Extraordinary circumstances sometimes have a way of sparking us into action; for Jesse Johnston-Hill and Chris Rubens, the COVID-19 outbreak pushed them to make their dream of becoming vegetable farmers a reality.
Residents of Revelstoke, British Columbia, Rubens is a professional skier, and Johnston-Hill a chef at a ski resort. They were both working in the Canadian province’s picturesque mountains when the pandemic swept across the country last spring.
“When the shutdown happened in March, the first thing that came to my head was that I had been talking about starting a farm for years, and now is the time,” explains Johnston-Hill.
Contributing nutritious fruits and vegetables to the local food economy is what drives her. Food security is an issue in Revelstoke, and not only in the wake of COVID-19. The highways in and out of the quaint ski resort town often close due to avalanches.
“We get trucks that come into the grocery stores every day,” says Johnston-Hill. “If they can’t come within a day, you see the result in the produce section.”
Johnston-Hll’s passion is growing food. Besides cooking delicious meals, she has spent time apprenticing on a five-acre organic orchard, a 40-acre organic fruit and vegetable farm in Cawston, BC, and Revelstoke’s Terra Firma Farm. With a BSc in Environmental Science, she cares deeply about working with nature and never against it.
A successful athlete, Rubens has been curbing his carbon footprint in recent years and has been using his ski career to encourage others to do the same. In an introductory letter posted on the couple’s Facebook page, Rubens talks about his love for Revelstoke and everything it has to offer.
“I would love to grow old in this community and contribute to our resiliency,” he says. “I want to help regenerate a community of growers in this region and bring fallow land to use for food once again.”
Turning The Dream Into A Reality
And so together, the couple started First Light Farm. They specialize in baby mustard greens, tomatoes, carrots, beets, fresh herbs, and more, depending on the season.
One of the greatest feats they faced in setting up the farm was finding land to grow on. Being a resort town, property prices in Revelstoke are sky-high. And being in the mountains, suitable agricultural plots are few and far between.
It was a neighbor’s generous donation of a ¼ acre piece of land that helped get them started with their growing venture. After a successful maiden season, the couple has since been able to purchase a three-acre farm within the city limits of Revelstoke.
They plan to cultivate both properties this summer; they’ll plant low-maintenance crops like garlic and potatoes on the donated piece of land that’s further away from where they live. On the new property they own, they’ll sow seeds for the crops that need more attention.
Access For All
The food they grow is sold at the local Farmers Market and to various restaurants in the area. But First Light Farm thinks everyone should have access to nutritious food, and so it has partnered with the Revelstoke Community Connections Food Bank.
Last summer, a GoFundMe program helped raise $1,000 worth of fresh fruits and vegetables for the organization. This year, Johnston-Hill and Rubens have bumped the goal to $5,000 (donate here). The fundraiser supports local growers, sustainable agriculture, and those struggling with food security during these uncertain times.
They’re trying to raise the money early so that they can incorporate that amount of produce into their crop planning for the spring. They have carrots, beets, and veggies of all kinds in mind.
“We bring a lot of diversity to the food bank. We don’t want to just bring greens,” Johnston-Hill explains.
Plans for the farm’s future include becoming certified organic and even extending the growing season through the Canadian winter with an indoor hydroponic farm. Not to mention, doing a whole lot of good for the tight-knit community of Revelstoke.