Newman Farm was established in 1897 in rural Saanich. It remained in the family for 106 years, operating as a small mixed farm, where prize-winning jersey cattle were raised. In the early 2000’s, the 6.6 hectare property was donated by the Newman family to Central Saanich for use as a public park. The property is now under lease until 2025 to Farmlands Trust.
“Farmlands Trust is dedicated to preserving farmland” says Carol Pickup, chair of Farmlands Trust. “It’s to look at the farmland that’s not being used, or isn’t affordable, and to see young farmers get onto the land. It’s too expensive, most farmland, to buy, so if there was a trust set up, then there could be a way to get young farmers on through leases and so on.”
Newman Farm manager Bert James explains that the farm’s organically grown produce is donated to Victoria’s downtown street shelter.
“Farmlands Trust has a ten year lease to grow veggies that end up going to Our Place Society down on Pandora [Avenue]” says James.
“We’re so grateful to Farmlands Trust for this generous donation every year,” says Grant McKenzie, communications director at Our Place. “We have some of the freshest vegetables coming in that we put into our soups and our salads, and not only does it provide nutrition, but that whole ‘farm to table’ couldn’t have a bigger meaning than it does when you’re serving people that have nothing.”
As farm manager, James plays a vital role. “To kind of plan the garden out, make sure everything gets planted, to talk with the chef’s at Our Place to see what they’d prefer. They get tons of squash and zucchini, so they wanted a few more root vegetables this year, so we’ve added a number of rows of those.”
“I’ve been volunteering off and on for about six years” says long time Newman Farm volunteer Kathy English. “I just love this place. It’s just a beautiful, tranquil place to be, and I love weeding. I find it’s like a form of meditation” she adds with a smile.
“We have something like 700 supporters,” says Pickup, “which doesn’t mean they all volunteer, but they are still supporters, and they give small donations – usually yearly – but what we’re really looking for right now is hands on the ground.”
Because while the bulk of the harvesting takes place in late August and early Septemeber, “what we really need between now and then, on July the 13th and August the 10th, are volunteers to come in and help weed.” says Pickup. No experience necessary.
“We used to produce 85 percent of the fresh produce on Vancouver Island, it’s now down to 10 percent. And I know the Newman brothers would be proud with what’s going on here,” says Pickup proudly.