Alana Paterson on Farming

1. How did you come to farming?

My uncle has a farm and gave me my first job out of university. He basically taught me what real work was after 4 years of art school.

2. Has it always been an interest?

Not really. But I did grow up in a house where food often came from other places then the store. Fishing, hunting, growing, preserving were always happening so maybe more of just a mind set then an interest.

3. Tell us about an interesting character you’ve met through farming.

Oh man so many. But Bad Girl Coco has to be number one. Check out #badgirlcocoofficial on my instagram, she is really something else.

4. Which plants are hardest to grow? Why?

Tricky question. It seems like different people struggle and excel with different genera. My boss for the last three seasons was an allium wizard. I suck at growing peppers from some reason, which is a solanaceae but I’m pretty good at growing tomatoes, eggplants and potatoes which are in the same family, so whatever.

5. Which animals are the most enjoyable to rear?

Not chickens and not pigs, sheep have also proven to be a pain in the ass! I’ve never worked with cows so I’m holding out for them. I think they are super neat. Horses are cool but are also not agriculture. They are more like cats for rich people (aside from the very few who work their horses).

One thing that is cool is that the communities who have chosen to stay horse powered (Amish etc.) have done so in order to keep farm sizes small, as only so much can be done with a horse team. Keeping farms small is important for a number of reasons, the opposite of which has changed the landscape of growing in the modern world forever. As soon as tractors and combines were invented the person with the biggest loan from the bank could take over everyone else’s land that couldn’t meet the demands of the new technology. It’s really sad and completely removed the modern world from food production. But ehhhh, that's the way she goes.

6. What mistakes do beginners often make when trying to grow vegetables?

Water probably. Uneven watering is a big one. Drought and flood wrecks vegetables. Also, probably not adjusting watering levels as heat increases through the summer. And overhead watering plants that don’t want to have water on their foliage.

7. Where are some of your favourite spots to go to be alone with nature in BC?

Oh man, so many. But out on the ocean is the best. Nothing beats the freedom of being out on the water. But really it's pretty endless out here, anywhere in the alpine or by the rivers in Pemberton is pretty spot on.

8. Describe your ideal day on the farm.

Well, farming is all about repetition to stay on top of things and not let anything get away from you and over ripen.. You have to be very even handed with your crops. So days where there are new things ready are always exciting. FIRST DAY OF TOMATOES!! We all fight to get assigned to new crops. Then of course not too hot, not too cold. Like 25 degrees out is perfect. New crops to pick, good crew, good lunch and hit a swimming hole at the end of the day. Those ones are pretty good days.

9. There's a lot of criticism towards farming, specifically around fertilizer run off and unsustainable practices - what do you think of those issues?

I think a lot of them. I have always worked on organic, sustainable, free range, locally sold and salmon safe farms. My bosses are land stewards.

It’s the same problem, when technology pushes things too far and Joe down the road has good credit with the banks, he can afford all these chemicals so he gets his tomatoes to market faster and they are bigger. So then John all of a sudden has to do the same or go broke but he wants his even bigger and faster so he dumps on more. And it's really hard to ask them not to do it, because if one guy does the next farm fails because they aren’t meeting the same demands. And if they use herbicides their labour costs go down, and labour is always the biggest cost for farms. If labour costs go down you free up money for more chemicals. Its fucked. The conventional system is completely broken. But the good news is there are more and more farms using different and far more sustainable models.

10. What do you think non-farmers take for granted about farms or farming?

Some take a lot for granted, others not as much. Mostly just the crazy amount of love and labour that has to goes into making a single onion. And the difficulty in owning a farm…a lot of things. Property prices are a pretty big problem where I’m from, acreage is unattainable to be honest. Yeah just how hard it is to make it work, really.

I think the average person has no concept how hard it is to make the food they eat and that keeps them alive everyday. My hands during the work season are permanently dirty - no amount of scrubbing can make them clean. One day I was in the bank and I put my hands on the teller desk and the bank lady just stared at them like I was some sort dirty refuse. I asked her if she ate lunch today.