in May for a new farm featured every month! To be considered for our series, please email [email protected].
Paradise Valley Produce
Rachael and Dane Sherstad
Location: Powell River, BC, Canada
Number of Employees: 0
Specialties of the Farm: Diverse certified organic veggies
How did you get into farming?
I (Dane) had the wonderful experience of participating in a sustainable agriculture program at the University of British Columbia Farm. After that Rachael and I dove into the deep end by starting a farm from scratch. We’re only in our second season now and it has been a constant (and rewarding) effort of improving our crop production, building infrastructure, and developing markets.
Tell us about the story of your farm – how did you (and your farm partner) get started? What was that like? What challenges did you encounter?
Rachael and I both previously worked leading outdoor education expeditions (with NOLS, an amazing school). We loved the work, but were craving a change from the nomadic lifestyle of outdoor guiding. Farming has fulfilled many of the same “life priorities” that outdoor education did - work outside, be physical, do good for the planet, have passion for our work. Plus, all of the experience working within the countless uncertainties of an expedition have helped us manage the ups and downs of farming (sometimes with grace and sometimes with good ol perseverance).
What are some important things you’ve learned since you started at your farm?
On the big picture, we strive to gauge our progress in developing our farm (and farm business) by comparing where we our now to where we were last week, last month, last year... We do our best to avoid comparing ourselves to other farms - the “should be” and “ought to be” thoughts are a draining waste of energy. On the smaller scale, we are seeing great benefits from focusing on bed prep (stale seed bedding) as we transition hay fields into vegetable production.
What is the most challenging aspect given the location of your farm?
Powell River is unique in that, though it is on the mainland, it takes two ferries to get here from Vancouver, BC due to the coastline being cut by large fjords. This isolation pushes us to be less reliant on inputs from further away. For example, a truckload of compost is cost prohibitive due to the ferries so we build and maintain soil fertility by cover cropping a third of our field space each year.
What do you love about your community that makes it a special place to farm?
The community has been amazingly supportive of us, and that has made a huge difference in staying positive, while facing the challenges of starting a farm. The isolation of Powell River adds extra importance to the push for a more localized food system. Plus, we feel so fortunate to farm in an area of stunning natural beauty surrounded by ocean, mountains, lakes and forests.
Name something you would love to grow that you haven't tried or been able to grow yet?
We are very excited to get more berries into production, because really, who doesn’t love berries!?
Where do you see your farm 10 years from now?
We hope to still be providing good food to our local community and be continually improving the soil and habitat on the farm. We hope to focus on a strong CSA program. And we plan on pursuing these goals without losing sight of the need for us to have a balance in life that includes both working really hard as well as time for us to enjoy family, friends, and pursuing other passions.
What are a few of your favorite farming pro tips?
We feel like we are still in the phase of learning pro tips rather than delivering them! Perhaps a key one for us is to recognize early when you are overwhelmed and do something about it pronto. Drop a project off the list, till in a disaster crop, ask for help... then repeat to yourself a hundred or so times that just because something didn’t go as planned doesn’t mean you’re a failure!
Who are your greatest farming influencers?
We are hugely thankful for the support and mentorship of Chris Bodnar (Close to Home Organics) and all the wonderful people at the UBC Farm.
How has Tend helped your business?
As new farmers Tend has been huge for us in crop planning. The “task calendar” helps us keep our heads on straight when the season is in full swing (for example, planting fall crops despite the blur of harvest-clean-market that is summer). We look forward to using the online store feature to simplify our process of working with wholesale customers.
What are some of the greatest challenges, for your farm, that you have overcome? How?
We have been managing a major wireworm problem. These pests were living in the hay field prior to us farming here and now happily munch the roots off our crops. We are having success managing this challenge thanks to the support of a research biologist at Ag Canada (thanks Todd!) and by being intentional with crop types and planting dates. Losses are still happening, but less this year than last year.