The Butler Urban Farm is on the unceded and traditional territory of the Secwepemc people. We are a farm on Kamloops’ North Shore which grows produce which is accessible to all in the community, free of charge. Since its creation in 2015 the lot has been unfenced, as we intend to welcome all members of our community to collect produce, meet their neighbors, enjoy greenspace, and learn from one another. A lack of fences engages the community in a way that is inclusive by default rather than exclusive by default.
In 2015, Glenn Hilke of JUMP Kamloops came across a large empty lot on the North Shore. As JUMP Kamloops was currently providing meals and support for those in our community, he saw its potential for food production to supplement this meal program. After approaching the land owner, Joe Butler of Butler Auto and RV, the land was quickly moved into production. The site was acquired in early spring, and a group of about 6 volunteers acted fast in order to get the land ready in time for planting. Many of these core volunteers still frequent the farm today. Additionally, larger groups would come for a day of volunteering as part of the United Way’s Day of Caring initiative. Through the hard work and generosity of community members, the lot was transformed. This required intensive remediation to the soil, which continues today.
City of Kamloops staff came in to remove a number of tree stumps in the field, and a neighbor near the site had a front-end loader which he offered up for use. Manure and compost was donated from Todd Mountain Ranch, and Ron Fawcett lent a truck to transport the matter to site. In order to get the site in a suitable condition, this required about 15-20 loads of manure. To till the soil, Hilke contacted a man off of Kijiji.com who was advertising rototiller service. Upon hearing about this project, he offered to till the site free of charge, a practice which continued up until Butler Urban Farm received its own rototiller. Seeds were donated from the Smorgasboard’s Country Garden Greenhouse and Home Depot.
This year was productive and successful, especially considering the limited timeline and resources available to complete a project of this scale. Days often started at 5:00 or 6:00 am in order to beat the heat, and required intensive labour at times. The initial success of this project (as well as throughout) can be attributed to passionate volunteers, as well as the impressive organizing power of JUMP – an action focused organization dedicated to meeting the community of Kamloops’ needs. At this time, food distribution and donations were also organized by JUMP. The produce would go towards JUMP’s Saturday Suppers and Free Produce Market, as well as being distributed to those waiting in the Food Bank lineup. From its inception, the garden has been intended to be open to those wishing to come harvest for themselves.
In 2020, the people behind JUMP (now called the Lived Experience Community-Life and Peer Skills Program) began the programs The Kamloops Covid Meal Train and The Loop in response to increased need for community meals during the pandemic. The Covid Meal Train began early in the pandemic after many organizations paused programming, and this program delivered meals to individuals across the city living both on the street and in housing. The Loop opened a few months later, a community resource center providing meals and services. Now busy with these programs, the Lived Experience Community-Life and Peer Skills Program (LEC) was concerned about their capacity to continue to manage the garden. Due to this, the LEC passed management of the space into the hands of the Kamloops Food Policy Council (KFPC). Hilke of the LEC was a board member of the KFPC at the time, and as such already had a relationship with the organization. The KFPC agreed to take over management of the program in alignment with their resiliency gardening campaign which sought to support local food during the pandemic. Other initiatives in this campaign included launching an online gardening course, a backyard garden sharing program, and continuing the Gleaning Abundance Program.
The LEC remains a close partner, whose advice and work has been invaluable to this project. The farm continues to accept kitchen scraps from their meal programs, which is recycled back into the system as nutritious compost. Additionally, they are a main recipient of produce. Under the Kamloops Food Policy Council, the overarching mission of the farm has remained the same; increase access to healthy food to all in our community. We continue to expand and deepen what this mission looks like in action.
How does it work
Everyone in the community is invited to come collect produce. We believe it is important to emphasize that all are welcome to share in the harvest, not just “those in need”. This is done to remove stigma and divisions between the members of our community, of varying socio-economic backgrounds and walks of life. We believe that moving forward in a spirit of sharing, and abundance helps us move away from a mindset of individualism and scarcity.
Volunteers are the driving force behind the project. Without their hard work, expertise, and enthusiasm the project would not be possible. Volunteers are invited to take home a share of a harvest, but we do not require anything in exchange for the produce. No one who comes to the farm will be turned away empty-handed.
