Couple working on a small plot

Nicole and John Faires adopt a French farming method for local food production

John and Nicole Faires begin to ready their raised beds on their SPIN farm in Parksville where they will produce locally-grown produce for up to 400 people this year.

John and Nicole Faires begin to ready their raised beds on their SPIN farm in Parksville where they will produce locally-grown produce for up to 400 people this year.

A new business in District 69 is hoping to increase food security by making locally-grown, natural food affordable and accessible to everyone.

Nicole and John Faires are in the midst of preparing their garden beds and are about to start planing seeds on a Small Plot Intensive (SPIN) farm located in Parksville. SPIN farming has been used for hundreds of years in France with small urban and suburban plots supplying much of Paris and other cities food supplies.

Rather than growing in long rows worked by big machines, SPIN farming uses wider, shorter beds of crops grown intensively or closer together and weeded by hand. The method requires more labour but the amount of food grown per square foot is much higher.

The Faires Farm uses only natural materials to fertilize the soil, produces no waste and uses extensive water conservation techniques.  They will be planting only organic and heritage breeds of seeds to grow Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) produce which means no use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or GMO seeds. CNG has annual inspections done by a local farmer within an ethical system of peer-review.

John, who is the marketing manager for the business, said their goal is to offer fresh, local, organically grown vegetables and herbs delivered straight to people’s homes the same day their food is picked.

His wife Nicole grew up on a hobby farm in rural Montana where she learned all about farming. The author of two books, The Ultimate Guide to Permaculture and The ultimate Guide to Homesteading, she brings her extensive farming knowledge to the business.

The two have realized that farming is an endangered profession and on Vancouver Island food security is an issue that needs some attention. Ninety per cent of the Island’s food is brought in from the outside and according to some experts there are only three days’ worth of fresh food on the Island to feed people in the non-summer months.

“We are both passionate about farming and food security. One reason we are doing this is to prove it can be done. We expect to feed about 400 people on half an acre and that is not common anymore,” admitted John.

Some of the benefits of eating locally include improved food security and a reduction in green house gas emissions.

The Faires who are just starting out their home grown business said they have received tremendous support from the local community so they want to give back and have launched a Food Scholarship program. John said they are providing five full season, Family Box subscriptions to families who are in need, providing each of those families with 24 weeks of fresh, healthy vegetables, delivered right to their door.

“We were blown away by the support we got when we started about a month ago so we wanted to give back.  We have been in contact with local organizations and we want the food to go to people who really need it,” said John.

The farmers are asking for some help with the program.

“We are able to cover 50% of the subscription, but would love if the community can help by donating the remaining $1750 it will cost to reach our goal.”

Naturally produced fresh vegetable are the healthiest foods we can eat but for some the cost is prohibitive.  The fresher and more natural the produce the higher the price.  John said most food provided to those in need is processed and non-perishable.

“We think that there is nothing better we can give to those in need than the gift of fresh produce,” said John who added, “another important factor is that food donations drop dramatically over the summer season, creating a food shortage for needy families.”

John said so far they have sold about half of their food subscriptions and he is confident they will sell all of them.  He said they looked at Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in which the community steps up and pays for a whole season of food but came up with a better business model.

“There are problems with CSA’s.  There are risks if crops don’t produce and typically customers have to pick up the food at the farm.  We initiated a delivery program and put a no risk guarantee on it.”

He said if they can’t fulfill an oder they will offer a 50% rebate on whatever has been pre-paid or they can have a 100% credit that will go towards an order in the next season.  They are also providing a Composting Program which is unique to Faires Farms.

As part of the composting program customers are asked to save a small bucket of kitchen waste every week and leave it out for them to pick up when they deliver the weekly bag or box of vegetables.  They provide the bucket and will leave a clean one with the delivery so that you never need to clean it.  In return for the precious kitchen waste they give a $2 credit for every full bucket, up to $40 per season.

John said collecting the compost is part of their zero waste gardening practice and while it is more labour intensive it is how they want to operate.  He said most of their business has come from word of mouth and by Facebook. He said on their website they have asked for land partnerships and so far have had over 20 acres offered to them.  For now the couple will till the soil on their half acre plot in Parksville which includes 9000 sq. ft. of hoop houses over hundreds of raised beds.  For more information go to fairesfarms.com