Among the many opportunities my time at Featherstone gave me was the chance to meet a talented Minneapolis food photographer, Mette Nielsen. You may remember reading about last year’s Squashfest at the farm– the weeklong squash picking extravaganza that brought various volunteers and farmworkers together. I can personally attest to the power of those connections through my sustained friendship with Mette, who I met there.
After hearing I moved on to the Pacific Northwest, Mette soon told me that her and a friend, food stylist Robin Krause, were using up some frequent flyer miles to travel to British Columbia, and kindly invited me along. How could I resist? After some time in Vancouver, they were going to a tiny island off of Vancouver Island, one which goes by the name of Salt Spring Island. The hour long drive from tip to bottom of the island will show you it’s filled to the brim with farmers and artists.
Michael Ableman, author of ‘Fields of Plenty’, owns and operates Foxglove Farm, the place where the cottage we stayed in was located. After snaking through the country roads we approached the gate to the property. Passing multiple farm houses whose chimneys were billowing with smoke, we eventually came to our cabin, where a basketful of produce was waiting for us, demanding to be cooked. We had no problem complying.
After adventuring throughout the island (visiting dairy farms, the bread bakers house, a goat farm, etc.) we often found ourselves cozying-up in the cabin, knitting, listening to the wood crackle in the fireplace, writing, taking baths, cooking, drinking tea. It was there I discovered the power of Epsom salt and smoked oysters, not together, of course. The taste of the smoked oysters blew my brains, and I never felt more relaxed than after that Epsom salt bath.
Featherstone was my first and only direct experience with an organic vegetable farm before this trip. Not having anything to compare it to, the visit to Foxglove gave me a meter to which I could compare Featherstone. And the conclusion I came to was the same conclusion I’ve come to regarding the Midwest and Pacific Northwest cultures: When it comes to the essence of living, everybody is the same, everywhere- all having insecurities, ambition, and a need for love. Featherstone and Foxglove are no different in that their goal is very humble, yet very ambitious – to feed real food to real people. The employees of both farms have very curious minds, and have traveled far to learn about farming or to be part of a close-knit community. Each farm has their unique challenges, whose farmers have come up with even more unique solutions to tackle them.
Time spent at Foxglove also reaffirmed what Featherstone had shown me, that a place is defined by its people. More than any logo, photograph, or advertisement, the character of both Featherstone and Foxglove is defined by the farmer, the employees, the consumers, and the farm-friends. It’s people that breathe life into a place, it doesn’t become alive by itself.
And the same could be said for our little cottage in the woods, on a remote farm, on a remote island. The warmth within the walls were barely from the wood burning stove. It was from these two women, who put up with questions of mine such as, “What do you wish you would have known at the age of 22?” and taught me how to make a bowl of granola and yogurt look appealing.
Foxglove and Featherstone - two experiences that have brought me to different parts of the world and showed me the exact same things. People, not things, enrich life. And a farm is about making people more alive.