Thursday, December 9, 2010
When Home is... a Blueberry Farm in Canada
Eleven years ago, Heather Cameron was a florist living in Vancouver watching organic farming shows on television and dreaming of becoming a ‘country girl with a veggie garden even though I only had one plant out on the deck.’
Today she is a magazine stylist who, along with her husband, runs an organic blueberry farm 40 minutes outside of Vancouver and sells her own line of jams.
Heather’s story is one of taking the opportunities life throws at us, following those opportunities down a path and then following other paths never before considered that open up along the way.
‘I am exactly where I am because of my choices – I could be anywhere if I had decided to stay in the city. I know I always felt I was a country girl at heart. I love the city, but I’d always rather explore the outer areas. Beyond the city, where the calmer folk are.’
Heather and her husband didn’t set out to buy a blueberry farm; ‘it came with the property that we liked. We had no idea what we were doing.’
‘The house was hideous inside. UGLY!! But, I could see good bones, and knew I could fix it. Eleven years later, we are still fixing it – but it’s awesome and it’s ours. The farm was overrun with stinging nettles and blackberries; very neglected.’
So, with a hideous interior and an overgrown and neglected farm, how did Heather manage to make this property feel like home? ‘I painted almost everything white – including the oak kitchen, ripped off the wallpaper – found in every room, including a wallpaper border along the top of each wall. Ripped out all the carpet... Wait – it’s easier to say I gutted the place.’
Being a florist, she had originally planned to plant flowers on the farm and use them for weddings and events; ‘We were growing roses, hydrangeas, sweet peas, lavender, and snow ball viburnum bushes. It seemed like a clever plan – buy land, grow flowers, make lots of cash!’
But here was the first change of path; at one particular ‘very posh’ wedding little bugs came crawling out of the flowers onto the white tablecloths. ‘A nightmare come true’. Heather stopped using her own flowers and started buying them at auction.
To get more exposure for her floristry business, Heather decided to invite Victoria Magazine up to the farm; ‘I sent some images – and by images, I mean actual photos in an envelope. I think I even handwrote the note. No jpegs at hand back then. I said I make great pie, and if they come, I’d bake them one. They came. Seems rather easy, but I sent a lot of pictures of my work, our yard, my mom and me.’
During their afternoon of drinking tea, eating pie and sitting in the garden, the editor asked Heather if she had even considered a career in styling. ‘I had no idea there was such a job. Making things look pretty?! Seriously?! Seemed like a fun gig.’
And so began another path, working freelance for a variety of magazines setting up scenes and creating stories with pictures. In the meantime they cleaned up the farm and kept the blueberries. Having always enjoyed preserving food, Heather decided to make a few jars of blueberry jam to sell each year when the farm opened.
‘My jams are simple – not fancy, but memorable. I use old fashioned/slow cook/small batch methods, no pectin. This gives you half the sugar and twice the fruit. It’s like the Great Grandmother’s use to make, before we all got over processed and covered in sugar.’
Heather had been perfecting her recipes for years, originally taught by her mother-in-law; ‘She taught me what she knew, then I improved upon that. There was a lot of trial and error. I remember exploding peaches in our apartment in the city. I didn’t process them properly and they fermented. Not pretty.’
Then last year the freelance styling work dropped off thanks to the struggling magazine industry and yet another path opened; ‘A friend asked if I would make her jam for her new restaurant. The magazine industry had tanked, so I had a lot of time on my hands. It snowballed from there. Other friends with bakeries asked for it, then more shops, then I approached a trendy Vancouver grocery chain and they took it... It wasn’t my plan, but I love it.’
Today, Heather now has her Missing Goat jam label, ‘I’m not a serious gal, it had to suit me and be memorable’, their blueberry farm is now certified organic and growing and the family has grown to include three-year-old Lily.
They have ducks, originally bought to eat up the fallen berries at the end of the season, but now ‘part of the family’. In Spring there will be chickens; ‘I can’t wait to throw all my scraps to them.’
From all these unplanned paths that have been explored perhaps the biggest surprise is how much this farm feels like home to Heather in a way she never envisaged before her daughter’s arrival; ‘I thought of our home as a business, not really a family home. I always loved it but now it’s a real gift.’
‘Seeing Lily in the garden, grow pumpkins and sunflowers... Pick fresh berries and vegetables, camp in the yard with her dad... She’s so lucky – we are so lucky. I think I took it a bit for granted before she came along.’
For more information about Heather, visit her blog A Day in the Country
For more information about the Missing Goat Blueberry Farm, visit the website
All images © Heather Cameron