By Glenda Bartosh
There was a celebration at Helmers’ farm up in Pemberton on Saturday, one beyond the daily celebration of doing what you love. In the case of the Helmers, that means growing fresh produce in a way that’s natural and sustainable — good for the land and everything it supports, good for the chefs and everyday cooks who like to use it, good for the taste buds, and good for the people who eat it.
Saturday was Doug Helmer’s birthday, and after working his fields and doing the interview for this column, he and his family were going to gather round a bonfire for dinner to celebrate his birth in Bralorne 67 years ago.
It’s a rare thing that some of us get the chance in life to act out our dreams. But Doug and his wife, Jeanette, took up the opportunity literally in spades back in the ’90s when they moved to their farm full-time to pursue what they had been enjoying for years part-time — transforming their little piece of land into a piece of organic paradise.
The tale is really one of true love, not exclusively or necessarily romantic, but one that tracks the old theme “do what you love and the money will follow,” or at least you hope it will.
It all starts with Doug and his connection to the valley.
“We met on a ski trip in Rossland,” says Jeanette, who grew up at 29th and Palmerston in a West Vancouver that was very different from the one we see today. At that time, monster houses jostling for space on the slopes weren’t even imagined, never mind built, and the Upper Levels Highway didn’t exist. Their family, like many others in the area, had a garden, and horses and chickens, and Jeanette grew up playing in the woods and riding the trails crisscrossing the mountainside.
“I had never even been to Pemberton and when I first came, it was so hot and buggy. I’d see Doug’s grandpa, who was in his 90s, out working with the mosquitoes swirling around him, and I thought, how can he do that? And I’m here now, and I love it!”
I often think our connection to places is more than just memory, it can be literally in the bones. Doug, with his deep Pemberton roots, is a case in point. His maternal grandpa — Walter C. Green, who passed away in 1985 at the amazing age of 105 — had 80 acres about a mile up the road from where the Helmers now farm. It was where Doug’s mother, Anne, grew up, and where Doug cut his teeth on farming.