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Planting the Seeds of Food Security and Ecological Education on Gabriola

Photo credit: Framer Elana Evans in her happy place watering vegetable starts in the new propagation

house. - Elana Evans

A vision of food security, nature education, and local livelihoods is starting to bloom on Gabriola, rooted in the legacy of John Switzer and a new collaboration between the Gabriola Nature Education Society (GNES) and People for a Healthy Community (PHC). Anyone driving down North Road can't miss the newly upgraded farmhouse close to the intersection of Colleen and North Road or the new polytunnel.

The story behind these changes began with John Switzer, who had a vision to promote

nature and ecological farming education on Gabriola, and his many friends who have

worked hard to realize it. John spent a decade cultivating food, community, and friendships

around agriculture at his North Road farm, nurturing the soil, enhancing biodiversity,

mentoring local growers, and generously sharing his farming knowledge.

Over the years, John regularly showed up to People for a Healthy Community (PHC) to

donate hundreds of pounds of beets, carrots, and other produce to support various food

programs. As with many farmers, it wasn’t just a drop and go – there was always a drop – a

conversation – a laugh and then go. And like John, his neighbour and friend Rob West,

would come by with donations of cartons of eggs and it was never a drop and go either.

Brenda Fowler, Executive Director at PHC, has farming in her gene pool and can often be

seen having a chat, and a laugh, so perhaps it was fated that these three would figure out a

way to weave together their common passion for access to locally grown food.

As John's health waned, a seed of an idea sprouted and with the help of friends, he founded

the Gabriola Nature Education Society (GNES) to support learning about nature, ecological

farming, and community rooted in ecological thinking. When John passed away in June

2023, he bequeathed his farm to GNES, ensuring that both his farm and vision would thrive.

Building on John’s generosity and continuing his spirit of collaboration, Brenda and Rob

have worked together to secure federal grant funding for local food security infrastructure,

acquiring a 50-foot plant propagation house, a 100-foot polytunnel, soon to be erected, as

well as harvesting and wash equipment. With the help of a grant from the Marin

Foundation, PHC and GNES have forged a Memorandum of Understanding for siting the

equipment that aligns their shared values, focusing on enhancing food security, knowledge

sharing, promoting food and farming literacy, and building local livelihoods.

The most important piece of the puzzle has fallen into place and a new farmer is now

poised to take over farming the land. Elana Evans, a former urban farmer of City Beet Farm

in Vancouver, is moving into the farmhouse with her young family and will be providing

fresh produce to the public and PHC, nourishing the community while making a living

farming full-time. With her urban farming experience and M.Sc. in soil science, Elana brings

innovative skills and experience of biointensive ecological farming infused with a deep

passion for growing food. Already Elana has filled the propagation house and fields with

thousands of vegetable starts and is gearing up for her first of hopefully many seasons.

“It’s an absolute privilege to be the next caretaker of this land. From the first moments I spent wondering about the farm, I could tell what a labour of love this was for John and many others. I intend for this land to continue to produce excellent quality food for the community while offering joy and wonder to those who chose to spend time here. I farm because it feels like the most tangible way to create the world I want to live in. I hope that you will stop by our farm stand frequently and support me in bringing my little business called Wishful Thinking Farm to life.” 

With the growing season kicking off, Brenda proudly notes that, “our collaborative work

has enabled us to take a big leap forward in vegetable and fruit production and this

partnership will benefit many facets of our community”.

Reflecting on the many months of work to prepare the house and farm for the new farmer,

Rob surmises that “John would be over the moon to know that his farm is poised to become

a thriving hub of knowledge-sharing and community, producing food for Gabriolans, a

livelihood for a young farmer, and a place for children to grow up in nature”.

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