As some of you may be aware, I’m Holly, the incoming Farm Manager at the Edible Garden Project. It has been said that I have some big shoes to fill.
The outgoing manager, Farmer Gavin, has been with the EGP for the past four farm seasons. Just this year he oversaw the construction of a walk-in utility cooler, installation of paving stones under our celebration shelter, and the entire design and build of our second farm site, the Sutherland Schoolyard Market Garden. We also managed to have our best year in sales on record, meeting and exceeding our annual sales goals.
He did all this while making everyone who set foot on the farm feel welcome and useful – genuinely and warmly connecting with hundreds of volunteers, market customers, interns, students and community members. He has been building Loutet Farm up, and his vision included not only a fantastic and well functioning design, but an inclusive and lighthearted atmosphere. Not to mention his booming laugh and those endless high fives.
So do I have big shoes to fill? Nah – I’d say I have some ridiculously huge rubber boots to fill.
When I started at the EGP this Spring, Gavin was very open with me that he would be leaving at the end of the season and that he hoped I’d take his place. The thought filled me with anxiety – how would the community take this?
How would I win over the old school volunteers and neighbours? How could I possibly make things grow as well as someone who knew the land like the back of his hand, someone who knew which crops worked in certain corners of the farm and which just wouldn’t, someone who even notices slight differences in the way leaves on the trees around the farm change colours season to season?
As it turns out, my anxiety was unfounded. Having an entire season to work alongside Gavin and glean off little tips and tidbits while discussing everything from seed varieties to harvest techniques, renewed my confidence in my own abilities.
I’ve spent years working on community development projects and organic farms. Not only do I have the foundation Gavin lay, I have my own strengths, ideas and skills to offer to this space. As farmers, we have the opportunity to experiment and get creative, to take risks and push the boundaries and see what works and what fails. That will never be the same for me as it was for him and that is okay. That is one of the things that drew me to farming in the first place – you will literally always have more to learn. If you think you know everything there is to know about farming, you’re doing it wrong.
As for the community? The folks involved with the EGP are as warm and welcoming as you could ever hope for. I was caught up in the fun and inclusive nature of the farm immediately. We work with hundreds of volunteers every year, some once for a couple of hours, some for several hours a week, all season long. It is truly magical watching people fall in love with the space every single day.
Gavin and I spent a lot of time philosophizing about the concept of a “community farm” while turning compost or weeding carrots. No one really owns the farm (except the City of North Vancouver role as a generous landlord), so it is as important to cultivate community as it is crops. The farm belongs to the community.
It isn’t my intention to downplay the role of the farmers – we play a very important role in ensuring the farm is productive, and there is great value in having someone work for years getting to know the land and the neighbours. I suppose what I’m getting at is that when it comes down to it, we farmers may come and go, but the strength of the community will hold the space. This is a comforting thought, and really helped me accept the changes. It will also guide the way I manage the farm – by putting the community first, and honouring the legacy Gavin has created. Time to pull on some rubber boots – but I’ll make sure they are my size.