Robin Tunnicliffe of Sea Bluff Farm sells her produce at numerous farmers markets, through a food box program run via Saanich Organics, and operates a farm stand twice a week. (Kendra Wong/Black Press)

Growing the South Island: Robin Tunnicliffe, Sea Bluff Farm

She comes from a tight knit farming community, where farmers learned about best practices at work parties

This is the second 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.

Part 1: Erin Bett, Fierce Love Farm

——————

The landscape of farming is changing, resulting in a busier and sometimes more competitive marketplace, says one Metchosin farmer.

Robin Tunnicliffe has been in the organic farming community since she started her apprenticeship more than 25 years ago. Coming from a tight knit farming community, one in which farmers learned about best farming practices at work parties and met others with similar goals and interests at local farmers’ markets.

But in recent years, things have changed.

“Today we’re really in silos; there’s a lot of social media and a lot of ways that people access information that doesn’t lead to a cohesive community any more,” said Tunnicliffe, general manager of Sea Bluff Farm on Wootton Road in Metchosin.

“I don’t know a lot of the youngsters, I don’t see them at the farmers markets. We’re all kind of doing our own thing independently of each other and it’s my hope in the future that we can be more cohesive.”

Working at the farm, the growing season has also changed drastically over the years. Using all types of techniques and technology from a 1950s cub tractor to hill potatoes, weeding and seeding, Sea Bluff Farm is now growing fresh produce all year-round.

“Farmers are really having to plow it to the fence, really get all the successions in that we can. We’re farming 365 days a year and 52 weeks of harvest,” Tunnicliffe said. “We are trying to maximize the seasonal shoulders, doing everything we can even just to break even, replace infrastructure and pay staff.”

Produce, which varies depending on the season, is being sold through more channels too. Instead of simply going to one farmers’ market, Sea Bluff sells its produce at numerous markets, through a food box program run via Saanich Organics, and operates a farm stand twice a week.

“I think we have to work a lot harder at marketing than our predecessors. Even since I started farming, it used to be that we would go to the Moss Street Market and that would be the only one in town and you could sell all your produce. But now there’s a little market in every neighbourhood. So we’re ending up going to five different markets in order to sell our produce, which is really taxing,” Tunnicliffe said.

But in the face of an industry that is constantly in flux and can be hard for young farmers to break into, Tunnicliffe believes there is a growing desire from residents who want to know where their food is coming from.

“Customers are becoming way more educated about the food, about the problems,” she said. “People are learning more about their food system and demanding that chemicals not be used, that slave labour not be used.”


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