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Local paper covers our new market business!


Photo: Chris Kasza and Jocelyn Durston are farming on three different plots of land in Maple Ridge. Photograph by Maria Rantanen, TIMES

Chris and I were interviewed by the Maple Ridge Times recently about our Farm for Life market business and the piece was published today. Fun! Journalist Maria Rantanen wrote a story on us last year about our farming project and we were so happy to have her back on the farm to talk to her about what we’ve been up to since then. I’ve re-posted the article below and you can also read it online at www.mrtimes.com.

Couple spins magic on three small Ridge lots
A couple is joining a growing number of young adults who are growing food locally
By Maria Rantanen, The Times, September 27, 2012 

With three small plots of land, a lot of hard work and sweat, but a love of the land, one couple in Maple Ridge is supplying marketgoers with fresh produce.

Jocelyn Durston and Chris Kasza are joining a host of young adults who are getting back to the land, farming on small plots, and trying to make a living off it.

The model for their farming is called SPIN – small-lot intensive farming – and with less than acre in production and with their first full season underway, Durston and Kasza are already selling at market and to a local grocery store.

After graduating with a master’s degree in urban agriculture and studying sustainability in producing food in an urban setting a few years ago, the work Durston was doing was theoretical rather than practical, working on public policy in an office setting.

But her heart was pulling her into the garden to do hands-on work.

She rented a space on the property of friends in east Maple Ridge, who had started gardening on their two-and-a-half acres.

Durston jumped into the project with her friends and started her Farm for a Year project, blogging her way through the experience.

In 2012, Farm for a Year morphed into Farm for Life, at which point her partner Kasza joined the project.

Durston said she thinks a lot of young people are starting to realize they don’t want spend 40 to 50 years sitting at a job, and that they don’t need to have big houses and big cars.

There is a lot of satisfaction in growing one’s own food, Durston said, and pursuing what they love doing and being their own bosses.

While Durston calls herself a farmer, Kasza said he prefers the term “market gardener.”

“It’s a lifestyle that we really love,” Durston said.

She also believes that despite the cost of land, there is a lot of under-utilized properties that could be farmed.

“There are a lot of creative ways to access land if you can’t afford it,” she said.

In addition to the lot they live on, Durston and Kasza have also been farming on two other lots in Maple Ridge.

The couple is selling produce from their gardens at the Haney Farmers Market every week bounty. They also sell produce to Roots on Dewdney Trunk Road.

Kasza estimated they are farming on about half to three-quarters of an acre of land.

This year, they’ve grown chard, several varieties of kale, cucumber, broccoli, carrots, beets, peas, and salad greens, zucchini and squash. They also have edible flowers, cut flowers, onions, and potatoes.

Whenever they go to a seed store and are faced with new possible varieties for their garden, they are like “kids in a candy shop,” Durston said.

Durston and Kasza have read a lot about small-lot farming, which is known as SPIN gardening. Some of the inspiration for what they’re doing came from reading about a man in Saskatoon, Wally Satzewich, who was able to make money by farming in people’s backyards using city water.

He focused on high-value foods that bring in money.

“We love doing this so our goal is trying to figure out if we can do this and make a living at it,” Durston said about their small-lot farming.

But they are still on a “learning curve,” Kasza added.

They estimate they can make about $10,000 next year with
their small-lot farming.

In addition to bringing cash from their crops, about 85 per cent of own fresh food is from their garden, which translates into huge food cost savings.

They’d also like to process the food they produce, for example, drying herbs, canning, and pickling.

Selling at the farmers market has allowed them to build relationships with their customers. One family comes to get kale from Durston and Kasza regularly – but it doesn’t last them the whole week, so they come mid-week to pick up more.


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.