From city kids to pigs over patios, a story of first generation farmers

The couple are people who choose to work the land rather than climb the corporate ladder, who didn’t inherit the vocation from their parents.

Photographs of Rootdown Farm in Pemberton by Kristin Warkentin

At first glance, Sam Croome and Emily Anderson look like any couple might, coming back from a nice dinner out. He’s done up in a collared shirt and she’s wearing a pretty skirt. Emily quickly sets the record straight: “Oh, this? It was the only thing I could find that wasn’t covered in dirt.” Sam and Emily disappear into the trailer where they are living and return wearing jeans and sandals, revealing the ever-present dirt that seems to have become a fixture on their clothing and underneath their finger nails. The dirt, along with rows of vegetables, a composting outhouse and a very vocal pair of sheep, make it clear that we aren’t in Vancouver anymore.

We are, in fact, at Rootdown Farm in Pemberton, where Sam and Emily are apprenticing with the pair of women who own the farm. At the beginning of May, the couple threw a house cooling party to say goodbye to their home in Vancouver, packed their belongings and their dog, Hunter, into their hatchback, and moved to the trailer that is tucked into a quaint corner of the lush, green property. Harvesting vegetables, raising pigs and attending the occasional fancy dinner to drum up business from local restaurants, Sam and Emily are here to gain the practical experience they will need to one day run a farm of their own.

The couple are first-generation farmers —people who choose to work the land rather than climb the corporate ladder, who didn’t inherit the vocation from their parents.  Many of these farmers operate on a small scale, with sustainability in mind, and many are young, bucking the overall trend of aging farmers; the 2011 Census of Agriculture found that the average age of Canadian farmers is 54. In BC, that age is over 55.

Neither Emily, a petite PhD student who was born and raised in Toronto, nor Sam, a scruffy British expat, are what you would call, “farm bred”, and yet they are planning their future around the hope of working the land.  They aren’t the only ones. Dr. Sean Smukler, the Junior Chair for Agriculture and the Environment at UBC, has noticed a shift amongst his students: “I’ve been involved in agricultural research for 15 years now and just in those 15 years, you see an increase in this back to the land concept…It’s definitely a swing, and it’s exciting to see.” This change in attitude stands in stark contrast to the general trend away from the land. Dr. Smukler notes, “A couple generations ago, two thirds of Canadians lived on or around a farm.” Now, that number is a little over two percent. And not everybody is interested in a closer connection to the food they eat. “For some, [the move away from farming is] a good thing. It shows progress. We’re not doing this menial dirty work,” observes Dr. Smukler.

But for many of the young people who are becoming involved in urban farming, or, like Sam and Emily, are making the move to more rural settings, farming is much more than dirty work. “I think it’s an interesting balance between hands-on work and having to be creative and problem-solving,” says Emily. For Sam, it’s about getting out of the city, having more autonomy than a traditional career offers, and growing things. The couple agrees that the work they have been doing on the farm has been satisfying. As Emily puts it, “You know how many things that you’ve harvested at the end of the day.” Between Sam’s degree in forestry (“Growing things, just albeit taller, slower growing things.”), which included shared courses with the agriculture program and Emily’s PhD, which has a focus on food systems, the couple is well-equipped to take on the steep learning curve involved in becoming a farmer.

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