We turn onto Balmoral Road and drive about half a block before we see a small Mazda pickup truck filled with garden waste and black nursery pots. Then we see a sales table on the corner of the driveway, next to the sidewalk. The sign says, “Mason St. Farm. Open Wed., Thur., Fri. 9-4. Please come in and find a farmer to pay.”
It’s the honour system!
Mason Street farm is nestled between Mason Street and Balmoral Road in an old downtown neighbourhood, just three blocks from city hall. It’s a quarter-acre patchwork of garden beds, trellised plants, greenhouses, the odd fruit tree—and a chicken coop too.
We pass the sign that instructs visitors to come in and find a farmer, and spot someone working on the other side of the lot. It’s Julia—who has stayed late on a rainy evening to give us a tour. She runs the nursery here at Mason St. Farm. When I told a friend I’d be travelling to Victoria, B.C. he said, “You have to meet Julia and see the farm!”
Julia explains that the farm was started over 25 years ago on a vacant lot. More recently, another lot and house were added, so that the farm wraps around one of the houses on Mason Street.
Before municipal green waste recycling, this site was used for community composting—so the soil, she says, is fantastic. I scoop up a handful and it’s dark and crumbly.
There is a long tradition of growing in this neighbourhood that predates the farm. Pointing to the dark-green house next door, Julia tells me about their late neighbour, Mr. Lee, a skilled gardener who grew bok choy that he sold locally. Judging by the plants we see rising above the fence line, the backyard is still verdant.
The neighbourhood is changing though. We look across Mason Street at the crane towering over a new condo building where there used to be a school. This is becoming a hot neighbourhood.
Julia says that there have been good developments in the food system here. They can keep chickens. And they can now sell produce curbside, at the sales table we passed on the way in.
Along with the sales table, the farm sells to local restaurants, and uses a subscription system. There is a CSA program—community shared agriculture—where people subscribe to a weekly box of vegetables and eggs. During the spring, they also have a CSS program (community supported salad) where subscribers get a weekly bag of greens.
Julia says the farm has good community support, adding that the roadside stand has been a great way to connect with the community. So is the nursery that she operates. In the spring, she grows vegetable transplants for home gardeners. The community support means that they have a network they can reach out to for neighbourhood issues.
As the rain gets heavier, we finish our tour under cover in the prep area, looking at the sink, coolers, sorting tables, and a washing machine used to spin-dry produce.
Before we leave, Julia tells us about their collaboration with a local high school. Mason St. Farm set up a garden on school grounds, so that students can learn how to garden. The school cafeteria buys some of the produce, and the farm sells what remains.
What a great way to grow community.