This is the first story in a six-part series chronicling farming on the South Island ahead of the 150th anniversary of the Saanich Fair. We talked to farmers both old and young, and asked them what has changed over the years and what makes them who they are today.
Check back each morning and afternoon for new stories between Aug. 29-31.
Erin Bett never grew up on a farm.
No one in her immediate family owned a farm and growing up in the 80’s and 90’s was a time she says taking to the fields was not something encouraged for young women. Despite all this, she finds herself the proud owner of Fierce Love Farm, a small-scale and certified organic farm. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“(It) made me feel really proud of myself to be able to (farm) and be able to show myself and other people that women can do this just as well and can actually excel at farming,” Bett explained. “There is really a strong joy that comes from producing something totally for yourself and by yourself and has really made me feel strong in a way I haven’t felt before.”
The former masters student in community planning says it’s part of her responsibility to represent young, female farmers getting into a typically male-dominated industry. At her one-acre farm on Haliburton Road, Bett pulls in anywhere from 30-40 different crops, 13-14 hours a day, seven days a week through digging, fertilizing, planting, watering and caring for the organic beets, tomatoes, flowers and garlic among others.
Bett gets to do what she is most passionate about, working with her hands, spending her days in the sun, eating organic food and preserving the land she says is far more important than many realize.
“If anything were to happen to cut us off from the Mainland, then we only have a couple days of food storage. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we knew we had a thriving local farm economy that is going to be stable?
“My understanding is that approximately 50 per cent of the food we consumed on Vancouver Island in the 1950’s was produced by Island farmers and now I understand that figure has dropped to somewhere around two-to-three per cent.”
Bett says the diversity in food and crops accessible to Vancouver Islanders has significantly decreased while prices for farmland have steadily increased, making it difficult for young farmers to get into the market. She feels a responsibility to advocate for farmers and the protection of farmland, and despite the challenges, has no plans to stop doing what’s become more than just a job, instead encompassing her entire life.
“As hard as it is, and as tired as you get, I don’t think there is really anywhere else most of us would rather be or we would have left and would be doing something else,” she said.