MAKE IT REAL @ RUBY SLIPPER RANCH
"First I fell in love with the man, then I fell in love with the island and the people who made a conscious choice to live here. Finally, what I call my pathless path led me to become an accidental farmer.” Tracy
While wanting to build a life and home together neither Shayne nor I felt the need to own land nor to take on a mortgage. Fortunately Shayne knew a like-minded family who were willing to become land-partners. I will be forever grateful to the Waltons (yes, their real name) for being the fore-farmers for our journey to being “accidental farmers.” When we joined them they had a herd of about 10 cattle, a small flock of chickens, couple of horses, and some pet geese.
At the time Shayne and I had no real intention of being farmers; we were looking for an affordable way to stay on the island and to build our home. That said, Shayne had raised chickens for eggs and grown a small garden. I, on the other hand, had been living the city life before coming to Denman and had never gotten my hands dirty growing my own food. However, as a lover of food and cooking I quickly started an herb garden. Since I worked while Shayne was building our house, the herb garden was all I had time for.
Four years ago, I quit my job as an administrator of a health care society, and with the help of my gardening guru Tim, courses in organic gardening, and permaculture design I set myself to the task of growing all our own food.
I am happy to say that Tim is now also living on the land and is our main co-farmer. He has helped turn the often daunting ideal of self-sufficiency into a goal that I have come to recognize could be obtained in my life time. If not, I know that I have established the ground work for future farmers to be self-sufficient. As well, we love sharing our food and farm experiences with farm-stay guests, WWOOFERS, helpers, community members looking for work-trade, and other wanna-bes, gonna-bes and local food enthusiasts.
A Story from One of Our Regular Visitors
Farm Stay by Lindsay Graf
As I bump towards a barn shaped-home in the shadow of Denman Island’s steepest ridge, a friendly strong man gives a saluting wave; must be Shayne Barker. Tracy Horovatin, the matron of Ruby Slipper Ranch, approaches and makes a joke about not being in Kansas anymore. Laughing, she explains that they like to call themselves “accidental farmers” who followed their combined dreams, which led to this land-sharing permaculture farm. They are carving out an alternate way of life, very much learning as they go.
As we walk around, Tracy explains that permaculture is about creating sustainable systems between plants, animals, soil, and people. I’m struck with the abundance all around me, unlike anything I’ve experienced. Tracy explains how eating farm-grown food has been a learning curve as they got used to eating a seasonal diet and substituting local alternatives for import purchases.
Ruby Slipper has chosen to be a permaculture farm, without focusing on producing profitable commodities. The farm embodies a determination to be less involved in the rat race that is decimating our planet. Tracy explains it's a “social experiment,” a conscious choice to be debt-free and communal. They first grow food for themselves, then generously share the surplus with their larger community, building “equity” if you will, in relationships. One such relationship is with Tim, their land partner and “gardening guru.”
Tracy recounts some of the little annoyances that come with the shared territory, and I marvel at her honesty, self-awareness and courage. I thought I'd come here because of my curiosity about food systems, but further, I am being exposed to another way of life. Staying here I get to eat food I've picked, revere the animal I'm feasting on, and learn about non-monetary economics and trust.
Tonight, along with the hearty beets, we have a fresh kale salad, potatoes, and a retired laying hen.
For years now I've intellectually believed that if I am to eat meat I should be connected to where it comes from, make sure the animals have lived happy, free lives and are slaughtered as humanely as possible. I believe that as an omnivore, it is unhealthy, unethical and irresponsible to outsource meat production to factory farms.
The folks at Ruby Slipper recognize that the animals are a valuable part of the whole ecosystem of the farm, and honour the animals by doing the slaughtering themselves. They make use of even the “odd bits”: head cheese, rendered fat and tongue sandwiches. The weight of life is felt here, up from the ground to the large maple tree that forms the banquet table.
Ruby Slipper invites those interested in developing a connection to where their food comes from to join them for a “farm stay” and experience a taste of truly local and sustainable food. As we feast, we are consuming an amazing story of inter-reliance, creativity, and sustenance. I can't help but feel that I'm being filled, not just with food or hope for a more sustainable future, but with sunshine, love, and proof that a better world is possible.