Five-acre farms are slowly disappearing from Nanaimo
Nov 27 2012
I'm welcomed with handshakes from firm, calloused palms and hot coffee fresh from the stovetop. On cue, sunlight drifts through the window, lighting up rows of freshly canned pears sitting on the counter. Sacks of hand-picked hazelnuts stuffed and knotted into the legs of nylons hang from the roof beams.
This is the home of Don and Deborah Wytinck, and one of the last farms within city limits. With the destruction of the last five-acre farm on Third Street underway, the Wytincks are members of a dying breed.
And it's not only them. They worry that if the demise of the local farm continues unabated, the remaining heritage breed-stock that typically flourish in smallholdings will also meet their demise.
They moved to the property, nestled in among new housing developments just off Bowen road, 32 years ago. Spurred to action by economic conditions in the late 1970s, they wanted to own land to feed themselves, as a safeguard against the recession. The area they bought into had been divided of off into two-acre parcels in the 1940s for precisely that purpose, said Don.
They call their property Coneygeers, after a field in Irthing-burgh, England where Deborah grew up. The word is Old English for "a meadow where rabbits play."
"I came to Canada because I couldn't believe you could put five combine harvesters in one field," said Deborah. "We had little tiny fields at that time in England."
Don grew up farming in Manitoba, after his father died of leukemia. Don's mother was left on her own with four children, so at the age of 14 he left school and took over the farm. At the age of 20 he went back and finished school.
With Don's skills and Deborah's will, they have managed to make the farm work, and have raised rabbits and purebred North Country Cheviot sheep on the property for the last 32 years.
They currently have 19 heads of sheep, a handsome, pure white variety originally brought to Canada by Scottish immigrants.
Historically their wool was the mainstay of the British tweed industry, said Deborah, and wool in general was one of the first tradable commodities on the world markets.
"The Cowichan Indian mill regularly bought all our fleece for years," for use in their signature sweaters, said Deborah. Though they produce food on their farm for themselves and others, the focus of the farm currently is on providing breeding stock. They got into sheep because when they bought the acreage it was overrun with tall grass and being English, Deborah said she was tired of North American beef and pork. So they bought sheep to graze the grass, and because their size was also ideal for the smaller pasture.
The issue of the demise of the small farmer is complex, but comes down to people being willing to pay for local food because at the moment, it simply costs more to produce.
"People's responsibility is to feed themselves. The grand town planners forget that people need to get fed where they work and live," said Deborah.
"Once you put buildings and hard-top roads on land, it doesn't produce food anymore."
Aside from food quality, the Wytincks think that a world where people increasingly live in urban areas needs to be tempered by contact with the Earth. "People are out of sync with living," said Deborah.
"For the well-being of a body, mentally, psychologically, everybody has to be in contact with nature. And it isn't just a case of going out to 'have fun' in the park,"
As she talks, a downy wood-pecker alights in the tree just outside the window.
Don points to it with a smile, and tells me she was born this year.
Builders are currently trying to buy them out so they can develop the two lots, totaling three acres, where they house their animals and fruit trees.
"They put in 10 houses over there last winter," said Don, pointing to the lot next door, where they used to graze their sheep.
Unfortunately, because they have no children to pass the farm on to, and as their farm status expires when they leave or sell, it is likely that when the Wytincks go, the farm will too.