With the end of 2022 just a few weeks away as I write this, I must admit, this is one farming year that I’m going to be happy to see the backside of. I’ve been farming in the Comox Valley for a decade and prior to that, on the mainland for another eight years. But in almost two decades of farming, this is the year that almost broke me.
Having already experienced the heat domes of 2021, I thought we were prepared to repeat the same this year. We had switched to growing ginger in some of our greenhouses and were experimenting with other heat-loving crops like sweet potato. Our staff understood that we might switch to extra early morning starts come summer, and head for local swimming holes by lunchtime to cool down.
Our diversified farm, I thought, had lots of built-in insurance. We grow over 47 different fruits and vegetables, and normally in any year one or two might fail or have lower yields. But in 2022, that number more than tripled. First, the heavy rains meant that we couldn’t even get into our fields to plant our early greens. We tried to plant our potatoes at the end of March and managed to get in 1200 lbs during a two-day reprieve of the rain. All that time and energy was wasted though. We barely harvested 400 lbs in total because the rest ended up rotting in the fields when April, May, and June turned extraordinarily wet.
Our zucchini refused to flower and just sulked. Adding to that undersized garlic due to nutrients washing away and only half our berry crop being pollinated, the number of crop failures just kept mounting.
Our poor kale. Who can’t grow kale? Apparently, us. When our poor plants were exposed to that relentlessly cold spring, they thought they’d gone through a winter and decided to flower and stop making greens. Zucchini, on the other hand, refused to flower and just sulked. Adding to that undersized garlic due to nutrients washing away and only half our berry crop being pollinated, the number of crop failures just kept mounting.
And then suddenly, the taps turned off and we’ve been in a drought ever since. Our region of Vancouver Island has only received 25% of normal water and snowpack. And that includes the spring of relentless rain. This year’s farming season jumped from one extreme to the other, and while we were able to make up some of our losses with the warmer fall, our books tell me that we lost $20,000 this year. That’s a tough one to swallow.
Yet here I am dreaming of next season as I flip through seed catalogues and do my walks of the field. Farmers are eternal optimists, it seems. And thankfully so. Maybe it’s the challenge that mother nature has just thrown at us but I’m now even more determined to try to manage through all the ups and downs and still grow food for my community. I’ll split planting times, have back-ups for my back-ups, and experiment with even more planting techniques to try and produce successfully.
I’m also going to lean on my farming community. Now, more than ever, farmers need to work together to share successes. Change is happening too quickly, and we can’t afford to hoard our knowledge. I’m committing to supporting my fellow growers with whatever ideas and techniques work. That’s what’s going to get us through this roller coaster ride – holding on to each other.
Arzeena Hamir is a food security activist and farmer. She and her husband run Amara Farm, a certified-organic vegetable and fruit farm in Courtenay.