We found ourselves surrounded by trees, its leaves rustling in the wind. We drove down a deep slope and just around the bend it came into view. With excitement and enthusiasm, we reached our destination. Healing Farm, a certified organic farm is located in Saanich, BC.
In front of us, stood a 130-year-old wooden barn, warm and weathered. Sitting on 18 acres and home to 1100 fruit trees, 399 chickens, mason bees, honeybees, maple trees, nut trees and a forest.
We happily greeted our hosts.
Mike and Sharyn, are the owners. Mikes’ background is extensive. He grew up on a farm, has 3 university degrees, worked in fisheries and agriculture, a forest ecologist, and most recently, 12 years experience as owner and operator of a certified organic farm. Sharyn, a city slicker, as she calls herself, is his wife and partner.
To begin our tour, we disinfected our footwear by stepping in a solution of bleach and water.
The forest is an environmentally sensitive area and valuable ecosystem. Here, we entered into a different microclimate; Douglas/Grand Fir, Red Cedar, Bigleaf Maple, and Hemlock trees. 6-7 natural springs bubble up from the ground turning into streams.
It’s an adaptive environment influenced by local conditions. A magnificent 400-year-old tree lives in this forest.
Mike tells us, it’s a perfect partnership. Pileated woodpeckers whack at fallen trees in search of carpenter ants. This hollows out the tree, now a shelter for barred owls, who look after the rats and mice in the orchard. The trees break the wind from the ocean, the springs provide water for irrigation and fallen trees provide wood for heat. Forests are valuable and should be protected.
The Sugar Shack
An old shed on the property was repurposed for making maple syrup. Sweet! … pardon, the pun.
Maple trees on the property are tapped. Once the sap is collected, it’s boiled down in the Sugar Shack. “The smell is lovely”, Sharyn says. I bet it is.
It takes approximately 10 gallons of maple sap to make 1 quart of maple syrup.
"Bees are the most important pollinators of our fruits, vegetables, flowers, and crops. More than 1/3 of the world's crop production is dependent on bee pollination", says Marla Spivak on Why Honeybees Are Disappearing. A must watch on TED.
How can we help? In two very easy ways, Marla explains, plant bee-friendly flowers and don’t contaminate these flowers with pesticides. Plant a diversity of flowers that blooms throughout the season. Diversify our farms, plant cover crops to nourish our soil and our bees.
The Healing Farm has both honeybees and mason bees.
Mason Bees are a solitary insect. They do not produce honey or beeswax. They are super pollinators. As an added bonus, males don’t have stingers and females only rarely sting. Females collect a mixed mass of pollen and nectar. She then lays an egg on top and plugs it. Over the summer, the larva consumes its food and spins a cocoon around itself. By winter, it's matured and enters into hibernation.
Last year Mike and Sharyn collected 5000 cocoons, the year before 8000. They are then sold for educational purposes or to other orchards.
Fruit and Nut Trees
When Mike and Sharyn moved in 12 years ago this wasn’t a farm, it was a subdivision. 6 ½ acres of overgrown wild blackberries and Scotch broom was cleared to make way for their orchard.
At one time, used as a dumping ground for rocks, stands over 100 hazelnut trees, chestnut and walnut trees.
Close to 1100 fruit trees have been planted: sweet and sour cherries, peaches, grapes, blueberries, raspberries, currants, pears, nectarines, apples, heritage apples, persimmons, quince, and mulberries to name a few.
With thought, care and attention, each one planted in a way that mimics a forest, the same type or variety of tree is not planted together. Pears are in the middle of apple and plum trees. They’re all mixed up.
20 varieties of sweet cherries, 6 varieties of sour cherries, 74 varieties of apples, 30 varieties of plums. Some trees produce fruit every year, some every other year, at times none at all. Each blooming at different times extends the growing season. Diversification is key for a continuous flow.
With their organic certification, each and every tree is tracked and recorded in minute detail.
Chickens and eggs
They were everywhere, 399 to be exact. Roaming around in a wide open outdoors space and through 4 chicken runs. Netting runs around and along the top to protect the chickens from raccoons.
We stepped inside a clean, sheltered barn for egg laying. Close to 300 eggs are gathered daily.
For the very first time, I held a freshly laid egg, still warm.
Organic grain is distributed through an automatic feeder and constant access to fresh water is supplied.
Older, non-laying chickens are never killed at the Healing Farm. They’re retired. They also have a palliative care section for ones that are sick or injured. It’s apparent their chickens are well taken care of.
Next up is the egg grading station, built according to the Canadian Food Inspection guidelines. Eggs are washed in a stainless steel sink at a temperature of 47.3 degrees Fahrenheit, then rinsed and air-dried.
Eggs are then candled; placed above a light, which shines through each egg, to check for hairline cracks or blood clots.
Sharyn demonstrates, there are no cracks or dark spots inside.
With their organic certification, inspections are 5 times/year.
Sorting, drying and storage
A short distance away is a building with solar panels on its rooftop, facing south, slanted at 49 degrees. Currently, it’s used to heat hot water tanks. The future plan is to add electric lights. The goal, to become carbon neutral.
This is where the processing takes place. Fruit is brought here for sorting. You’ll find a dehydrator for making fruit leather, a cider press, UV light pasteurizer, plum and cherry pitters. It’s a commercial kitchen approved by the local health authority.
Fruit is sorted, packed and sold to local markets. Imperfect apples are made into juice and fruit leathers. Apples and pears are dehydrated into chips. Tomatoes are dried. Fruit juices are frozen. A UV light pasteurizer kills the bacteria but not the enzymes. No additives or preservatives are used here.
We head up to the attic. It’s completely empty at this time of year. This is where nuts are spread out and dried on tarps.
The basement is used for storage; it stays cool, similar to a root cellar. Perfect for storing potatoes and squash. We see huge walk-in coolers and freezers. It’s important to Mike and Sharyn that benign technology, not destructive technology is used.
This is where we reached the end of the tour and where Sean loaded up his arms with fruit leather, apple rings, dried nuts and his favorite, a jar of honey. He was like a kid leaving a candy store.
It was such a pleasure to be there. The experience left us wanting more, to continue being a part of it all.
The Healing Farm is 18 full acres of love and passion.
Thank you Mike and Sharyn for your contribution in making this world a healthier and happier place.
For more information on where you can purchase their products or if you’d like a tour, please contact the Healing Farm here.