Tag Archives: in the press

Our farming project featured in Country Life in BC


In November I was interviewed by Ronda Payne for an article in Country Life in BC, an agricultural newspaper here in BC. Their website hasn’t been updated with the December issue yet, but Ronda put a paper copy in the mail for me and I received it today. Photos above and article below. Thanks Ronda! 

Farm for a Year in Maple Ridge
Country Life in BC – December 2011
by Ronda Payne 

The idea was to farm the land for a year. Just a year – to try it out and see what happened. Now, with that year under their belts, the friends and family who started the Farm for a Year concept in Maple Ridge are looking to change the project’s name. 

With a background in sustainable agriculture and environment, Jocelyn Durston was an aspiring farmer without much practical knowledge or experience. 

“I was dreaming about trying my hand at it, rather than just reading about it,” she recalls.

After recgonizing her nine to five life wasn’t all she’d hoped for, Durston recalled an idea shared with a childhood friend to one day start a sustainable farm together. 

Meanwhile, that friend – Julie – had married Chris Moerman. The pair, along with Chris’ brother (Matt) and Matt’s wife (Chantalle) had purchased part of the two and a half acre former hobby farm the brothers had grown up on. The families moved into the farm house and dreamed of how they would grow food. But, busy schedules demanded their time and the farming simply wasn’t happening. 

Then, two years ago, Durston approached the group with a proposal. In exchange for a rent reduction, she would lead the charge on farming ideas and activities. Now, living out of a converted mobile home, Durston works part time as a tutor and devotes the rest of her time to the farm. It has already paid off.

“We were far more successful in producing an edible harvest this year than we thought,” she says. “In August and September, I ate probably 80 percent of my food from here.”

Ducks and chickens are for egg production and rabbits are raised for meat. Vegetable gardens have been built in a number of forms, a small orchard has been planted and a spiral herb garden is in place near the house. The group also has plans for growing mushrooms and a variety of other crops.

“Chris and Matt used to be in 4-H when they lived here,” Durston notes of the ease in which the animals came about. The farm even recently had pigs in co-operation with a local 4-H group. 

All of the farming is done in a permaculture fashion. Both Durston and Chris took a permaculture course in the spring as well as numerous other classes and sessions on farming and gardening. 

“We’re certainly not experts, but we love it and are learning.” Durston explains. “We’re trying to incorporate permaculture practices into everything. It is earth care, people care and fair share – those are the three ethics with it and anything you do, you do it in this way.”

At the farm, a number of traditional techniques are used, like a “chicken tractor” – a portable chicken cage to go over deep vegetable garden beds. The chickens spend time in the cage and scratch the earth, eat and fertilize. It benefits the soil in the garden and it benefits the chickens. Durston hopes to incorporate a rabbit tractor at some point. Giving the animals free range and options like the chicken tractor adds fertilizer to the grounds and helps to stir up the soil which, in the Farm for a Year location, is important. 

“The soil here is very clay heavy, so we started off with deep beds and tried different methods in each bed,” Durston notes of the vegetable gardens.

In one bed, the farmers did companion planting of the three sisters – corn, green beans and squash. 

“Unfortunately, the beans took off way faster than the corn so we will plant the corn earlier next year,” she says.

In a second bed, they used traditional row planting. In a third, they used the square foot method which a computerized plan Chris created.

Other techniques used help deal with the invasive buttercups found everywhere. Durston doesn’t want to use pesticides so she is creating a “lasagna garden,” so named because it makes use of cardboard, leaves and the chicken coop muck applied in layers. By continuing to build up the layers, it composts, builds eath and becomes a growing medium on top of the now dead buttercups.

Another tool being employed is Hugelkulture – an ancient European method of mimicking what happens in a forest. Durston has layered sticks, leaves and other organic material to replicate the forest floor. 

The relatively new, small orchard includes apple, pear, plum, nectarine and cherry trees as well as raspberries and blueberries. Durston has been building “guilds” around the fruit trees – a concept of having multiple edible plants around an edible tree to work together creating a greater source of nitrogen and nutrients.

Although most of the five farmers are teachers and their day jobs are far from agriculture-related, they have a collective goal to use the space to educate and inspire others. They have already hosted field trips from a local high school and other organizations. Durston also hopes t
o get to the point of producing enough vegetables to sell at the Haney Farmers’ Market. 

“I love the idea of using this space as something we’re not keeping to ourselves,” Durston says. “Anyone can do this. We learn as we go and ask a lot of questions.”

When asked how she feels about the concept of farming, Durston replies, “My quality of life has skyrocketed, I feel more connected to the earth and the community and this is absolutely something I want to incorporate into the rest of my life. We’ll continue as long as it makes sense.”

Featured in the Maple Ridge Times!


Last week we had the pleasure of having Maple Ridge Times journalist Maria Rantanen visit our farm to interview us about our farming project. She published her story, ‘Young family yearns to work the land’ today and we love it! Thanks Maria for sharing our story so well and for capturing some great photos of the farm family for us. I’ve reprinted the story and photos here for our records, but the originals can be read and seen online at www.mrtimes.com. All photos above were taken by Maria Rantanen.

Young family yearns to work the land
The Clark-Moermans are experimenting with farming on a two-and-a-half acre property in east Maple Ridge
By Maria Rantanen, Postmedia Network Inc. August 10, 2011

The grass is cut but not raked on the Moerman-Clark property in east Maple Ridge.

This is not laziness, insisted Julie Clark, at least that’s what her husband Chris Moerman told her.

It’s part of the philosophy that the couple, and Moerman’s brother’s family and their friend Jocelyn Durston – who all live on the small, organic farm in Maple Ridge – are trying to promote: learning to be farmers in a sustainable, natural way, espousing such ideas as permaculture.

