Sisterhood is powerful: just ask Lydia Ryall, who manages Cropthorne Farm together with her sister Rachel. The winner of BC’s 2014 Outstanding Young Farmer award, Lydia handles the day-to-day operations of their farm, and is deeply involved in community work that promotes agriculture in Delta and the Lower Mainland While we don't normally think of winter as farming time, Cropthorne is able to produce food year-round thanks to the Fraser Delta's mild climate. Here, we chat with her about what it means to farm with family, the best job in the world, and what’s on her menu for December.
We Heart Local: Congratulations on winning the 2014 BC Outstanding Young Farmer Award! Can you tell us about how you got started in farming? (We understand it's a family affair.)
Lydia Ryall: My parents had their own farm so I was brought up surrounded by agriculture. My grandparents in the UK were cucumber growers, my grandfather here had an agriculture degree, worked on orchards and helped my dad when he started his own farm back in the 70's. From a young age there was nothing I'd rather grow up to be than a farmer. It was an easy career choice for me, so after university I came home and started leasing land from my parents and founded Cropthorne Farm.
Now I farm alongside my sister Rachel. My folks also help us out and my brother Nick helps out when we can drag him out of the mountains for a few days every now and again. Rachel's girls work alongside us so it really is a family affair. Both Rachel and I have amazing partners who are big supporters of our farm and help us out a lot.
WHL: Tell us about Cropthorne Farm - what do you and your sister produce there?
LR: We are a 15 acre Certified Organic family farm on Westham Island. We grow over 50 types of vegetables and are able to grow year-round due to our mild climate and through the use of movable cold frames (greenhouses). We also grow flowers and have eggs from our pastured chickens. We sell through farmers markets, a CSA and through our farm gate stand. We are always trying to find new, unique varieties which will work well here on the the Fraser Delta. We have an amazing crew helping us grow all these vegetables: they are really the lifeblood of our operation.
WHL: What's your favourite thing about going to work in the morning?
LR: Just that: it is not work. I won't say there are not days where I am completely stressed out and wanting that 9-5 job, but they are extremely few. Farming is such an enjoyable way to make a living. We are surrounded by wildlife and are working within the bounds of nature. To see the process from seed to table. To experience the joys and follies of each season. To have a job where we are physically moving and pushing our bodies. To be able to work with amazing employees and family. To eat real food. I can go on and on. Daily, I realize how lucky I am to have this as a job. Nothing is better than flopping into bed as the sun is setting, with dirt under the fingernails, sore muscles and a full belly and grinning because I get to do it all over again the next day.
WHL: Given that people are taking such an interest in eating local, how do you see this impacting your farm and the future of farming in BC?
LR: With the public support for BC products, farms here in BC are well positioned to grow. I really see a change back towards regionally grown food and feel the public interest will open up a lot of possibilities for existing farms and for new entrants. We do have to maintain our core agricultural land to be able to meet this demand. While farming in the Lower Mainland is great in terms of access to market, it is a busy, growing place and it is becoming harder to move equipment around and we are getting increased pressure from wildlife due to reduced habitat and of course our land base is reducing from development. Farming is a good business to be in, people always need to eat, but as a farmer we need to adapt to market pressures, climate change and so on to make sure we remain viable. On a personal level I love that we are able to create meaningful jobs, nourish people and take care of our environment by doing something that I am so passionate about. Without the demand for local farming the landscape in the Lower Mainland could well look very different.
WHL: What are you growing right now, and what’s on your menu for December?
LR: We have three greenhouses, so we’re using all that solar energy on those sunny days. From the greenhouses we have salad greens, radishes, bok choy, lettuce; and then outside we have cabbage and kale. We had a pretty busy fall, so we also have lots of bins in storage of beets, potatoes and rutabaga. We have a 75 member winter CSA and we’re at two farmer’s markets.
We use winter squash to make a caramelized onion, feta cheese and olive pizza. There’s no recipe for it - all you need is a roasted red curry squash. The squash roasts down into a puree form automatically (you don’t have to get the mixer out), and you use that as your base layer on the pizza. Then you just cut up olives, feta and add some caramelized onions. That’s what’s nice about it - it’s really simple and really savoury. It’s nice to eat it with some leafy options on the side like kale.
While Cropthorne’s winter CSA is fully booked, they may run a spring CSA if the weather permits. To find out more about Cropthorne, and which farmers’ markets Lydia and her family will be at this winter, please visit cropthornefarm.com.