Bandit Farms: A Little Farm with a Big Heart
My 2013 Slow Food Cycle experience was pretty much the opposite of a Slow Cycle. I had a 5 month old baby and hadn’t hooked up the bike trailer or got my shizzle together in general, but my fella threw my bike in the car after the baby’s mid-morning feed and said, “I’ve got the kid. Go go go. Get as far as you can and I’ll call you when you need to hustle home.” It was the speediest and least social food cycle I’ve ever done. Me, solo, flying up the road on my bike, to IceCap Organics, and then racing back, full of fresh air and gratitude for clouds, volunteers, rad dads and awesome mamas and folk who look like this might be the biggest ride of their year, pregnant women, stylish dudes in porkpie hats, girls with arms in casts, a woman who said ‘have you done this before? Is there food? Oh good. I love food’, the boy who said as I blew past him, ‘oh look it’s a farm!’ and finally, all the new farms that weren’t part of the event nine years ago.
Where is Bandit Farms, and when did it get its start?
We are located in the Pemberton Meadows about 17kms north of town and as of pretty much now, we have been farming here for one year.
Who is “the Chief bandit?”
Me, Riley Johnson. I like to refer to this place as a family farm – my mom, and sister and brother-in-law have been with me since day one helping to get things going and supporting me in every way they can. They live in Vancouver but I could have never have got this going without their help. We have also had volunteers help out, and plan to have some “woofers” get involved this summer as well.
And who else is residence there? I hear there are some beloved critters. And a cute cow made its facebook debut not so long ago…
The cow isn’t here yet but we are hoping to welcome him soon. There is a herd of seven pigs – they will all be slaughtered for meat this summer. Flock of chickens – they are all heritage breeds. Some are layers and some are meat birds, and also a raft of ducks. We also have a couple rabbits. We’ll be getting a couple of lambs soon as well.
Where did the name come from?
When you think about what constitutes conventional farming methods – we would be considered outlaws for doing things the way we do. When I started my flock of chickens back when I was living in North Vancouver you weren’t allowed to raise chickens. When chickens are outlawed, outlaws raise chickens.
What do you grow? Who for?
We are planning to grow market vegetables including: artichoke, arugula, asparagus, beets, cbroccoli, cauliflower, celeric, cabbage, kale, corn, salad greens, leeks, onions, sweet peppers and hot peppers, cucumbers, summer squash, winter squash, Swiss chard, zucchini, garlic, variety of herbs, eggplants, tomatoes.
Local restaurants and families are my priority. Then the farmers markets. I currently have relationships with Heirloom and Forage restaurants in Vancouver and also Solfeggio and The Pony in Pemberton.
How was the first Slow Food Cycle? (That seemed to be the first people had really heard of you?
That was def our coming out event. No one knew what to expect and everyone that visited was blown away by the facilities, the animals, just the aesthetics of the farm. It is a heritage farm, the land has a lot of history. A lot of work has gone into restoring the buildings – the barns, chickens coops and root barns.
Any learnings or takeaways? Will you do it again this year?
We’ll be doing it again for sure, we know to make more sausages this year! We served sausages and donated the money to Search and Rescue and we will be doing that again this year. This year we are raising pigs just for Slow Food so we can keep it all in house and showcase our products and what we have going on.
From landscaper to farmer in how long?
The transition was seamless. I quit being a landscaper and became a farmer. The principles are basically the same.
Is that a big leap?
Not a big leap. Something that I really enjoy, that I didn’t get to do as a landscaper is the animal husbandry part of things. I love them even though the trials and tribulations can be a emotional roller coaster.
Or was it food that motivated you?
Growing my own food and not being okay with the way that animals are raised conventionally really motivated me to want to do what I do.
What’s your favourite thing to grow? Why? What do you love about it?
Beets – the tops are tasty and full of iron, and it always a surprise pulling it out of the ground.
What’s your favourite thing to eat/cook?
Duck. Slow roasted.
What did you get up to this winter? I interviewed Sara Dent of Young Agrarians recently, and she said that farmers are such workaholics they’ll only come to a meeting if it takes place on a farm so they can learn a few tricks. But winter is an opportunity to do other things…
This winter we bred rabbits, raised pigs, did maintenance on the barns and coops. I also got a few good days in on my snowmobile in the backcountry to go snowboarding in the Pemberton backcountry.
Can you learn all you need, to become a farmer, from Google? Books? Trial and error? Ag school? A mentor?
All of the above, it has really taken me all of the above. I personally used my background as a landscaper, made contacts with the other local farmers, trial and error was definitely happening, asking the people around me. I also have books all over my house, not to mention seed catalogues.
What does it take to get a young farmer going?
A pair of balls. Family support and believing in yourself. No dreams of grandeur.
How old are you?
Fertile soil. Location. The people.
Who could you not do this venture without?
What are the top 3 qualities that make a good farmer? (And which are you in short supply of?)
Work ethic. Diligence. Belief in myself. If I was in short supply of any of those things I wouldn’t be here.
What was your biggest surprise in your first year?
How much I would love raising the animals.
Going into your second year, what are your priorities?
Getting my product onto more peoples’ tables and plates, and producing enough to keep up with the demand.
How can people follow along on your adventures?
The website is: http://banditfarms.com/ and people can like our page at https://www.facebook.com/BanditFarms.
However, what I would love to see if people coming out to the farm. Everyone’s welcome to check it out. I run a very transparent farm, there are no locked doors to people can check everything out, see the animals and ask me any questions they have. I love to get visitors.
Anything else you want to mention?
I just wish more people understood where their food is coming from and how hard you have to work to get quality food to the market.