At the Butler Urban Farm we have a saying, “It’s (almost) impossible to steal from the farm. The only thing you can do is harvest incorrectly”. While initially community members were invited to come by anytime and collect produce independently, we now ask ideally that people come during drop-in hours to first become acquainted with the space and the system. We also make ourselves available by request outside these hours, asking interested individuals to contact us by email. This orientation allows us to explain harvesting procedures, the idea behind the space, and show what is ready for harvest. An orientation is typically 15-20 minutes long, and we ask that individuals sign waivers if they would like to do independent harvests. The farm is covered under the insurance policy of the KFPC. If people are very hesitant to sign a waiver we simply ask that they do not do harvests independently, to reduce risk of injury.
The first key part of the harvesting procedure that we emphasize is to record how much produce was harvested to aid in our record keeping and evaluation. Visitors are invited to record their harvests on the chalkboards on site if outside of drop-in hours. In this instance weights are approximated as we cannot leave a scale on site due to risk of theft. During drop-in hours, we have a digital scale for measuring weights as well as a harvest binder for recording. We later record this into a Google Sheets spreadsheet.
The other key piece of the harvesting procedure is to show visitors which section of the garden is private plots and which are communal, in order to ensure harvests are being taken from the commons garden and not private plots. The private plots make up a small section of the farm (less than one fifth) and allow individuals to try their hand at gardening without our interference. These private plots are offered out in spring, free of charge, with expectations to keep the area tidy and volunteer some time back to the commons garden. Additionally, we must approve all amendments being made to the plot to ensure the farm remains free of pesticides and synthetic fertilizer. We offer private plot holders use of our compost, manure donations if any, and cover crop seed. We also offer the seed and/or starter plants we have available. Staff offers mentorship to private plot holders, and plot holders offer their skills and expertise back to the commons. Having these private plots has been a major asset to the project, as these private plot holders generally spend the largest amount of time volunteering in the commons garden. However, to keep the garden as a mostly communal garden we do not intend to increase the amount of space allotted to private plots. Thus far, the amount of demand we receive for a private plot has not surpassed supply. We allocate on a first come first serve basis, prioritizing those who have held a private plot in previous years; we have not yet had to turn anyone away. As our profile is raised in the community, we may have to find a different system for allocating plots fairly. We also remind individuals interested in holding a private plot that the garden is unfenced and there is always a risk of produce being taken. In the case someone’s private plot is taken from, we do our best to reimburse them from the commons garden. In 2021, we had 9 people holding private plots of varying sizes, as we find individuals have varying desires and abilities regarding how much work they want to take on. Some individuals want to grow an entire 50ft long, 3ft wide row of corn, while others just want to try growing a few tomato plants. Additionally, our private plot holders almost always end up sharing their abundant harvest back with the community.
After an initial orientation, individuals are then invited to come harvest independently. This means they are welcome at any time to come and collect the produce they need and record what they took on the chalkboards. We depend on the honour system, and so far it is rare that anyone takes more than what would be considered their “fair share”. We have many individuals that come by only during drop-in hours to harvest with staff, and many individuals that only come harvest once or twice. People have different needs, schedules, and comfort levels and we try to accommodate this as best we can. For larger harvests, the staff harvests together with volunteers and the produce is delivered out to the organizations who prepare meals for our community. This includes but is not limited to The Kamloops COVID Meal Train, Mount Paul Community Food Centre, The Mustard Seed, Kamloops Aboriginal Friendship Society, and in 2021 to Tk’emlúps where meals were being prepared for the evacuees of forest fires. In the height of summer we do large harvests every other day on a casual basis with whoever is at the farm. If we expect to do a large potato harvest where having a bigger group is helpful we will do a call-out for volunteers via email and social media.
In 2022, we plan to offer a beginning of season group orientation to acquaint people with the space altogether. We hope this offers volunteers a chance to meet each other, acquire a private plot, and understand the expectations of the space.
Values and Mission
With this project we hope to increase food security in Kamloops, while also building community. We provide opportunities for learning, both informally and hands-on by volunteering at the farm, or more formally through workshops. We hope to provide a space where community members can come together, meet their neighbors, share knowledge, enjoy greenspace, and gain the mental and physical health benefits of gardening. Simultaneously, we act as a demonstration space for gardening according to organic and regenerative principles. Every year we learn a little more through experimentation, trial and error, and sharing our experiences with one another. This year we have continued building our community seed library, in efforts to address seed shortages and the need for locally adapted seed.
Our one acre lot is home to over 100 varieties of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers. We aim to exemplify a space which supports biodiversity, seed sovereignty and security, healthy ecosystems, and natural methods of pest control and ways of building soil health.
