Jack Mar and his family have been farming their entire lives, his father started Mar Farms in 1937. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)

Growing the South Island: Jack Mar, Mar Farms

“At one time, the profit from farming made for a good living, but today it’s a huge expense to get into farming.”

This is the third story in a six-part series chronicling farming on the South Island ahead of the 150th anniversary of the Saanich Fair. We talked to farmers both old and young, and asked them what has changed over the years and what makes them who they are today.

Check back each morning and afternoon for new stories between Aug. 29-31.

Part 1: Erin Bett, Fierce Love Farm

Part 2: Robin Tunnicliffe, Sea Bluff Farm

Part 3: Rob Galey, Galey Farms

Part 4: John Pendray, Pendray Farms


Farming on the Saanich Peninsula goes back more than 100 years. In fact, Jack Mar’s father began farming the area in 1911, after coming over from China. In that time a lot has changed, but a lot has also stayed the same.

“Today it’s a whole different game in farming. Years ago you had a lot of people working but now we’re mechanized quite a bit and that’s the big difference,” Mar explained one August day, while sitting amongst a field of corn.

“At one time, the profit from farming made for a good living, but today it’s a huge expense to get into farming.”

The land costs more, the equipment costs more, the fertilizer costs more, the seeds cost more; you get the idea.

And despite the transition towards mechanized farming and smoothing out a more streamlined process, these technological advances haven’t made the days any shorter.

“The farms are getting bigger, so you’re spending the same hours out there. I’m semi-retired, but I’m still getting up at five or six o’clock in the morning. During the hot part of the day, I’ll go sit in the shade, and then go back and work until dark.

“You can say it’s less work because you have bigger equipment, so therefore you cover a lot of land quicker than we used to do. We used to spend hours and hours preparing the land, now you can just take a tractor and whip through it way faster, so that way you can do a lot more per hour.”

So what motivates someone to keep doing this type job? It’s hard to change when it’s all you’ve known. Jack Mar has been farming all of his life. He learned everything he could along the way, and never stopped seeking out new information on cultivation, machinery, seeds and sales.

“I went to all the seminars and I take a real interest in it because it’s a livelihood; it’s outdoors and you’re your own boss. Those are the pluses as far as farming goes,” Mar adds.

“I’ve been involved with it for 58 years and I’m still learning today on how to better myself for the industry.”

As for the next generation, it might not get any easier beyond 2018 and the debate surrounding continued interest in farming comes down to the cost of getting started.

Mar is emphatic that the answers to basic questions are still unknown to most people. How do you keep the weeds down? How to you cultivate? How many people do you hire? These are all questions that Jack says have to be learned over time and through experience, and trial and error.

The hardest thing about being a farmer in 2018 is acquiring farmland, and making it viable.

“There’s a lot of young people that want to start up but they can’t find any place to buy or rent. People say, ‘why can’t these long term farmers rent it to us?’ But they want long-term leases of 10 or 20 years.

“It’s tough, I realize they’re having a hard time finding land and they don’t have the knowledge behind them either. It’s a learning curve; it’s going to take you five years to even get started and feel comfortable.”

Climate change and higher temperatures also mean farmers on the Saanich Peninsula are forced to irrigate their crops more than ever before. At one point many farms had reservoirs, but now they’re strictly using municipal water, partly because of the health and food safety issue.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kwick’kanum (Eric Pelkey), a hereditary chief of the Tsawout Nation, addressed the crowd that gathered at Mount Newton Cross Road and Highway 17 on Oct. 23. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
UPDATED: Pat Bay Highway reopens after rally supporting Mi’kmaq fishing rights

Supporters call on government to recognize Indigenous treaty rights

Sooke man Rik Downer spent two weeks in the Royal Jubilee Hospital after contracting flesh-eating bacteria. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Sooke man’s bumped knee leads to fight for life

Man unknowingly contracts case of rare flesh-eating disease

Const. Graham Walker of the Saanich Traffic Safety Unit recreates an incident involving a driver who police say attempted to film the scene of a crash while driving up Highway 17. (Saanich Police/Twitter)
Police track down driver caught filming accident scene on Pat Bay Highway

Driver issued $368 ticket, points on their licence

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is looking for this man, who they say stole a charity box. (Facebook/Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers)
Crime Stoppers looking for man who stole charity box from Saanich grocery store

Anyone with information asked to call Crime Stoppers

The 21st annual Japanese Cultural Fair streams online Oct. 24 from noon to 3 p.m. (Facebook/Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society)
Esquimalt’s Japanese Cultural Fair takes tastes, experiences and cultures online

21st annual free event streams Saturday, Oct. 24 starting at noon

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Oct. 20

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Parksville’s Jared Huggan won $75,000 playing BC/49. (BCLC/Photo submitted)
Vancouver Island man $75K richer after purchasing winning lottery ticket at Nanaimo Walmart

Parksville’s Huggan plans to purchase electric bike for partner

Most Read