>First impressions of the farm

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It took about six hours to reach Port Alberni (the town on Vancouver Island closest to Collins Farm) from Seattle. Shortly after crossing the border, I arrived at the ferry terminal just south of the city of Vancouver (just for the sake of confusion, apparently, the city of Vancouver is not actually on Vancouver Island). I missed the midafternoon ferry so waited around for the evening one, entertaining myself at the food court/mini mall/casino placed on the dock just in case passengers don’t feel broke enough after paying the $60 fare to get a car across the water. The ferry trip took about two hours, gliding comfortably across the grey water under a grey sky. It started raining shortly after we departed, but when I arrived at the other side and drove off the ferry, things started to clear up. I shot the above photo just off the highway on my way to Port Alberni. My car and I felt like we were in some sort of ad.

The view off of my new front porch at the Collins’ farmhouse. In the background you can see the faint outline of Mount Arrowsmith, the highest peak on the island. Just below that are three huge cottonwood trees, rumored to be the largest in the region. Most of the farm acerage is either forest or campsite, but the fields visible in this photo provide fodder for cattle, donkeys and horses (five thoroughbred Canadians and one Belgian mare). The Collins ran a dairy operation for many years but changes in the laws that used to protect dairy farmers ran them out of business. Diversification is their current survival strategy: The garden beds are planted in carrots, cabbage, squash, corn, peas, radishes, kale, chard, artichokes, flowers and a few other veggies. In the middle we have strawberries and potatoes in large number. The foreground? I’ll give you a hint: get ready for a deluge of blackberry recipes.


Here comes Jessie, the Belgian draft horse. She’s 18 hands with hooves the size of dinner plates, but don’t let her size fool you – she’s a big softie who loves a belly scratch.


The two Canadian stallions, Paris and Ripley. Listen closely, you can just hear it… “Eh?”

This is the Arrowvale Campground office and cafe. We mostly serve up coffee, pie and ice cream, but the kitchen has become my fresh produce laboratory and personal bakery. The cafe is also the location of our Saturday pancake breakfasts in conjunction with the farmers’ market we host. The rest of the week, it’s sort of a farmhand break room and second home for Bob, Ann and me.


The view to the north, off the deck of the office. The river is just below.


On Canada Day, Crystal (another girl who helps out on the farm part-time) and I went to town to see the parade. Canada day falls on July 1 and is Canada’s equivalent of the US’ Independence Day. The parade featured dozens of horses, even more 4X4 trucks, some old tractors and logging equipment, and a ton of cute kids. After that, we watched them cut a gigantic cake in the form of the Canadian flag, ate some overpriced Chinese food at the “International” festival, and retreated back to the countryside where we decided we’re better off.


The Stamp river, which flows into the valley’s main river, the Somass. It floods regularly and rarely runs low; salmon migrate up and downriver each season to the delight of fishermen and bears. We pump irrigation water straight out of the river, no water right required. It’s a very different picture from Oregon and the rest of the American West, where, as Twain famously said, “whiskey’s for drinkin’ and water’s for fightin’ over.”


Crystal washes vegetables for market on Saturday. We sell the fresh produce outside the office, where farmers from across the river also sell eggs, herbs and vegetables. There’s also a Saturday farmers’ market in Port Alberni, which we view as a good sign – enough people are forgoing Safeway’s offerings to be able to support two markets in the coummunity.


Some people get crop circles, we get alien carrots.


Full moon from earlier this week over the farm. Andrea, our full-time garden manager and my personal farming mentor has been interested lately in planting and harvesting by the moon. According to this school of thought, the moon influences plant life cycles just like it pulls the tides in and out. It all has to do with water and gravitational forces. Anyway, since the moon is full, we seeded new carrots today (root vegetables, which grow best when the moon is waning). I’ll be sure to post an update on our celestial gardening. Speaking of the moon, it’s probably up now and time for me to hit the hay.

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