Big city life can cause people to lose track of the simple things, like taking time to slow down and appreciate nature. Fortunately for Dunbar there are many parks to gravitate to, but did you know that you don’t have to travel outside of the area to visit a very active farm complete with bountiful harvests, a menagerie of farm animals and educational opportunities galore?
Head south on Balaclava Street and at the corner of West 51st Avenue you will find Southlands Heritage Farm. Jennifer and Rick Maynard are the owners; they have lived in the neighbourhood for generations, but the idea of creating Southlands Heritage Farm bloomed in the spring of 2008.
Their original vision was to intensively farm their backyard (a separate property located nearby) in a sustainable way to demonstrate that food security is possible within the city.
Jennifer says, “We felt awkward in our first summer as we took turns sitting on the roadside selling our produce and eggs to passers-by. Soon Diana Emrick from down the road joined in our lemonade stand type business. She sat with us and sold her famous pies, jams and cookies. Other neighbours joined in the market too, selling their homemade or grown delicacies. Volunteers came down to help us out, and we started to grow!”
The staff and volunteers are an integral part of the farm’s many operations and Jennifer and Rick appreciate each and every one of them.
The Maynards are long-term Southlands residents; Rick was born across the street from the farm, and Jennifer moved to the area as a teenager. One reason they purchased the farm was to save the existing heritage daffodil orchard. In the 1920s the market garden supplied cut flowers to local florists.
If you visit in the spring you will still see hundreds of naturalized daffodils growing. In the autumn the farm is a pumpkin pickers’ paradise.
Three enterprises operate on Southlands Heritage Farm’s 1.6-acre parcel of land: Southlands Heritage Farm, Southlands Therapeutic Riding Society (STaRS) and Pony Meadows.
The Maynards are extremely grateful to their son Jordan. Jennifer says, “The whole farm idea was Jordan’s. All the structures were imagined and built by him and all the educational programmes devised by him.”
The farm offers a wide range of educational programs that teach people of all ages about food systems and farm life. Armed with this knowledge, the goal is to help people make sustainable food choices. Programs are also designed to inspire children and their parents to care for the planet, the land and animals. Sharing the knowledge of how to farm sustainably is vital; without farms there is no food.
Head farmer Sam Vermeulen says, “There are so many people you can learn so much from here. And we learn a lot too.”
Farmer Markets are held every Friday during the summer. Organically grown, non-GMO produce includes everything from beets, to beans, kale, radishes, blueberries, plum, figs, rhubarb, lettuce, garlic, squash, chard, cucumbers, tomatoes and plant starts (basil and tomatoes). Free-range eggs in pretty pastel colours are sold year round, and before long veggies and fruit will be available at the market.
The farm is also home to STaRS, a therapeutic horseback-riding program that was founded in 2000. This not for profit society is designed for children and adults with special needs who require alternative forms of therapy to aid in their physical, cognitive, emotional and social development.
Office coordinator Christine Van Poelgeest manages the society’s fundraising. She says, “This is sanctuary for STaRS kids. They have a sense of belonging.”
Maynard’s Pony Meadows offers a variety of horse riding lessons for riders of all ages. They also offer spring and summer camps to accommodate both beginner and more advanced campers. All campers gain hands on experience; they learn how to feed and care for ‘their’ pony as well as the basics of horse back riding.
Judith Bouniol is the farm’s education director. Like all of Southlands’ staff she is passionate about this special place. Year round farm education occurs. She mentions last year 83 schools visited the farm, amounting to 3,000 children who participated in educational field trips. They come from far and wide; some schools like North Vancouver’s Windsor House come twice a week to the farm year round and use the farm as a teaching facility. Preschool classes are mesmerized by the wonder of it all. A walk across the farm to visit the Nubian goats becomes an adventure with stops along the way to observe insects and plants in an unhurried fashion.
Farm camps are a popular choice for children wishing to learn how to care for animals, connect with nature and learn about healthy ways of life.
Camps are held in the spring and summer for 6 to 16 year olds. See Southlands Farm’s website for more information.
Looking for a unique birthday party experience? Your child can spend their special day exploring with friends while meeting the sheep, chickens, bees and ponies, baking animal treats or learning to ride.
Sleepovers are held in the eighteen-stall barn’s hayloft or groups can camp in the orchard. Children love participating in farm chores such as collecting eggs and feeding the animals. Judith mentions the magical experience of spending a night at the farm. She says, “It’s so quiet at night. It’s quite an experience to sleep here and be in the boots of a farmer.”
If you have never visited, make sure you do – the friendly Southlands team love to share the farm with visitors. Come say hello to the chickens, goats, sheep, horses and donkey – you can even jump into a straw pile if you desire. Southlands Heritage Farm is a place where you can leave behind the distractions of urban life and get back to nature.
Southlands Heritage Farm
6767 Balaclava Street
Vancouver, BC V6N 0A7