A lot has changed over the decade Haliburton Community Organic Farm has operated six gardens on seven acres of Saanich land in Cordova Bay.
“In 2002 there were no farmers and now it’s the other way around,” said Elmarie Roberts, one of Haliburton Farm’s nine farmers celebrating the anniversary with a Christmas Market this weekend. “There are so many farmers and no land. It was exactly the opposite 10 years ago.”
Roberts was among a core group of people, who in 2002, opposed an application to remove the 4.1 hecatres of then Capital Regional District-owned land from the agricultural land reserve and formed a non-profit society to manage the community farm – one of just 14 in the country.
Mayor Frank Leonard calls the story of Haliburton farm one of Saanich’s happy endings.
“We were troubled by CRD water district’s wanting to dispose of the property and it wasn’t on an area we thought was appropriate for development,” he said. “People who were going to buy the property would have had development in mind.”
An educator from South Africa, Roberts had no prior experience farming when four years after the formation of the society she began growing her peas and lavender.
“I just changed (my lifestyle) completely because there weren’t enough farmers. One of the conditions – growing food – wouldn’t have been met,” Roberts said.
Fast forward to 2012 when produce from the farm can now be found in a year-round box program, a popular farm stand and at the Moss Street and downtown public markets.
The remainder of the Haliburton Community Organic Farm Society’s mandate – to build community, support farmers, provide education and steward the land – are exemplified on a tour of the property.
Enter the farm gates and immediately step onto the Littlest Acre Organics plot, where Ana Ayala passes rows of flourishing chard to check in on one of her favourite chickens, Goldie.
Further along, a greenhouse yields leeks, lettuce and green onions. Spinach and kale continue to grow, while raspberry bushes and anjou pear trees stand ready for next year.
“There’s a wide variety of farmers here and we all help each other,” said Roberts, who now runs the society’s demonstration garden. “That’s what makes it so special.”
Roberts’ former plot has gone through a transformation since 2006, built up with raised beds by Barefoot Organics’ Derek Powell and Goldenrose Paquette. Powell and Paquette have focused much of their efforts on producing seeds, to be sold in the new year at Seedy Saturdays, an annual seed-selling event.
Despite the volunteer-run society’s reliance on grant funding, Roberts stressed that organic farming is financially viable. “The income on the land is growing and growing,” she said.
Despite its growth, Haliburton Community Organic Farm, like any non-profit society, is facing challenges, namely raising the profile of organic farming, and having the space to farm, Roberts said. Plans are now in the works to ease some of the farm’s refrigeration needs by building a large walk-in cooler adjacent to the house, used for washing produce, holding meetings and hosting educational workshops on site.
The successful relationship between the society and the district of Saanich – which purchased the land from the CRD for $400,000 – is one Leonard would like to see elsewhere in the municipality, perhaps via a similar management model on Panama Flats, he said.
“It’s been a win-win for us,” Leonard said. “I’m quite proud of the community group, how they stepped up and made it work.”
The farm is host to apprentice farmers, students from Claremont secondary and this year, representatives from Royal Roads University and Gaia College, who will teach the upcoming course, Growing Food. It is also the site of a biodiversity project, which sees a group of volunteers continue to restore the property’s wetlands.
The Christmas Market, complete with produce, herbs, teas, baking, chocolates and gifts, runs from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 30 and 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Dec. 1 at 741 Haliburton Rd.