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Fresh takes on farming food

Various forms of chemical free farming take root in the Pemberton Valley



Out at Miller’s Farm, the home of Pemberton’s Across the Creek Organics, two 27-year-old women sit across a huge communal dining table and explain why they have chosen the demanding, labour-intensive work that is organic farming.

Many farmers are born into the profession, but Noémi Touchette and Christine Lepage were not. The two Quebecois women never expected to end up farming in the Pemberton Valley on Bruce and Brenda Miller’s farm. Now, with more than a decade’s combined farming experience, they can hardly imagine doing anything else.

"Working on the farm and seeing the way things grow, it encourages us to keep working to make the earth healthy," says Touchette.

Lepage, a former Montreal-based graphic designer, points out, "Here, you live it. You see what happens to the environment if you don’t treat it well."

It’s late May and many of the 500-acres that comprise Bruce Miller’s Across the Creek Organics demonstrate a lushness that speaks of what happens when respect for the environment is as important as getting your crops in on time.

Organic, bio-dynamic, natural–what do these farming terms mean when it comes down to the choices the average consumer makes while standing in the produce section of the local supermarket?

For one thing, these terms describe food that has been grown without the use of the chemical fertilizers and insecticides commonly found in conventional commercial farming. Fans of chem-free produce will tell you that those adjectives are also synonymous with an end product that is not only healthier, but also tastier. And a number of farms throughout the Pemberton Valley are proving that farms can produce fruits, vegetables and in some cases, meats, the organic way as a viable business model.

Nestled against the mountains that frame Pemberton Meadows Road, Helmers’ Farm is as beautiful a landscape as you’re likely to find. Jeannette Helmer and her adult daughter Anna greet me when I arrive, look at my Fluevog loafers and immediately offer me a pair of gumboots. Before long, farming terms I’m only vaguely familiar with are flying. These women know their business inside and out.

"Doug’s over there plowing under the green manure crop," Jeannette offers, pointing out her husband working in the distant field.

Green manure is the term for crops, such as rye, clover and various grasses that are grown with the sole purpose of being plowed under to fertilize the field. It appears to work beautifully. Without the aid of chemical fertilizers or animal manure to replenish the earth’s essential nutrients, the Helmers are growing some of the tastiest potatoes I have ever had.