2015 Mentee Blog #1 – Mary Coll and Steve Unger

2015 Mentee Blog #1 – Mary Coll and Steve Unger

Four years ago, we moved with our two children from an urban life in Vancouver, where food grew in our yard and chickens roamed with the kids, to a farm on  southern Vancouver Island.  To ride the waves of peak oil, economic collapse and climate shift, and to live a saner life closer to the earth, we sought to plant ourselves on land, to build a home, grow more food, weather the great transition, and grow into whatever is to come next. On a daily basis, we are forever observing, interacting, experimenting, understanding, then confused, tripping up, falling down, getting up again, continuing on, one foot in front of the other, one step at a time, one success after another…learning…living.  In so doing, we ourselves are seeds…buried in darkness, bursting with potential, eager to push up and break out into the light, unfold into the air, stretch out and grow tall and strong, to eventually drip with fruit, and feed, knowing there will be rest after that, before it is time to start all over again.

The seed! Nothing less than a miracle, a veritable fish and loaves; a single pea seed, left to its own devices, grows into hundreds; a single clove of garlic, dropped in the soil, transforms into five more. Where else does one find such a brilliant return on hard-earned well-spent precious time and energy and hope? And nothing knows how to grow in a west coast garden better than seeds grown by local farmers in their west coast gardens, in the very same wild and crazy bursting-with-life south island weather conditions as those in our own gardens.  For the love of that first juicy bite of tomato sweet off the vine, for the self reliance of dried beans stored enough for the winter, it is an excitingly subversive tantalising taste of food freedom to save and store and pass along seed.

Six years ago, we bought 100 pounds of san marzano tomatoes from Klippers Organics at the Trout Lake Farmers Market.  We canned them all, and then saved some of the seed from the rotting ones put aside.  We dried them out and put them in a jar, and then packed them up and brought them here when we moved to Sooke.  This year, finally, we planted them out…and they are fruiting like crazy as we type!  These toms are an surprisingly amazing full circle journey, infused with the young and idealistic dreams of two city dwellers, growing now in a soil of lessons lovingly learned and vision relentlessly tweaked, into a maturing crop of future seed!  We have been ‘hack’ seed saved our own stuff over these four years, growing and replanting all our favourites: quinoa, black beans, lentils, buckwheat, oats, and corn…hoping to one day grow all our own animal feed, along with our own food stores.

But with excitement and successes also comes failures – the tomatoes that did not fruit in a too hot greenhouse; the carrots that did not germinate within a bed of weeds; the small potato plants spawning only a couple spuds.  These failures are heart-breaking and demoralizing particularly when foiled to your excitement and enthusiasm.  Growing food is hard.  It is a thousand little things that add up to a life-time of knowledge.  None of which was passed to us by our city parents and our city up-bringings.  And lost when our farming grandparents moved on.  We have only grown crops full-on  four times in our lives.  Laura Ingles had more farming experience at 12 then we do now.  This is why we need mentoring.

We are grateful to be learning from Mary Alice Johnson, to have her essential Sooke grown seed bank available to us just down the road, and her amazing wealth of knowledge offered us so generously.  What she knows, what she has accumulated throughout her years of learning and doing and knowing and experience is a vital asset to our community, and our children’s future, to be captured, recorded, protected, stewarded, and continued on. By this mentorship, we, and our children, who are learning alongside – and who, at 12, are developing Laura Ingles’ knowing – are joining that effort, and planting more vital seed, in our hearts, our minds, and our soil.

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