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When it comes to learning about farming and running a farm market, there might be no one better to talk with than Ross of Springford Farm. Friendly and knowledgeable, Ross is eager to share what running a farm is like in the Parksville Nanoose Bay region and the value of the farm market to the community.
My family goes back to arriving in Victoria in about 1852, and my mom was born on a veggie farm in Saanichton. Springford Farm is a multigenerational operation; my mom represents the 5th generation of farming on Vancouver Island, I would represent the 6th, and my son the 7th. We’ve been farming in the Parksville, Nanoose Bay area specifically for about 45 years.
This region is in a rainshadow of Mount Arrowsmith, so it’s extremely dry. But we’ve found ways to work with the climate. We have irrigation, and we use the grass to protect the soil and do high-intensity rotational grazing with our cattle. We’ve created multiple enterprises that stack on top of each other: for example, the chicken manure is used to grow crops and grass, which the cattle eat to maintain the property.
It began in 2014, and we started selling beef by putting a sign at the end of the road. People would put their money in a box and take a couple pounds of beef out of the freezer. Then we realized that if we had eggs, we could sell them as well and give people a reason to stop for something fresh as well as the beef—and fifty chickens eventually turned into 14,000 laying chickens by 2018. Then we started growing more vegetables, and we have also now become a market for other farmers to sell other goods, as well as other artisanal-sized food operations. We sell jams, jellies, bread, milk and cheese—we’ve got about 80 different vendors we work with throughout the year, both seasonally and weekly.
In the beginning, we set a guiding principle that we wanted to sell food that was local only to Vancouver Island. Everything we sell is either grown or produced/manufactured on Vancouver Island. It’s become a driver for the local economy and for local employment. I’m also seeing a trend in people’s purchasing habits, eating more locally and more seasonally. People are more consciously aware of its importance, especially with recent events like the pandemic and atmospheric river. It gives people a lot of perspective, and our food system and our farmers are going to be better off for it.
We are open year-round, Thursdays to Sundays, 10am to 5pm. We are only open four days a week, which intensifies our selling process. But we use the same building to grade our eggs, so it gives us time to shut down our retail and get our eggs ready for distribution. We do close between Christmas and New Years, as it gives our family and staff a little bit more downtime, which goes a long way with the culture of our employees and sustainability of our families.