Angela Weir and Gord Spankie are in their sixth year of farming at Crooked Horn, after leaving behind their Vancouver lives for a beautiful corner of the Slocan Valley. “We came to visit one weekend and had a freezing cold tube ride down the river,” Angela recalled. “We just fell in love and decided we had to be here. About six months later we were moving into our house and onto the farm.”
Both Gord and Angela are vegans, and so growing veganically was an obvious choice for them. Instead of using manure on their fields, they use a combination of cover crops, compost teas and fermented alfalfa to add nutrients to the soil. “We aim to provide a diversity of crops for the natural systems to work their magic. And just create healthy plants so they can fight off these pests and diseases themselves without intervention,” Angela said. “Everything we try and do is aiming to reflect our core values,” Gord continued, which is reinforced by their decision to become certified organic in 2011, despite the cost and time this took. “I think going through the certification process opens your eyes to a number of things you might not otherwise have seen yourself,” Angela pointed out.
They currently farm about 5 acres of land on their property, but about half of it is in cover crops at any time. Their main crops are garlic and potatoes, but they also grow all kinds of market vegetables and are known for their colourful salad mix. Mushrooms are a big passion of Gords, with an oyster and shitake mushroom enterprise currently taking up two shipping containers on their property. And they’re a big draw at the Nelson markets too, with people amazed at how good fresh, locally grown mushrooms taste. “People are always saying ‘I’ve never had mushrooms this good’”, Gord told us, “That’s because I picked them yesterday!” Angela loves growing beans and has been experimenting to find varieties that grow well in the area. “We’ve got a couple of varieties that dry down really reliably and we end up with a couple of big bags of beans at the end of the season. I mean, it’s way cheaper to go to the store and buy a 40lb bag of dried beans, but there’s a lot of satisfaction in growing your own protein. Last year we made our own tempeh out of our soybeans for the first time. It’s the freshest stuff we’ve ever tasted and we love it.”
As well as selling to restaurants and stores both in Winlaw and Nelson, they attend both the Wednesday and Saturday farmers markets in Nelson and are starting to do farm gate sales on Tuesday and Friday afternoons when they’re harvesting for market. They both feel that buying locally is essential to the local community and economy. “Keeping your food dollars in this area is so important,” Angela pointed out. “It creates jobs for people, and if we can keep as many dollars and as many jobs here, then this area will flourish.” Gord continued; “I feel like the message is already out there. It’s the people who buy at large superstores that we need to somehow convince that buying local is essential for the local economy, not just us.” Angela finished with a valuable point; “I know it’s a little bit more expensive, but it’s because so much more work has gone into it. You’re supporting families, communities, and sustainable agriculture; which is important.”
They seem well suited to farming life. “It’s not an easy lifestyle but it’s a great one. You get to be outside all day and eat the most amazing food, and enjoy nature – all the wildlife round here is amazing,” Angela told us with a smile. And Gord clearly agrees; “We’re working harder than we ever have before, but we’re happy. And it’s what we want to do. It’s just finding your niche. If you want to do it, go and do it. Life is short.” Angela’s advice to people thinking about getting into farming? “Get out there and do an internship or start a big garden. Make mistakes and learn from them. Just jump in. It’s hard, but it’s so rewarding.”
And their message to eaters? “Eat locally and organically because it’s so good for you and the planet,” Angela replied. “Taste and compare,” Gord suggested. “Buy a broccoli from Safeway, and then buy a broccoli from a local grower. I mean maybe it costs a little bit more, but the taste is going to be totally worth it.”