When Cathy Finley and her family moved to a five-acre farm in Langley, the plan was a change of pace—not a total change of career. But two years later she’s left her job in social work and is just trying to keep up with the growth of her new family business, Laurica Farm.
We’re accidental farmers, really,” she laughs. “We came here to homestead. We just wanted to live off the land and have a sustainable lifestyle. Last year was our first growing season and we started taking a bit of excess to our friends. Neighbours would see us delivering salad and eggs and be like, ‘Hey we want to get in on that.’ From that, our delivery route was born. So last year we did delivery to about 20 or 30 families, and this year that’s grown even more. We’ve got CSA (community supported agriculture) programs, we’ve still got the delivery route, we have farmgate sales and restaurant supply as well.”
Not bad for a change of pace! Cathy, her husband Ian and her two daughters, Lauren (15) and Jessica (7), moved from their homeland in England to British Columbia six years ago, when Ian, who works in construction, got the opportunity to help build the new roof for BC Place. They originally settled in Surrey’s Clayton Heights, and after a few years, they decided they wanted something different for their family. Cathy had worked with racehorses in her past, and Ian had once had a plot in a community garden for a few years, but that’s about the extent of their farming experience.
“We knew we didn’t want to farm conventionally so we had to then research other ways of doing it, and that’s part of the learning process,” Cathy says. “You start at the beginning and talk to other people. We’re lucky enough to have great neighbours who are organic farmers as well and they’ve been great mentors to us. We’re literally learning on the job.”
They grow “everything from arugula to zucchini” and raise animals – pigs, chickens, sheep and goats – on their five acres. But more important than what they do is how they do it and why they do it. Their philosophies were strong from the get-go.
While the food they produce is organic, it’s not “certified” organic – and that was a conscious decision the Finleys made.
“The certification process involves a lot of cost,” Cathy explains. “So that becomes a business cost and therefore a cost to the consumer. We’ve chosen not to go down that route and instead we offer this level of transparency where people can come and ask us how we grow and they can see the produce and they can eat it straight out of the ground.”
But it’s more than just cost. “I think [certification] is too restrictive in some ways and not restrictive enough in other ways.” One big component of how Laurica Farm works—reusing food waste—wouldn’t be allowed under the certification rules for organic farmers, but it’s of huge benefit to the environment and society, Cathy says.
“We divert about five tonnes of food waste a week away from landfills, and bring it here to feed to the pigs,” she explains.
A lot of that organic food waste comes from produce distributors’ cold storage – food that is on its way from farm to supermarket.
“What happens is that sometimes it’s too perfect, so by the time it gets to where it needs to be shipped, it will have gone off. And quite often that gets dumped in all its packaging into landfills, so we go and pick it up and bring it here to the pigs and the pigs recycle it for us. They make fertilizer out of it and turn it into bacon,” she laughs.
Still, the idea that there’s all that waste to begin with is a difficult one to stomach. “Every time I see my husband come home with another load of food, it’s great as a pig farmer that I can feed my animals in this way and divert that away from landfills, but as a human being it makes me sad to see all that waste. There’s food that has come from Asia that has never even made it to supermarket. It’s crazy. It makes my heart hurt.”
They reuse the packaging as well – bread bag ties, plastic clam-shell containers, Styrofoam – to package their own products and anything else they take for recycling at a nearby depot. And it’s not just food waste they reclaim and reuse. Cathy says that about 75% of the buildings on their property are made from reclaimed materials, including a new tree house they built this year.
After a whirlwind two years, life isn’t quite what it was before, but Cathy says there’s no looking back.
“I’ve never worked so hard for so little monetarily in my life, but the rewards are so much more than that. The rewards are the lifestyle and the way we eat and the way we live is a lot more laid back. It’s hard to articulate. It’s different,” she says. “I sometimes feel kind of shell-shocked because so much has happened so quickly, but when I’m talking to you about it now I’ve got a big smile on my face.”
Experience Laurica Farm
Visit the farm at 25775 12th Avenue in Aldergrove, BC, but please call ahead at 604-719-3749.