This project is funded largely through grant funding and donations, from government, private companies, and individuals. Since 2017, funding through Canada Summer Jobs has allowed the hiring of summer students. We have also been eligible for other grants through various government initiatives related to poverty reduction, COVID response, food security, and healthy public spaces. Private companies have also awarded us grants directed towards building community.
Over the years we have received many in-kind donations of soil, compost, wood chips, sawdust, composters, and a greenhouse. These have come from various private companies, farmers and ranchers, greenhouses, and other non-profits. Every year a large portion of our plant starts are given to us from Gardengate, a non-profit in Kamloops which works with individuals healing from addictions and mental health conditions through growing food.
The farm is staffed by two people; Caitlin Quist and Kevin Pankewich. Kevin has been the Farm Manager in 2017, 2020, and 2021. He has also been a volunteer and a fountain of knowledge for other farm managers in the years he was away pursuing other projects. Caitlin was a volunteer in 2020, and fell in love with the project and was able to return as Community Organizer in 2021. Most of the time staff work side-by-side on the farm, but have some division of responsibilities based on expertise/preferences. Kevin is the main person for the day-to-day workings of the farm, managing ecosystems and social systems. Caitlin is in charge of communications and social media, and workshops and events. The farm was very lucky to receive enough funding in 2021 to hire two people, and this has greatly increased our capacity both in terms of production and community building. Having a slight division of leadership on tasks is helpful for clarity, but generally staff works together on everything! Without spending time “boots-on-the-ground” the Community Organizer would become disconnected from the project. Without the Farm Manager’s input on communications and events, there would be many misguided mistakes. Having two staff people has also ensured that we can have one person to watch the farm while another runs errands, or multiple people to address simultaneous tasks and personal needs of visitors.
As we work with the Kamloops Food Policy Council (for more information see kamloopsfoodpolicycouncil.com) our team, board, and larger network are extremely valuable parts of this project. In 2021 we began to have weekly team meetings where we discuss our “roses, buds, and thorns”. This gives us an opportunity to see how we can support one another in our various projects, and being able to bounce ideas off of one another is invaluable. Our Board of Directors is updated on the project through monthly meetings, and are invited to participate through our Community Food Action Committee.
Our network and community partners have been helpful in a number of ways; sometimes loaning us event space, equipment, expertise, and even staff.
- Gardengate: Donates seed starts and equipment. Rob Wright is our first call when we need gardening advice. Recently, a partnership between Kamloops Food Policy Council (KFPC) and Gardengate led to the opening of a community kitchen under the BC Food Hub program. This was made available to us to use for workshops and processing bumper harvests
- Mount Paul Community Food Centre: We share advice, produce, seeds, and plants. Our 2020 fall farm manager now works with this organization, deepening this relationship
- JUMP/The Loop: The founding organization behind the project
- Kamloops Naturalist Club: Summer students from “Team Nature Kamloops” have lent themselves to the farm for several days of work. KNC has also been an asset in grant writing and facilitating community connections
- Other KFPC Programs: The Gleaning Abundance Program lends us their volunteers and their delivery van, The Food Hub (newly named “The Stir”) lends us the Food Hub facilities
- Smorgasbord: Donates seeds and plant starts
Evaluation and Visioning
In order to best serve our community’s needs and improve the project, we engage in yearly evaluation and reflection. This information is also useful for our funders. Some things are easier to measure, like the number of volunteers or workshop attendees, or pounds of produce grown, but we don’t feel as though that really captures the richness of the work. We hope to develop a system of evaluation that can capture the connections that are formed through this space, the number of “ah-hah” moments we can create. Some of our most valuable feedback (and deeply appreciated praise) comes from short encounters with passerby and visitors. Some of the most valuable things we have learned about what this work means to people is shared in stories while weeding side-by-side.
In 2020, we conducted a volunteer survey and a community member survey to gain the feedback of the community. A grant through Thompson Rivers University and Mitacs allowed a deeper analysis of the project and survey members of the community (see here).
In 2021, we began work on “visioning” in order to refine the goals of the project, as well as the best path to get there. This included an open house day where we had posters for collaborative brainstorming and answering prompt questions. This was followed by a visioning session at our Zoom AGM. Additionally, our end of season evaluation was presented at our monthly network Zoom meeting, where we opened breakout rooms for discussion.This work is intended to be iterative, as we use the answers we receive to guide the next questions we ask.
