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Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart.

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organic vegetable gardening

On being a young farmer…out standing in her field

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This rustic bench is near her farm office yurt and is a favourite spot for evening mojitos made with help from her purpose-grown mint patch.

“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.”

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What a lovely bunch of cabbages. These were planted in February and thrived in our mild winter.
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Michelle says she will never do without a greenhouse again. The one in the background was constructed by her dad and crops just kept from freezing in late winter with a propane heater.

“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.”

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Mulch is a must in our hot and dry climate.

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.”

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Lovely straight rows of carrots.

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.'”

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Prettiest farm I’ve ever seen.

 

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Described as a “stone-cold killer of mice” Missy is  the friendliest farm cat ever.
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Onions in the foreground of the chicken yard.

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.

Somewhere that’s Green Edible Landscapes or this farmer, your dell

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Located on Corbishley Avenue in Penticton, British Columbia, this new business is teaching homeowners the forgotten art of food gardening

In just a generation or two we have almost lost the accumulated food gardening wisdom of hundreds of years. The convenience of the big box food machine has made vegetable gardening seem like a complicated, involved secret too hard to attempt. Thanks to passionate, energetic young farmers like Michelle Younie, the lost wisdom is being passed on again. Michelle couldn’t have started her new Somewhere that’s Green Edible Landscapes venture at a better time. Fad diets are out for many, sensibly being replaced by simply adding in lots of organically grown fruits and vegetables to what we eat daily. Healthy eating is also coupled with a strong desire to do something about environmental sustainability, right in our own backyards.

Michelle can teach 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.

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Michelle Younie greeted me with a warm wide smile and a fittingly dirty-hand handshake at her homebase farm in Penticton

She is a self-taught farmer with enough energy and passion to fuel three enterprises. Michelle grows all the produce used at Penticton’s highly-rated Hooded Merganser Bar and Grill in Penticton from her work as the farmer of Valleyview Farm. She was hired on as the farm manager four years ago after the Penticton Lakeside Hotel’s owner admired her first vegetable patch on her parent’s land.

Younie now also employs her dad, Don at the Valleyview Farm and her brother Ryan at Somewhere that’s Green, which also feeds the Younies from their family plot and a growing list of others on an email list who come twice a week to pick up their bounty.

Somewhere that’s Green Edible Landscapes germinated because, “I’m obsessed with this. It is really something to help people start their own gardens. When you first start out you make a lot of mistakes. It’s really a lost skill now and many in my generation grew up with houses with yards that never had a vegetable garden. I can help people avoid mistakes at the beginning and get through some of the initial overwhelming learning curve. Our Okanagan climate is so extreme and getting more extreme so learning what works well here is very valuable.”

Michelle also spotted a niche. “There are tons of landscape companies in the Valley but none that I know of that are focused on edible landscapes.”

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This Toulouse goose, a French breed of large domestic goose, was showing off for my camera during my visit to Michelle’s home farm

Michelle’s top three mistakes to avoid:

  1. Don’t buy topsoil. It’s expensive and unnecessary. Build up the soil through the use of compost, manure and green manures instead.
  2. Don’t go nuts buying seeds your first year. Try five different varieties and add more once you’ve mastered those.
  3. Don’t worry so much about weeding. It’s not as big deal as you think and not a daily chore by any means.
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The greenhouse is in full swing already with salad crops that will soon be sold to local customers and eaten by the family.

Michelle’s top three suggestions:

  1. Always plant in the ground versus a container if you have the choice. It’s so dry and hot here that container gardens need constant watering.
  2. Plan out your irrigation and use timers and other methods to water properly and wisely.
  3. Compost is very important in our silty soils.

One more tip we mutually agree upon:

  1. If you want zucchinis…only plant one or you will be giving them away or trying to give them away to other people who planted more than one.
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These happy chickens are fed kitchen scraps from the Hooded Merganser’s vegetables Michelle grows. They also are let loose on the farm to clean up bugs at various times of the year. Oh, and they make lovely eggs for the family and for sale.

Can you get rich farming?

“Ah, no. I want to be successful and am excited about adding Somewhere that’s Green into the mix but it’s not going to make me rich. I’m committed to this lifestyle and am passionate about sharing it with others. We now host three different groups of people a year to come and work on the farm for free and learn. I have an engineer friend who has come to work with me part time just to learn about farming. People are really interested in learning to be more resourceful and it’s such a valuable trait I think.”

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Bees are a valuable addition to the farm as is Missy, the cat, who does her part keeping the mice at bay.

Some of the benefits of turning your yard into an edible landscape include saving energy (no fuel used to ship and refrigerate), food safety (you know what you’ve planted and put on that plant), water savings (home gardeners use about half the amount of water industrialized farmers use), money savings and better nutrition.

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Michelle at work. She wants me to come back when things are greener in a few months. I’m in.

A properly designed edible landscape can look beautiful as well. Lawns are minimized and blueberries can take the place of the fleetingly beautiful azaleas. Hedges can be made up of blackberry and raspberry canes and boarders created with rainbow chard, peppers and herbs. You will attract more birds and wildlife to your garden too.

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Michelle and Ryan weeding in preparation for planting.

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