I’m back! I had such a great time. Even though I have read all of Joel Salatin’s books, attended a workshop about three years ago and have seen lots of youtube videos of the guy, I still learned soooo much. As well as listening and learning, I also got to meet a whole bunch of interesting people, all ages and stages. Tattoos, piercings and wild hair (this IS Saltspring, after all) to button downs and chinos, plus a sprinkling of John Deere caps…conventional dairy farmers, urban agriculture farmers, herbalists, hobbyists, and folks like myself who want to get serious, but are still figuring out how to do it. I had breakfast with the owners of Little Qualicum Cheeseworks (I buy their cheese all the time, it was a nice surprise to meet them), and my seatmate for the talk the first evening was Julia of Urban Digs in Vancouver, whose energy just radiated from her. There were many other interesting people, including a young guy of 2o or so, who arrived on a motorbike and had the latest issue of Stockman Grass Farmer tucked in his back pocket, and a free-lance journalist there to do a piece on Joel Salatin. Michael Ableman, our host, brought over three of the workers from his urban agriculture project in Vancouver, Sole Food.
The event was on Saltspring Island – the only way to get there is by ferry or plane. All of us who attended from Vancouver Island went by this ferry, but a few from the Mainland chose to arrive by floatplane – including Joel Salatin himself, who enjoyed the opportunity to sit in the co-pilot’s seat and have a go at the controls. A high flying farmer?
Foxglove Farm sits well up on the side of Mount Maxwell, and as a result has a unique micro climate (it was downright chilly) compared to most of us who live closer to sea level. In the photo below, Mount Maxwell is the large pointy hill in the centre background, the farm is about halfway up the shoulder, on the other side from what we’re looking at. This shot was from the ferry.
I had booked a bed in one of the on farm cottages, and was given a beautiful bedroom to myself, complete with it’s own deck. The farm is old by local standards, hewn out of the surrounding forest just over a century ago. For about 30 years before Michael Ableman took it over, it was a “dude” ranch, which explains the various cottages and huts, vestiges of corrals and large hayfields – one of which many attendees used to camp in overnight.
The place was overrun with tent caterpillars, an annoying and prolific pest here in the PNW – most of the apple trees in the orchard had been decimated by these munchers. It’s supposed to be a bad year for them, and though I ‘ve got a few on my place, it’s nothing compared to the population at Foxglove – there were millions – people plucked them off each other all through the conference, brushed them off chairs, etc.
I know none of this has much to do with Joel Salatin, but it impressed me that such a diverse bunch had so much in common, and it was fun to be staying in such a beautiful spot. Michael Ableman has a long history in organic farming, has written and photographed three great books and I really admire his Solefood enterprise, and I wanted to get all that out first, so I can concentrate on what I learned from Joel Salatin in the next post. Which is coming soon, I promise!