In such a busy world it can be hard to stop and take the time to take stock of everything, but this work has proven important. As a community and network we continuously hone our skills as problem solvers, and form the connections to aid in this work.
- Building a community of support: The number of people in the community that understand how the project works grows every year, and this allows them to pass on the message to others. We can’t be everywhere all of the time, so extending our community allows us to extend our reach and ensure that people are following the expectations of the farm. We have had several proud moments this year where in our absence, other volunteers explained harvest procedures to new visitors and welcomed them into the space.
- Building positive relationships with neighbors: The community feels safer with more of us around, and our project can only thrive if people know what’s going on and care enough about it to help out how they can. This goes beyond pulling weeds and extends to extra sets of eyes on the farm so we know what’s going on when we’re not around.
- Early season set-up: We are required to push-hard to get the farm set up in the beginning of the season to ensure we have enough food, and early, to draw people to the space. Drawing people to the space early in the season allows us to establish a relationship and get them interested in growing food early enough in the season to embark on their own adventures either in our private plots, the commons garden, or their garden at home. We hope to be the inspiration and support for people to grow and share food far beyond our one acre lot.
- Social media as a tool: In order to raise greater awareness of the project on social media, we opened a Facebook group for the farm. We chose to use a “group” instead of a “page” so that everyone felt like it was a place to post collectively. I hope that people’s level of comfort to post their own photos, recipes, and stories increases in future months. However, engagement with posts has been good and I believe it has been an effective way to keep people updated and excited about the farm.
- Shifting mindsets: A large part of our mission is shifting mindsets. Trust your neighbor, have empathy for people who may have had a different life than you, moving from a scarcity to abundance mindset. Most dominantly, we aim to reverse the intense and widespread commodification of our world. Reimagining our food system as something we control and are connected to, one that is rooted in land and relationships (looking to Indigenous leadership in this), and one that can provide more than enough for everyone.
- Learning from the past: Doing evaluation and reflection also enables us to improve the project continually. We are proud to report that every year we continue to improve the project, building on the success of past years and learning from our mistakes.
- Building soil and increasing production: On a more material level, we applaud our volunteers and network for making the space so much more beautiful and refined every year. We have greatly expanded the amount of land in production in the small space, tried so many new plants (yay for melons!), and have increased our usage of regenerative methods. We have increased our seed saving, increased our cover cropping, decreased our tilling, planted more native plants, increased terracing and swale digging for water retention, and made more of a dent on our cursed bindweed problem.
- Workshops: We also ran our first workshops this year, including Introduction to Canning, Introduction to Mushrooms, and Debunking Popular Gardening Myths. We plan to increase the workshops offered in following years. Partnering with other organizations on workshops increases our capacity.
We often hear about how the farm is an example of one good thing that’s happening in otherwise dire times from passers by or recipients. A lot of people doubted the possibility of a project like this surviving in this social environment before it happened. Many volunteers describe how this place is one of hope and connection when these two things felt briefly lost in the pandemic.
- Heat dome: This year many of the challenges we faced were due to circumstances beyond our control; the best we could do is control our response. The heat in 2021 was immensely difficult to work in, and was hard on the plants. Surprisingly the volunteers continued to show, and we are incredibly grateful to them for that. To combat the heat we showed up earlier, and left earlier. We watered early in the morning, and again late at night. It was a stressful time and the weather cooling was a great relief.
- Wildfires: The heat dome was followed by months where we could barely see the mountains through the smoke, lasting from late June to the end of August. We donned N95 masks every day to keep out the smoke particles, and reduced the hours we spent outdoors. It was an intense time emotionally as ourselves and the communities around us were put on evacuation alert, order, and many lost their homes completely. Everyone around us expressed feelings of grief, helplessness, and disillusionment with the systems that had got us to this place (the place being rapidly intensifying consequences of climate change). The farm intends to be a space for mitigating and adapting to this climate change.
- COVID-19: The trifecta of a pandemic, a heat wave, and wildfires makes it difficult to schedule events, and with the promise of vaccines we have high hopes to finally have an event where we could all sit down and enjoy a harvest meal together. While this might at times be frustrating, this is a small consequence of these tragic events. Our strategy had to become scheduling events knowing that it is very likely they will have to be rescheduled. Additionally, navigating COVID and vaccine misinformation at the farm has been a challenge. We work to find a balance between listening to people with an open mind, kindness, and respect, while preventing the spread of dangerous misinformation and corresponding threats to public health. The health and safety of our community must be our highest priority.
