“Farming should not be a romantic idea because it’s very far from being a romantic pursuit,” says Michelle Younie, owner of Somewhere That’s Green Edible Landscapes in Penticton and the farmer of Valley View Farms that provides produce for the Hooded Merganser Bar and Grill. I re-visited Michelle’s own farm recently and was blown away by the changes in a few short months since my last visit. Her farm is not only productive, it’s beautifully tended, practically weed-free and the produce is super-charged.
She found her vocation early in life and took her interest to another level by working on farms in Italy. “I was always obsessed by food and learning about growing it. My very first day on the farm in Italy I helped make 500 jars of tomato sauce…how perfectly Italian is that?” says Michelle. The recipe involved basil, carrots, onions, garlic and tomatoes and it’s still her go-to tomato sauce.
“My three months in Italy with its olive groves and vineyards convinced me that this is the way I want to live.”
“Although it seems like the in thing to do these days it is a lot of hard work and a labour of love,” she says. “I had a friend who bought five acres thinking she was going to grow hops. She didn’t even have a watering can when they first started out. They are still in the process of planting the hops and converting the land, even if it’s all a bit overwhelming. Having land is a lot more work than people initially expect and some of the romanticism dies once you get your hands dirty.”
Michelle’s advice is to start small like she did with an eight-foot by eight-foot garden and work up from there. “Take everything in steps. There is a lot to learn.”
Michelle has learned to grow what people will order. She sells out her produce to a list of customers who come to the farm weekly to pick up their orders. “Nothing goes to waste. If there is anything left over it goes to the rabbits my partner raises.”
Much of the discussion on my second visit to Michelle’s home farm, this time with the lovely ladies of the Naramata Garden Club, centred on bugs. “We host volunteers from around the world for six to eight weeks every summer and a German girl’s worst nightmare was her job of picking bugs by hand. I’m so desensitized now that it seemed funny.
“Overtime you get a balance and some bug damage is acceptable. This year my issue is cutworms and I’ve had to re-plant some things. I need to let the chickens out more to take care of them.”
Michelle says there is a desire to learn about food growing again that was lost to the last generation. She is doing her part. “My nephew was with some of his pals and one of them found a big worm and was squeamish about it. He said, ‘You should keep it, take it home and feed it to your chickens.'”
In addition to her work on Valleyview Farm and on her own farm, Michelle consults teaching you where and what to plant in your yard with a focus on edibles. Her services range from designing and planning your edible landscape to building, planting and maintaining it for you.