Saanich resident Heather Hughes quit her consulting job in 1996 and left urban Saanich to buy a farm near Bear Hill. After five years of ups and down

Saanich resident Heather Hughes quit her consulting job in 1996 and left urban Saanich to buy a farm near Bear Hill. After five years of ups and down

The hard lessons of farming

Saanich writer outlines the struggles of going back to the land in new book

Heather Hughes once had a farm. E-I-E-I-O.

And on that farm she had llamas and alpacas, an acre of lush kiwi vines, raspberry bushes as far as the eye could see, a greenhouse full of beautiful alstroemeria, plants bed burgeoning with fresh vegetables and memories to last a lifetime.

It was 1996 when Hughes and her then-husband were looking for a new home, a quiet place with a yard where their young daughter Robyn could play. And it just so happened that they found what they were looking for in a small farm on the Saanich-Central Saanich border.

“My husband was not convinced that we could pull it off, and I was absolutely convinced we could. … I was a management consultant at the time, and I was at that stage in my career where I was a little restless, I was ready for some change,” Hughes says.

“So I told all my clients I’m taking a different direction with my life. It’s a full-time job to run a farm.”

Hughes and her family made the move from urban to rural Saanich in December 1996. She traded business suits for gumboots and made the most of the experience.

“It was way more expensive than we ever planned to spend, but there were all sorts of revenue streams. There was a greenhouse, there was a woodworking shop. There were things that we deemed would make it affordable,” Hughes says. “And my husband had a good job in town, so the stability of his employment would kind of support us in the initial stages when we got it up and running.”

Less than five months after embarking on this endeavour, Hughes and her husband split up, leaving her a single mom with no steady income and a seven-acre farm to tend to.

“I’m not a quitter. I’m the kind of person that says, ‘Okay, life’s thrown me this curve ball, now what are you going to do about it?’ I rolled up my sleeves and went on with it. I thought initially, ‘I can keep this place going. I’ll show him,’” Hughes says.

She found ways to make money from the farm. She began inviting school groups to the property to teach them about animals, organic farming or irrigation. She also opened the farm to the public on Sundays and let people pick their produce straight out of the ground.

Hughes and her daughter stayed on the farm for five years until it wasn’t making sense financially to remain, so she sold it and returned to their urban lifestyle. But the time spent at Ladybug Farm was memorable and life-changing, she says.

“For me, it’s a sense of pride. I did it, I took a risk, I worked very hard at it. Some might say I was not successful, I say I was very successful. I rolled up my sleeves and I tackled things that I really didn’t have the expertise on and I realized I can do this,” she says.

Successful or not, Hughes says she wouldn’t do it again if she had the chance. Her word of advice for people who are looking for some tranquil acreage in the country: don’t buy a farm.

“When you move into a farming area, there’s a lot of unexpected things that can happen. We can have torrential rain for a long period of time – that’s going to destroy your crops you’re counting on,” she says. “You have to be really resilient and you have to be really flexible, and able to cope with so many things that are beyond your control.”

Hughes recently published her book, ***Living in Paradise***, which features stories of the ups and downs from her first year owning the farm. The book is currently available at Ivy’s Book Shop in Oak Bay and Tanner’s Books in Sidney. Copies can also be ordered by contacting Hughes at heatherconsults@shaw.ca.

kslavin@saanichnews.com