A growing passion

Revelstoke urban farmers balance financial reality with a love for growing food.

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Stu Smith and Sarah Harper of Track Street Growers. Photo: Eliisa Tennant

You could call it a food revival. The shift towards sourcing more locally grown food in recent years has led to a small revival of urban farmers in Revelstoke producing crops of various vegetables, herbs and flowers.

The area just south of Revelstoke was once a thriving agricultural community with fertile soil conditions perfect for growing crops. That area was flooded in the late 1960s when Keenleyside dam was built.

“When the dam went in it removed Revelstoke as being an agricultural community,” said Melissa Hemphill, Revelstoke’s food security coordinator.

Rob Jay and Terra Park of Terra Firma Farms with their organic egg cart. Photo: Eliisa Tennant

While many of the areas being farmed now don’t have ideal soil conditions, it’s a part of the process urban farmers seem to have accepted. Most, it seems, have also accepted that farming isn’t going to pay all the bills. At least for the time being.

Stu Smith, who owns Track Street Growers along with Sarah Harper, jokes he has to work to maintain his farming hobby. Smith is also working towards a millwright apprenticeship at Downie Timber.

“If Sarah could lean onto this more and be here running the farm, and I’d be able to keep the main money coming in. That would be a good partnership,” he said. “As far as trying to make a living off of it, maybe it’s there in front of us. I don’t see myself quitting my job anytime soon. It supports my farming habit.”

Harper said the development of the food security plan created by members of the North Columbia Environmental Society, and the hiring of Hemphill as the local food security coordinator has provided a network of support.

“Melissa’s really doing a lot of work with local farmers to ensure that we’re getting the resources we need. That’s in its beginning stages but it’s certainly a great resource for us to move into more of a sustainable economic situation. It’s going in the right direction for sure,” said Harper.

The network of support is something Kristina Metzlaff of Bird Tree Urban Farms says she’s glad to have. Metzlaff and her partner Greg have a small quarter acre farm located on Railway Street. While still living in Golden, Metzlaff dabbled with the idea of growing high-end produce specifically for lodges.

Kristina Metzlaff of Bird Tree Urban Farms. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer

“That didn’t really pan out, and a lot of that was just me not focusing,” said Metzlaff, who works as a guide during the winters. “Once we made the move to Revelstoke, a series of events transpired and then it turned out to be full time. It combined really nicely with how things played out.”

While farming has now become a full-time seasonal job for Metzlaff, she said there is still a financial need to continue guiding during the winter.

“I have to financially, and I love it. It’s a nice offset and I’ve invested a lot of time and money in the guiding profession. We don’t work as much anymore in the winter, which is nice. Greg’s a mountain guide, so we’re both far enough along in our careers that we don’t have to work as much. At this point I’m covering my costs.”

Cost was one area where Metzlaff says Terra Park of Terra Firma Farms provided helpful insight by pointing out Metzlaff was under pricing her products.

“Figuring out pricing is huge. Terra’s helped me out with that for sure. At some point, yes if you price at a certain price you’re product moves really fast, but it doesn’t really reflect all the work. At some point it’s well, why are you doing all of this if you aren’t getting some sort of return.”

One of the longest operating farms, Terra Firma is now in its eighth season of production.

Park and partner Rob Jay said they started off small. The couple had a large backyard garden and then asked Park’s parents if they could use some of their land to grow produce on as well.

“We started there, we just had a big garden plot. It just got bigger and bigger until it got to the point where we had a surplus to sell,” said Park. “Because we started off small we couldn’t live off of farm income. We’re still not there yet, but we’re getting closer and closer every year.”

This story originally appeared in the June, 2017 edition of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

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Melissa Jameson is the civic affairs reporter for the Revelstoke Mountaineer. She handles the newsy side of goings on about Revelstoke. Got a news tip? Feel free to contact Melissa at [email protected]