This is the third story in a six-part series chronicling farming on the South Island ahead of the 150th anniversary of the Saanich Fair. We talked to farmers both old and young, and asked them what has changed over the years and what makes them who they are today.
Check back each morning and afternoon for new stories between Aug. 29-31.
Farming on the Saanich Peninsula goes back more than 100 years. In fact, Jack Mar’s father began farming the area in 1911, after coming over from China. In that time a lot has changed, but a lot has also stayed the same.
“Today it’s a whole different game in farming. Years ago you had a lot of people working but now we’re mechanized quite a bit and that’s the big difference,” Mar explained one August day, while sitting amongst a field of corn.
“At one time, the profit from farming made for a good living, but today it’s a huge expense to get into farming.”
The land costs more, the equipment costs more, the fertilizer costs more, the seeds cost more; you get the idea.
And despite the transition towards mechanized farming and smoothing out a more streamlined process, these technological advances haven’t made the days any shorter.
“The farms are getting bigger, so you’re spending the same hours out there. I’m semi-retired, but I’m still getting up at five or six o’clock in the morning. During the hot part of the day, I’ll go sit in the shade, and then go back and work until dark.
“You can say it’s less work because you have bigger equipment, so therefore you cover a lot of land quicker than we used to do. We used to spend hours and hours preparing the land, now you can just take a tractor and whip through it way faster, so that way you can do a lot more per hour.”
So what motivates someone to keep doing this type job? It’s hard to change when it’s all you’ve known. Jack Mar has been farming all of his life. He learned everything he could along the way, and never stopped seeking out new information on cultivation, machinery, seeds and sales.
“I went to all the seminars and I take a real interest in it because it’s a livelihood; it’s outdoors and you’re your own boss. Those are the pluses as far as farming goes,” Mar adds.
“I’ve been involved with it for 58 years and I’m still learning today on how to better myself for the industry.”
As for the next generation, it might not get any easier beyond 2018 and the debate surrounding continued interest in farming comes down to the cost of getting started.
Mar is emphatic that the answers to basic questions are still unknown to most people. How do you keep the weeds down? How to you cultivate? How many people do you hire? These are all questions that Jack says have to be learned over time and through experience, and trial and error.
The hardest thing about being a farmer in 2018 is acquiring farmland, and making it viable.
“There’s a lot of young people that want to start up but they can’t find any place to buy or rent. People say, ‘why can’t these long term farmers rent it to us?’ But they want long-term leases of 10 or 20 years.
“It’s tough, I realize they’re having a hard time finding land and they don’t have the knowledge behind them either. It’s a learning curve; it’s going to take you five years to even get started and feel comfortable.”
Climate change and higher temperatures also mean farmers on the Saanich Peninsula are forced to irrigate their crops more than ever before. At one point many farms had reservoirs, but now they’re strictly using municipal water, partly because of the health and food safety issue.