Metchosin farmer Kit Warren traded in his muddy knee-high gum boots for a pair of dress pants and slacks last month.
He is not retiring from farming, just trying to pay the bills.
“I had to get a job to keep the farm,” Warren said. “I am still working 16-hour days on the farm too.”
Warren has farmed the Sooke Road property for several years, but this year is tough. He now sells cars to help supplement his income.
“We are in foreclosure, I need to get a mortgage,” he explained. “My credit has gone bad in my venture to produce high-quality food. It’s going to be a tough one.”
He’s turned to social media to gain exposure, offering draws for free eggs and pork. After two contests Warren’s Facebook page, Shadow Mountain Farm, received nearly 2,000 new “likes.”
He has also booked several farm tours each Sunday for children’s groups.
Unfortunately Facebook “likes” don’t pay the bills.
“I’ve made mistakes and I’ve taken this all on myself,” Warren admitted. “I am trying to create a sustainable model by producing my own manure and growing vegetables. I’ve invested $80,000 into this.”
He has boars, baby pigs, chicken for meat and eggs as well some turkeys. Gearing up for summer, he has more than 100 different plants sprouting into seedlings. All of his plants comply with Metchosin’s new bylaw banning genetically modified organisms.
“This is a rugged West Coast farm, it’s what I could afford in 2006,” said the 38-year-old farmer.
He is working on building more greenhouses on the nine-acre farm so he can produce more food.
“We need to be a team to do this. We all have different positions like the bee keeper, baker, and farmers for vegetables and livestock. We need to use all these skills together,” said the farmer.
He hopes to sell some cars and use commissions to get his farm back in the black.
WestShore Chamber of Commerce CEO Dan Spinner said the chamber is currently looking into ways to support farmers in Metchosin. Agricultural amenities, such as another abattoir and a grain mill, would help, said Spinner, and there is the possibility of establishing a farmer’s co-op to support these ideas.
“There’s a certain amount of interregional co-operation we want to see if we can get going,” Spinner said. “But it’s a serious issue. … We always say we want more local food, more organic food and then the farmers are disappearing while we say it.”
During the winter it can be tough for small farmers, admits Metchosin farmer Tom Henry, editor of Small Farm Canada magazine. Keeping a farm profitable through all seasons is easier with year-round livestock he points out.
At Stillmeadow Farm, Henry sells his local pork, lamb and chickens. He partners with another farmer on the products. He also grows parsnips, leeks and beets in the winter.
“It really helps if your stuff is good,” said Henry who also sells a winter holly crop that his family has spent the past 50 years developing. “You also need to give your customers special perks for coming back each week.”
For vegetable farmers who don’t have livestock, Henry suggests keeping in touch with customers over the winter and sending out emails when the crops are ready to harvest.
Henry says more farmers are using social media.