s Sarah Clements points to fields upon fields of vegetable crops that seemingly go on forever, it is clear that her passion for organic farming runs deep.
While working on her Bachelor of Science in Land and Food Systems at the University of British Columbia she became interested in sustainable agriculture.
“Learning about the environmental impact of traditional farming piqued my interest in organic farming,” says the Farm School Manager at the Tsawwassen First Nation Farm School (TFNFS).
Over the past few years, Clements has been cultivating her love of sustainable farming with the 12 students who take part in this unique nine-month program each year. A partnership between the Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN) and Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU), the program was born out of the TFN’s Agricultural Plan on how to best use its land resources.
“In 2013, we had an objective to increase food security and provide jobs for our members,” explains Komal Shaikh, TFN Director of Lands. “By partnering with KPU, we provided the fertile land while they provided the knowledge … TFN members are traditionally fishing people, not so much farmers.
"Over the years, the program has created a lot of interest in farming for both our youth and elders.”
One such youth is alumni Nicole Watson. As a child, Watson had fond memories of toiling the earth in her grandfather’s garden. In 2017, with no real idea of what she wanted to pursue in her life, she decided to enrol in the TFNFS while she figured it out. An ordained minister, Watson can still be found tilling the soil in her TFNFS garden plot, where much of what she grows she donates to members of the community who can’t afford fresh, organic vegetables.
As part of the school’s three-year incubation program, graduates, as well as TFN members, can apply for a half-acre plot.
Throughout the curriculum, students learn about sustainable agriculture and Indigenous food systems through on-site classroom lectures, research, use of farming equipment, and from growing and harvesting thousands upon thousands of pounds of vegetables.
Clements is encouraged that farming is attracting a lot of young, passionate newcomers—many of them women. “Our last cohort consisted of 11 women and one man,” she says.
“For some students, it is their first introduction to working in the dirt, but you can see them develop a real love and satisfaction for what they're growing."
Clement and her colleagues are responsible for overseeing the 50+ variety of vegetable crops, an orchard, and greenhouses on the 20-acre property. She also manages the farm’s livestock, including pigs, chickens, and bees.
The TFNFS is so much more than a place to learn. Much of this working farm’s yearly budget comes from selling its products through local farmers’ markets, restaurants, and community-supported agriculture (CSA) weekly produce box programs. In addition, the farm hosts Elder luncheons, a pig roast, canning workshops, and more.
Priority in the program is given to TFN members, however, anyone with a keen desire to learn more about organic farming is welcome to apply. There is no prerequisite, no exams, or academic credits.
The TFNFS is always looking for volunteers to help them during harvest season, which runs from mid-June to the end of October. Volunteers go home armed with a large bag of fresh organic produce.