Confessions of an (Occasional) Farmer: Not just a farmer

By Terri Smith –

I have spent nearly two years trying to figure out the direction my new life here in Quesnel is to take. In the meantime, while waiting to figure it out, I have been building a lovely life for myself without even noticing.

Part of the Long Table crew: Jenny, Amy, Garret and Terri. Photo: Mark Rupp

I have continued to write this column, rather guiltily these two years, as I’m not actually a farmer any more. But neither can I let go of being a farmer; growing food is one of my passions.

When I moved back to Williams Lake in 2008, we threw ourselves into volunteering for all kinds of local food initiatives so that we could get to know our community, get involved in the local food movement, and find our market. But we lived so far out of town that we spent tons of time and money driving around to volunteer. I think volunteering is a wonderful thing, and I have learned a lot and enjoyed it so much. But the reality is that one does need to make enough money to survive. We burnt out. It’s a common story.

So, when I moved to Quesnel, I resolved to not get involved in much of anything until I figured out what I was doing.

And then one day, a few months after I had moved, I was sitting in the wonderful coffee shop/bookstore on Reid Street, drinking a latte and reading a book, when I couldn’t help but overhear the women talking at the table behind me. I was trying not to eavesdrop, but they kept saying words like “CSA” and “market gardening,” “local food,” and “box-a-week.” I struggled with myself for a while, but when their conversation turned to other things, I went over and introduced myself. I felt shy, but excited.

“I’m sorry,” I started, ever the Canadian. “I couldn’t help but overhear you guys and, well… the words I keep hearing are also my words and I just needed to know you…” It was a rather awkward introduction on my part, but they invited me to sit down. They were, of course, the lovely sisters, Amy and Jenny of Long Table Grocery, which hadn’t quite opened yet. I told them about myself and that I didn’t know how or when I could be involved, but that I very much wanted to know the people here involved in local food. They asked me if I wanted to grow for them, and I laughed and said, “no?”I meant no, I didn’t want to go right back to market gardening. My body couldn’t take it, and neither could my bank account, but neither did I know how to stop. I had a farming addiction.

And so, for my own good, I stayed away from them for two years. I followed the progress of Long Table from a distance, but I didn’t even go into the store or to any of the events. I was always happy to see what was happening at a distance, and, truthfully, I was a bit jealous, but I just couldn’t get involved until I knew what I was doing.

Sometime in February, Amy posted on the Facebook page that they were looking for people interested in teaching workshops on art or food or farming, and a friend of mine tagged me in it with the comment that maybe I could teach how to do a needle-felting project. Her comment made me laugh because my first real connection to local food here would be needle-felted fairy houses, whereas in Williams Lake I was known as “that intense vegetable girl.” I replied that I have taught actual gardening workshops, too, and then I forgot about it. That evening Amy messaged me to ask if I might be interested in teaching a few workshops. We agreed to meet the following week, and thus began a wonderful new friendship and a turning point in my life and outlook on what I am doing.

I taught my first workshop in March of this year and while I had a single moment of fear as 18 faces turned to me, trusting that I could teach them to felt a fairy mushroom house in two hours, I just jumped in and we all had a great time and everyone went home happy with their project. I have one more of those workshops coming up in April, but not only that, I also have workshops coming up on Seed Starting, Compost Building, Season Extending, and Biodynamic Gardening. Once again, I am doing the thing I am most passionate about—teaching people about growing food, and this time I’m not losing money or wearing myself out to do it.

I have made an interesting niche (or niches) for myself. Meeting with Amy also led to my “volunteering” at Long Table every second week, but for my “volunteer” time they send me home with an amazing and huge box of organic food items. The only place I ever really bought new clothes, “My Own Collection,” owned by my friend, Felice, an importer of interesting clothing and other goods from India, is now where I work part time and where I get clothing and art supplies. I still work at the Station House Gallery in Williams Lake each month to help set up for openings, and I also display and sell my various art works in the gallery shop. TheGreenGazette provides a much-needed outlet for writing—sort of like going to confession every two months, only instead of confiding privately to a priest, I just confess all my hopes and fears and failures and happy moments to the Cariboo at large (and then I’m surprised when the general public seems to know such intimate details about my life).

Now that I will be teaching about gardening again, I have the incentive to revive the practices I let slide once I arrived here. I can’t wait to dig my hands into the soil once more and build a beautiful biodynamic compost. I’m excited to teach others about using the planting calendar and I can’t wait to start seedlings with my next class.

I have found a haphazard way of pursuing all my passions and having them provide me with what I need, not only to survive, but to thrive.

As soon as I stopped worrying about what I was going to do, I found that I was already doing it. When I stopped worrying about money, money arrived. My life is filled with love and laughter, good food, and great people. I am no longer a farmer; I am also a farmer.

Terri Smith is a non-certified organic vegetable farmer in the Cariboo. She is passionate about writing, art, goats, and feeding good food to good people. She believes in following your heart, living your dreams, and taking care of the planet.

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