Canada

How one boutique farm is getting its produce to consumers

Who is that little girl and what have they done with my daughter?, wondered Tammara Soma, an assistant professor in the school of resources and environmental management at Simon Fraser University.

Her six-year-old had just eaten some freshly picked buckler sorrel and declared it tasted better than sour candy.

“We’d never had sorrel before and she had a bowl of the leaves,” Soma said. “It tasted amazing, a lemony tangy flavour. The produce was so fresh, you could tell it had just been picked — there was still dirt on some of it.”

Soma had put out a call on a group mailing list of fellows parents living at UniverCity atop Burnaby Mountain after hearing about a boutique farm’s plight from a colleague, who is a neighbour of the people who own and run Hannah Brooke Farm, the husband-and-wife team of Paul Healey and Rebecca Haber.

It feels good to support local farmers and their heirloom produce, Soma said, and Healey would agree as he and his wife hustle to find new markets for their greens, and soon vegetables, because normally they would be delivering 200-pound bags of mixed salad a day to high-end restaurants around Metro Vancouver.

Their farms in Burnaby and Maple Ridge grow an amazing variety of herbs, edible flowers and greens, and their salad mixes vary week-to-week depending on the time of year.

They have micro-pea tips, four types of mizuna, eight types of mustard, red-acre cabbage sprouts and red-vein tatsoi, four types of arugula, fava tips, miner’s lettuce, 15 kinds of kale, purple komatsuna and shiso. And wild greens that include watercress, chickweed, upland cress, goosefoot and purslane.

That barely dents the list of what’s available, and then there are the vegetables that will be ready to eat in the coming weeks.

“Right now we’re doing OK, we’re selling half of what we’d normally sell, but it’s just the beginning of the season,” Healey said.

Paul Healey holds a basket of microgreens in the field at Hannah Brook Farm in Burnaby on March 31, 2020. For Gord McIntyre story. Credit: Mike Bell/PNG [PNG Merlin Archive]
Paul Healey holds a basket of micro-greens in a field at Hannah Brook Farm in Burnaby on March 31. Mike Bell/PNG

As the growing season progresses, farmhands pick up to 1,000-1,200 pounds of greens, and 1,000 pounds of vegetables a week, he said.

So he’s on the lookout for more groups like that organized at UniverCity. Ideally, he’d like orders to be worth at least $100 to make delivery viable, but he’ll make exceptions during the COVID-19 lockdown, he said.

Famous Foods on Kingsway began carrying Hannah Brook Farm greens on Tuesday.

And another way of getting his produce to market was setting up a covered table in front of his house on Lakewood Drive between 3rd and 4th avenues, with a pay-as-you’re-able change can set out.

“People were coming back and telling us how great it was,” Healey said.

Until someone complained to the city, which sent out a bylaw officer to shut it down. You can still order the Healeys’ produce by emailing hannahbrookfarms@gmail.com.

“It’s home delivery, I’ll bring it to you,” he said.

Meanwhile, there is $48,000 worth of seeds and plants in the ground.

“I’m waiting to see how this pans out,” Healey said. “People still have to eat. We may not sell as much and we’ll get a lower price, but I don’t think people are going to stop eating.”

gordmcintyre@postmedia.com

twitter.com/gordmcintyre

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