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Spencer Hill Orchard

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Sheila Dobie is passionate about her local food system and she is a big part of its revitalization. Dobie and her partner Karl Lilgert moved to the Kettle Valley from the North Coast in 2006 with plans to start fresh. Dobie had gardened all her young adult life and had been part of a land co-operative in the Kootenays, so growing food and a connection to the land was in her blood. They purchased an eight-acre farm just outside of Grand Forks. Primarily orchard, the farm was established by one of the area’s original Doukhobor families. From the start Dobie was committed to organic practices and is certified by Boundary Organic Producers Association. She is also guided by permaculture principles, the idea of a closed loop system where everything is produced on site and then fed back into the system to produce again.

“We look at the complete system,” says Dobie. “We mulch around the base of the trees to build the soil, and then see this beautiful response to the ground when mushrooms sprout from the wood debris.”

Three acres of the farm is orchard, with a mix of over 360 trees including apples, pears, cherries, plums, apricots and a few nectarine trees. The market garden takes up another acre. The crops vary from year to year, a mix of corn, beets, basil, squash, cilantro and pumpkins. They have the perfect growing conditions for heat-loving peppers, too. As with many regions in BC, deer can be a problem and a tall sturdy fence is required to keep them from eating all the profits.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Deer don’t eat garlic though,” says Dobie happily, “so the top third of the garden isn’t fenced.” They rotate the garlic with cover crops, then harvest to produce their own mulch or till it in to prepare the ground, depending on the time of year.

The farm also has several outbuildings to store equipment, a barn that they use as a processing area and cold storage for all that fruit. There’s even an outdoor stage where they’ve held performances during their annual harvest festival (part of their commitment to BC Agritourism). Their big house is roomy enough for the WWOOFers (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) who help them out from time to time as well.

Sheila and Karl helped to start the Kettle Valley Food Co-op in Grand Forks; the co-op sells on-line to members, local growers fill the orders. “We’re both consumers and producers,” says Dobie. They also sell to the Kootenay Country Store Co-op and the Nelson Farmers Market a couple hours away.

The couple has also been involved with the Grand Forks and Boundary Agricultural Society, the group responsible for the local Seed Bank project, among other fruitful initiatives. The region is home to many folks who share Dobie’s passion for local food.

“There are a lot of small independent food producers here, people with massive gardens, and a few commercial scale growers,” says Dobie. “We’re trying to revitalize our agricultural base,” she explains. “We’re interested in the regional food basket concept. Creston grows grain for example and we can grow heat loving crops like peppers here.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, with such a passion for the land and the potential for even more productivity, you might wonder why Sheila and Karl are selling their thriving farm. “Stuff happens,” says Sheila sadly. Some very unfortunate personal circumstances are forcing them to sell, but Sheila hopes she will one day buy a small parcel of land and start fresh again.

“I’d just love it if this farm, that we’ve put our heart and soul into, would go to people who really want to farm,” says Dobie. “It’s such an important part of our local food system and so connected to people in the area, it’s really a gem.”

For more information on Spencer Hill Orchard, visit their blog or contact Sheila.

This article first appeared in BC Organic Grower, Spring 2013, Volume 16, Issue 2.

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