I've taken part in Elva's fabulous CSA (community supported agriculture) program in the past, and was always delighted with the little gems I received each week, all cultivated and hand picked by Elva's palms. Everything from blackberries, raspberries, fresh greens (and the best heirloom tomatoes and kale you ever did see).
As November moves on day by day, I see the snow fall and am reminded of some of my favourite memories from this past summer: pulling weeds at Rhizome and chatting with Elva about all things under the sun. A thrill and a delight, I present you with a further window into her inspiring and inspired journey.
1. When did you first become interested in organic farming?
When I was a kid, my grandfather owned a hobby farm that he bought when he moved to Canada (the same farm land that I use now). I used to go there as a child. I’ve always been interested in environmentalism and that was a big influence for what I do. While in University [at University of Ottawa for International Development and Globalization, I'm currently studying Food Security through Ryerson University], I experimented growing greens in my apartment and was part of a garden group on campus.
After graduating, I went backpacking across Canada and WWOOFed. While on one of the farms, I remember one of the supervisors said something to the effect of “you're going to want to know this when you have your own farm” and I was so surprised because at the time I was not planning on running my own farm, but what she said stuck with me.
2. What gets you the most excited about what you do?
There are many reasons I love what I do; working mostly outdoors, watching plants grow through their whole life cycle, watching landscapes go through a whole season, experimenting and learning by making mistakes, working for myself, getting excited about vegetables, sharing that excitement with my customers, knowing that my work contributes to a healthier community, doing hands-on work and not needing to look clean or put together while working…
3. You spent some time out West WWOOFing - how did your experiences shape what you do on your farm?
I spent some time on West coast in 2009 and after that on the East coast in 2010. When I travelled on the West coast, it was more like a primer for getting into organic farming; I got to see how a couple farms operated and different business models. WWOOFing on the East Coast in 2010 was a completely different experience. By that time I was more interested in learning specific growing methods, construction and what was required to become a market gardener.
Now I grow some of the same varieties of vegetables on my farm (for example, growing Mizuna which reminds me of Wild Roots farm in Nova Scotia). I’d say I’m more influenced by the techniques I learned while working as a Field Manager on a farm north of Toronto in 2013.
4. What were some of the reasons for starting your own farm, Rhizome?
In 2010, I was living and working in Toronto. I had done some WWOOFing, trying to grow things on my own in my apartment, and was working in an organic produce store. I was also volunteering at an urban agriculture organization that ran a small CSA. Mid-year, my best friend unexpectedly and traumatically passed away. I ended up going out on a backpacking journey on my own out east, seeking peace, and ended up again on a farm.
The farm was a place where 4 or 5 of us were all recovering from one heartache or another and actively interested growing foods for the market garden. We all found comfort working in the soil and with the land. Upon returning home, I moved to my father’s farmhouse in January 2011, about 6 months after the loss of my friend. Working with the land has had a huge positive impact on my trauma recovery, and continues to strengthen me emotionally and physically.
When I first started Rhizome Farms, it was more of an experiment; I just wanted to see if I could grow food on my own - whatever extras I grew, I gave away for free. I began working with an organization that focused on local food security and began selling excess produce at a farmers market with that group and I was also working with a local organic fruit farmer. After I realized that I could actually grow food and enjoy doing it, I started to take the business more seriously.
I like the CSA model best because it is a more reliable way of selling produce. I know how many baskets I need to put together at the beginning of my day, rather than guessing at what will sell at market. It is also nice because I get to know my customers better and share the enthusiasm for fresh local veggies, and they get to visit the farm, see how things are grown and spend a bit of time outdoors.
5. Any tips for someone wanting to start learning more about organic farming/starting their own farm?
My advice for someone wanting to start their own farm or get involved in organic farming, is to immerse yourself in sustainable food culture; become a human sponge of information, volunteer for as many local food organizations or community gardens as you can but most of all; start small and don’t expect too much.
There is a supportive community out there, but the reality is that you’re probably going to need a second off-farm job in addition to your farming business. Also, stay open-minded and experiment. Not everything has to be done the way someone else has done it. Be innovative. Most of all, try to keep a positive attitude about your struggles and successes.
Elva is busy at work building a new hoop house for the farm, creating Rhizome's official website, and prepping for the spring CSA registration. For more information about Rhizome Farms and their CSA program, visit the blog, Facebook or email Elva directly: firstname.lastname@example.org