Permaculture doesn’t make for a nicely manicured lawn, Moerman said, and the grass clippings on the lawn will eventually break down and become a part of the soil providing needed nutrients.

“Basically any biomass that can be left [where it is] will put those nutrients back in the soil,” Moerman said.

It’s been a year since the five adults – and two babies, now toddlers – started their intensive, but largely experimental farming project.

On their farm, they have raspberries – left over from Moerman’s parents’ days on the property – blueberries, kale, turnips, scallions, garlic, Yukon gold potatoes, corn, beans, and other vegetables they expect to be eating over the next few months.

They also have small livestock on the property: chickens and six pigs, four of which belong to a 4-H club, and two which they’ll keep.

They also had 12 rabbits, six of which were processed on Aug. 3 – a polite way of saying they were being butchered, Clark said.

The topic of the rabbits is a touchy one, Clark said, as everyone grew to like them, and she didn’t know how comfortable she’d be having them butchered and eating them.

“It’s just not nice to kill bunnies,” she said sheepishly a day before they were to be processed.

Clark thinks the family can feed themselves “fairly decently” in season, but after doing the calculations, she said none of them would be able to earn a living off the land.

But growing one’s own food is very “empowering,” Clark said, adding that “when you sit down and say ‘we produced [this]’, it’s very satsifying.”

Farming for substinance is a lifestyle, Clark said, and they want it to be a joy.

It’s also about making ethical choices for the health of the planet, Moerman said.

Clark admits they are no experts at farming and they’ve had to consult Google and YouTube to figure out all sorts of farming techniques and practices.

But they want to get back to the land and reconnect with where their food comes from and learn to produce as much themselves as they can, something their generation is talking a lot about.

Moerman took an organic master gardener course at the CEED (Community Education on Environment

and Development) Centre in Maple Ridge, and a Kwantlen Polytechnic University course about sustainable communities.

Moerman said they know they will have failures in this “big experiment” in agriculture they’re undertaking.

Small-lot farming is the most productive type of farming in the world, according to Christian Cowley, executive director of the CEED Centre.

One of the goals of the agricultural plan of Maple Ridge, developed by the agricultural advisory commitee which Cowley belongs to, is to facilitate small-lot farming on one to 20 acres lots, because that fits the profile of many of the remaining farms in Maple Ridge, Cowley said.

“The big story is there’s so much unused potential [in Maple Ridge],” Cowley said.

Small-lot farming could provide a secondary source of income for their owners or food in an emergency, he added.

Clark’s friend Jocelyn Durston moved onto the property a year ago this month hoping to turn some theories on urban agriculture into practice.

Durston had recently finished a master’s degree in urban agriculture, studying the sustainability of producing food in an urban setting with a focus on how Cuba has been successful at it.

After several years of theoretical work, Durston was looking to get her hands dirty.

She has been blogging about her experience on the farm on a website called Farm for a Year.

“It would not be an exaggeration to say I learn something everyday,” Durston said. “The learning curve has been huge.”

Working with her hands in the dirt has been satisfying and healthy, Durston said, and it has solidified the theoretical work she did before, and the ideas she had about agriculture.

“I feel certainly more convinced of the ability of anyone to grow part of their own food,” she said.

Durston brought enthusiasm to the project, Clark said, and without it, they wouldn’t have gotten as far as they did.

“It was the kick in the butt to do it,” she said of Durston’s enthusiasm.

As they planned their farming experiment – which is a long-term plan for the Moerman-Clark family – they tried to follow the principles of permaculture: following the rules of nature as one grows food for consumption.

Weeds are allowed to grow around other plants as they retain the soil integrity. This respects the natural balance that exists in the ecosystem.

“It doesn’t look as pretty… but the idea is it’s all working in harmony,” Clark said.

Their fruit trees have comfrey planted around them (“Some call it a weed,” Moerman said,) which provides nutrients, shades the area around to keep water from evaporating, and whose flowers attract beneficial insects and bees.

“The idea is biodiversity so that if one part of the system fails, there’s another part that picks up the slack,” Moerman said.

The family tried to do a combination of corn, beans, and squash, which are companion plants, but the corn was planted too late, Clark figured.

The beans are meant to grow around the cornstalks but because the latter is too short, it didn’t work this year.

Another lesson learned. Part of the philosophy is to observe why things are happening in nature the way they are.

For example, nasturtiums attract aphids, so planted beside a garden, the flowers will keep the pesky bugs away from the other plants.

Kai, Clark’s and Moerman’s 20-month old son wanders around the garden picking vegetables to eat, prompting Clark to point out that their farm is “amazing to bring your kids up in,” Clark said.

“Often I’ll think this is what life is about,” she said of their life on the property. “We have a lot of coffee and wine time.”

Clark’s husband grew up on the property, and when his parents were planning to sell, he and the brothers decided to buy it and split the house in half.

Everyone brings their own skills, talents, and interests to the farming project, Clark said, and each person’s abilities seem to complement those of the others.

Chris Moerman is more the big-picture, visionary, while his brother Matt has a lot of hands-on skills to improve the property.

The plan for Durston, who does a lot of the day-to-day chores on the property, was to stay for a year, but she laughed and said, “I love it and they aren’t sick of me yet.”

The five adults living on the property have strong relationships, Clark said, and that’s part of the reason they’ve been successful. It’s a lifestyle choice, she said, but everyone reaps the payoffs and benefits.

It also allows for a broader idea of family – “family is what you make it,” Clark said.

“Even if we won the lottery… I’d still choose to do this because it’s so tied in to my values,” Clark said.

Originally published in the Maple Ridge Times.