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Small farm operations producing slow food products have to develop relationships with chefs and other local users; build customers bases for produce boxes then deliver them; run u-pick operations; get their beef or milk to market — in short, do whatever it takes to earn money from their products.
"Having a market is always the underlying problem here in Pemberton," says Allen McEwan, a fourth generation Pembertonian — the third generation to farm the current site — whose great-grandparents were the Millers for whom Miller Creek is named. For 20 years, the McEwans were known for their strawberries, but now he and his wife, Tonette, farm 55 acres with a small herd of cattle.
"My great-grandfather struggled to find a market and we still struggle to find a market because the population numbers are so low," says Allen. "It's important for people to realize farming is only perhaps half the job even though it takes up all our time. Marketing it is equally difficult and probably takes just as much time, if not more, and that's often the missing link in these farming operations.
"I mean, you don't dare produce a crop and then hope that someone is going to come along and buy it. You have to know how you're going to sell it."
Add in the challenges that Mother Nature throws your way — the diseases and pests, the bees not being able to pollinate at the right times, the frosts and wind and unexpected rain, and now all of it being exacerbated by climate change — and it's a miracle anyone wants to carry on farming, never mind loving it with a passion.
It's even more miraculous when that person is a smart young woman who's just graduated from high school, like 19-year-old Emma Sturdy, who's been pretty much running North Arm Farm these days.
Sister, Thea, an accomplished equestrienne, helps when she can but she's often busy with her riding. Mom, Trish, who does the books, in addition to running the farm store, managing on-site events and weddings, and driving the school bus part-time, and dad, Jordan, now MLA for West Vancouver-Sea to Sky, are available by phone or in person to advise or lend a hand. But this summer it's been Emma who's picked up the reins now that dad spends so much time in Victoria.
She has always been involved in operations, even when she was in school, and now Emma also manages orders for fruits and veggies not grown on site, like tree fruits from the Okanagan, as well as the orders and deliveries for chefs the farm serves in Whistler, Squamish and Vancouver. It's all done with a joyful sense of purpose.
"It gives me a direction in my life that I haven't been able to find with anything else," she says by phone from the farm. "It's something that I am very fond of — how could you not be?
"It's so beautiful here! Not to sound like a tourist, but it really is!"
In fact, the farm's beautiful setting and its long-time working relationship with chef James Walt at Araxi means it will be hosting another Long Table dinner right in the farm fields the eve of Slow Food Cycle on Sunday. At a feast, more than 100 guests will dine at a single long table elegantly set with white linen and china to sample wonderful dishes made from ingredients grown on the land around them.
All the hard work it takes to grow those ingredients — coping with the floods, the frosts that hit at the wrong time, the missed orders you have to drive back to the city and deliver, the vacations you never get to take because the farm is part of your life 24/7 —the Sturdys and all the other Pemberton Valley farmers take in stride as long as the rest of us keep cycling, seeking and enjoying what they produce.
"People need us to grow their food but at the same time we need people to be invested in eating local, eating organic, and eating fresh food," says Emma.
"It's a real relationship that we have to build with the community to make us work, and to make the community work. And I think it's something that's very important to everyone.