Big Rock Ranch is breaking new ground in more ways than one.
Robin Hunt, 36, and her husband Johan Bos, 46, have tilled another four acres, thanks to the help of several small farm grants. The funding – $17,500 from Small Farms Business Acceleration Pilot Program and $10,000 from the BC Recovery program – will be used to put in new vegetable gardens, construct a 30- by 100-foot commercial greenhouse and install a 20- by 40-foot root cellar, all of which will dramatically enhance their growing capabilities.
The couple said they were encouraged to apply for the grants by their financial advisor, Chris Bodnar, of Close to Home Organics. Hunt and Bos also invested about $40,000 themselves to complete the project and extend their short Cariboo growing season.
“It’s a pretty big investment in the farm but we also look at it as an investment in the food security of our region. We’re looking toward the future of the farm and its longevity and sustainability,” Hunt said. “Every year we’re building a new project and we thought this year was going to be the year that we could actually just settle but with such great opportunities for funding we just decided to take it on.”
Hunt noted growing in the Cariboo is challenging because there are only have about 80 frost-free days per year. Big Rock is about four weeks behind its typical schedule right now due to a late cold spring, which has stunted the growth of much of their crops.
“This year we’ll be planting mainly our root crops so our cabbages, beets, carrots and potatoes on roughly an acre of expansion. The rest of the land will be for the greenhouse and we’ll be putting our wash and harvest station over there along with the root cellar,” Hunt said.
Bos said they’re a little overwhelmed but excited to build the greenhouse over the next few weeks, even if there have been a few unexpected costs, which have included logistics like drainage, installing lighting and bringing in a generator to heat the building.
Despite the challenges, Hunt said that with frost protection, greenhouses, caterpillar tunnels and cultivating cold-hardy crops, farming in Cariboo is viable. The commercial greenhouse will be a real boon in that regard as right now she and Bos have to wake up every three hours at night to stoke the fires that warm their smaller greenhouses.
They hope to be able to test the new greenhouse before the end of this season and get a sense of how much it will increase the window in which they can cultivate crops. Adding a couple of months on either side of the Cariboo’s growing season will be a huge game-changer, Hunt said.
“If we can make this work, we’ll be positioned very uniquely because there’s not a lot of farmers around the Cariboo,” Bos added.
Bos said this year marks the first time they’ve had paid employees to help him out, two full-time workers and one part-time, thanks to the Canada Summer Jobs Program.
The couple is also proud to say that this year they’re becoming a certified organic farm, which will be complete by July. Hunt said it was an intense process to get certified but said she and Bos have always practiced regenerative, low till and sustainable farming.
“We have a BCS walk behind tractor that we use once in the spring before we do our crops, just to mix in a couple of layers of compost,” Hunt said.
Although raised in the Lower Mainland, Hunt said her mother used to take her up to 100 Mile House every summer to visit her grandparents. It was these visits to the family farm that inspired Hunt’s love and interest in farming. She met Bos in Squamish, where the two became interested in organic food security and started a little farm.
When Hunt’s grandfather passed suddenly they decided to move to the Cariboo permanently with her grandmother and took on the task of eking out living on the farm. It’s taken a lot of hard work but with support from Hunt’s family and the community over the last four years, the two have grown their little farm business into a strong voice for local food security.
Both Hunt and Bos are hopeful the community will continue to support locally grown food and other young agrarians will establish themselves in the area.
“I spent a lot of my summers up here learning about farming and the biodiversity side of things. Then I’d go back to the cities and notice the lack of connection to farm and food,” Hunt said. “So I started kind of growing my own food in my teens and into my 20s I became a lot more passionate about food security, organics and taking care of the environment.”