Like many young people, I thought the grass was greener elsewhere. I lived in Alberta, Vancouver, the interior of BC and then finally the island called me back! I returned to Nanaimo in 1996. I was in the most perfect place on the earth within ancient rain forests. I loved that I could drive up a mountain in March to ski and drive down at the end of the day to the beach. My friends and family were on the island and I couldn’t imagine being in any better place.
As I grew older and life’s surprises came my way, I knew that there were more important things than a house, “stuff”, keeping up with the Jones’s or staying in a job because I had medical, dental and a decent pension 25 years down the road. I wasn’t happy and needed to find what would fulfill me. Don’t get me wrong, a home was important to me; I didn’t want to end up alone, homeless and unemployed at 60 years old. I needed some form of security.
As luck would have it, by late September 2007, an office position came available at the Vancouver Island Exhibition (VIEX). I was able to run an office, set up a job creation program and be a part of the VIEX. The best part of the new job was that I began to get excited about agriculture!
The goal of my position was to bring the VIEX out of the 1800s and into the year 2008. This was a great deal of work, but fascinating. We researched the history, found archived newspaper clippings from 1894, interviewed old timers who had been a part of the fair, learned that entertainment and the midway only came into play in the late 1970s and sadly, we learned that agriculture was dying… quickly!
With everything I learned from 2007 to now, I see that it was right before my eyes the whole time. Was I blind? I guess I wasn’t that interested before. I knew I could go to the store to get my food: meat, veggies, and sundries and not think too much about it. How had this happened? I didn’t grow up this way. Growing up, my mom baked our bread, cookies and cakes from scratch. The thought of a meal where “you just add…” and it’s ready in minutes, never occurred to us. We had a huge garden, my mom made home preserves and she was the best cook I knew. This woman could stretch a meal for six into a meal for 13 without blinking an eye, and we all ate healthy.
I became excited as I learned more about GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), Monsanto and all of the evil villains who are destroying our food systems. I used to see people who vented about our food as radicals, kind of ‘crazy’ in their own way. Now I know who was crazy… me! I wasn’t paying attention to the world, the changes, the effects that “preservation” of food was having on my children.
I was thrilled when the Bowen Road Farmer’s Market came to the VIEX grounds. I could grab my fresh groceries after work. The food from the market didn’t even look the same as in the grocery store: produce sizes were uneven, colours different and the eggs were bigger and brighter. It took a bit of getting used to but it was well worth it. The taste was better, meat more satisfying and we needed to eat less as it was more nourishing. Our stomachs felt better after a meal—dare I say, flatulence was not such an issue?
As I became more involved, I realized that the VIEX was hosting animal “displays” rather than “shows” due to the significant decrease in local farming. It wasn’t easy to get pigs, cows, sheep or goats in order to set up a full-fledged competition. Home Arts was suffering with a reduction of produce, fruit and canned preserves being entered for judging and being awarded ribbons. This correlated with the changes in the world: less farming in developed countries resulting in a slow death of agriculture.
I started to listen to those ‘radicals’ and ‘crazies’ with a different ear. Maybe they weren’t crazy? Maybe I was killing the farmland in BC by condoning that new subdivision, buying meat from the store having been transported 3,000 miles and eating out-of-season produce instead of supporting my local farmer. I had my “A ha!” moment.
I decided to leave Nanaimo permanently. I had struggled to obtain a home in the area, and had found that the amount of my down payment in Nanaimo was more than buying a house and property in my new province. If I had actually purchased that house and land in Nanaimo, had to commute to work, waste fossil fuel to get there, be exhausted, have little energy for my land, how would I have grown a large garden and raised chickens? Would the by laws even let me?
So, goodbye Nanaimo! I now have a home on 50 acres on the other side of the country. I can be self sufficient, grow organic food, livestock and chickens. What a trip… what a story! Until next time…
Sarah Sherman is a mother and wife who after spending 41 years of her life in BC has sold everything she owns and driven 6,000 km across the country to homestead her organic farm in rural New Brunswick.