- Stigma: 2021 saw a rise in aggression, fear, and othering of those in our community living with poverty, mental health, and addictions. The Loop, our close neighbor (a drop-in center in Kamloops providing meals, support, and connection to services) was the target of much animosity this year until it was eventually closed down. While it’s hard to pinpoint why people had so much aggression to this organization in particular, people in the community claimed anger at perceived increases in property crime, and visibility of homelessness through main city corridors. As an initiative that was started with the goal of reducing stigma and helping the vulnerable, it’s been difficult to operate in this environment at times. Our strategy to deal with this has largely been to try to correct misinformation about people living with poverty, addictions, and mental health conditions, as well as support our fellow organizations as best we can in times of struggle.
- Capacity: As many other organizations face, there were also moments we have felt impossibly busy. In the face of this we simply try to look at what is the highest priority, what needs to be and what can be achieved this year, and to remember that this is a multi-year project and slow growth sometimes means sustainable growth.
- Improper harvest: Incidents of incorrect harvest generally occur when individuals come to the site outside of drop-in hours and harvest a extremely large amount of produce, things that aren’t ready, things from people’s private plots, and failure to record what was obviously taken (an entire row which once held onions this year). Our approach to this has been to drop by the farm outside of drop-in hours to find who may be doing this and acquaint them with the harvest protocols.We continue to resist the act of putting up fences as a response. Capitalist social relations start with fences. Rather than spending money to keep people out by default, we trusted in the community around us by leaving it open. One of our biggest barriers, and our greatest goals is to reinspire people to imagine a different kind of system and a different kind of community.
- Theft: Our sheds were broken into resulting in our rototiller and several other items being stolen in the spring. In response to this, we have stopped storing high value items on site, yet this might not always be possible.
Balancing Action and Rumination
Without a certain degree of planning, we open ourselves to more opportunities for unexpected obstacles, mistakes, and inefficiencies. With too much planning we close ourselves to new ideas, the joy and richness of experimentation and spontaneity. Without reflection and discussion we would be missing important opportunities for growth and improvement. That being said, this project sometimes requires you to jump in feet first! We are working within natural systems, and the seasons do not wait.
Relationship building is at the core of the Butler Urban Farm and the core of the KFPC. Ensuring that all those who are at the heart of the work (whether this be volunteers, community partners, or the marginalised folks in our community) are heard and actively involved in shaping the project is crucial. We continuously emphasize to our community, this is your garden.
Being able to rely on our network is what keeps this project afloat. Without our partners we could have never got this far. Don’t be afraid to ask your fellow organizations for help, and freely offer your own (with no expectations of return). We’ve been amazed at what people have been able to help us with once they knew there was a need. We are all working towards a common goal of enriching our communities, and we are more effective as a network than isolated units.
Having two staff members has been incredibly helpful, as has been having a small budget for materials. While we want this project to remain largely volunteer-powered, we believe having dedicated staff for coordination has ensured its survival. While our materials budget has ensured we are able to purchase immediate necessities (irrigation etc.), we continue to embody thrift and reliance on the community for sourcing materials at times (seeds, tools we might only use once a year). It can be difficult to know what funding to expect from year to year, therefore we try to operate on as small a budget as possible. Additionally, as we are funded by grants and donations, we work to use this money as effectively as possible and maintain the respect of the community. This also ensures we are demonstrating a low-cost, low-waste/consumption, low-input, and community based system that allows for easy replication.
In the future we plan to build the farm bigger and brighter, and we will continue to ask the community what they would like to see from us. We would like to improve our own on-farm practices to be as regenerative and resilient as possible. This can include the addition of underground cold storage, finding a way to add more seating and structures, more Indigenous plants and trees, and wheelchair accessibility. Our biggest hope is that we see projects like this replicating to other neighborhoods in the city. We’ve found the best engagement comes from those simply walking by, and we’d love to see those beyond the North Shore get to enjoy this community resource.
We’d love more volunteers, an active community seed library, and monthly community dinners. I am eagerly awaiting the continued results of our community visioning work to hear more ideas of how we could evolve.
All of this work is of course dependent on us continuing to receive tentative grant funding.We have explored the idea of social enterprise through the farm, and are continuing to debate the pros and cons of adding this to a project which is rooted in decommodification.
Thanks for reading and stay safe everyone!
– Caitlin and Kevin