It’s a hot Interior morning as I drive south on Highway 1; the windows are rolled up and the air conditioning is doing its job. When I turn off onto Venables Valley Road, however, I turn off the AC and roll the windows down, and as I climb out of the drybelt and reach the trees the car is filled with the scent of fir and poplar and wild vegetation.
When I pull into the yard at Bhumi Farm Organics and get out, I’m immediately struck by the silence and by the fact that it’s noticeably cooler than it was in Ashcroft. I walk past a bed of lush flowers that makes a carpet of riotous colours against the green grass, and walk to the front door of a house that commands a splendid view in three directions. The door is open, and I knock, then call out “Hello?”
Helen Monet comes to the door and gives me a hug. I know Helen from our days working together for School District No. 74, but today I’m here to talk with her and her husband Jim McComb about Bhumi. Jim is below us, working on a small patch of land, but he comes up to join us when Helen calls. She points to the flower garden I had noticed, and which turns out to be one of many on the property. “I’m English,” she says with a smile, “so I need to have flower gardens.”
One of the beautiful flowerbeds at Bhumi Farm. Photo by Barbara Roden.
They purchased 160 acres of land in the area in 1990, then moved up from Coquitlam, where they owned art galleries, in 1996. Bhumi Farm Organics has been in operation since then, as a certified organic farm, and Jim admits that it was a steep learning curve.
“The growing season up here is shorter by 10 days on each end than it is in Ashcroft because of the frost,” explains Helen. However, extensive experimentation, as well as the use of greenhouses, means they are able to grow a full range of crops and harvest them from March through November.
We head out on a tour of the farm, accompanied by Shyam, a friendly black cat (the name means “the black of a thunder cloud”) that alternately runs on ahead or trails behind us depending on his mood. Jim and Helen point out the various crops, and I’m amazed to see what asparagus looks like when the season is over: tall and graceful, with delicate lacy fronds that look a little like dill. Jim explains that the roots spread out for five feet, and that the old growth will die off over the winter, paving the way for fresh, tender asparagus shoots in the spring.
Helen picks some goji berries for us as we walk along, and I take a few and bite down. They’re sharply sweet, with a taste all their own. She points out the field of beets; some 3,000 pounds were just taken to market, and as they plant every two weeks they’ll be picking beets from now through October. There are fields and greenhouses full of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, beans, kale, potatoes, summer squash, zucchini, lettuce, cucumbers, and more.
Jim McComb is part of a sea of green crops. Photo by Barbara Roden.
They run a kitchen garden from the property, sell produce at the Venables Valley Farmers’ Market every Thursday, and sell into retail outlets such as Nature’s Fare in Kamloops. Tom Sumstrum, who spearheads the kitchen garden, also delivers salad greens and other veggies, including non-GMO corn, to residences and businesses in Ashcroft throughout the spring, summer, and fall.
One of the star items Bhumi produces is sunchokes, more commonly known as Jerusalem artichokes. “They’re not from Jerusalem, and they’re not artichokes,” explains Jim. What they are is a root crop akin to potatoes, and they are very popular in Europe, and increasing in popularity here because of their nutritional value and the fact that they are good for people with diabetes, as they don’t affect the sugar levels in the blood the way potatoes do. They’ll be ready to harvest in the fall.
The tour over, we sit under a large wooden structure that can be used for outdoor weddings, gatherings, and music festivals. Shyam flops down beside us, meowing every now and then for attention. There are several cabins and a yurt on the property, which can be rented out for weekends or longer by those wanting to get away from things for a while and enjoy the beauty and quiet of the farm. “Some of the people even help out on the farm,” says Jim.
He points out that people don’t have to rough it, and indicates the power lines overhead. They had taken me by surprise, as I had thought there was no power to the area. Jim explains that they generate their own power using the water flowing from Venables Creek, and asks if I want to see the power plant. I agree, and we jump into his pick-up. It’s clearly a working truck, not a suburban vehicle, and I soon appreciate why as we bump our way up to the plant.
He shows me around and explains how the water is channeled through a turbine which produces a DC current, which in turn goes through an inverter and is inverted to AC power. We get back into the truck and continue up the road, and I’m glad of the truck’s capabilities as Jim throws it into four-wheel-drive and guns it up a particularly steep stretch.
We arrive in a shady, V-shaped valley crowded with trees, where the road dead-ends. We get out, and I’m struck by how cool it is. Bhumi sits at 2,600 feet above sea level, and we’re 400 feet higher here and in shadow. Venables Creek, running gently over rocks and through dense vegetation, can be heard before it’s seen, and Jim shows me where it comes out and begins its descent through a huge tank and then pipes buried four feet deep down to the power plant.
“It generates all our power, for the house and the cabins, provides us with domestic water, and irrigates up to 10 acres,” he says. It’s amazing, he continues, what can be done with not very much water, and says that’s a key to getting more land irrigated and cultivated through the region.
We return to the house, where I sit with Helen and a young couple with a seven-month-old daughter who are staying in one of the cabins. We munch on poppadums and homemade apricot jam and sweet peaches and enjoy the view.
The view south down Venables Valley. Photo by Barbara Roden.
“We’re trying to encourage people to look after their health more, engage in a preventative lifestyle,” says Helen. Jim would like to see a farmers’ market start up in Ashcroft on a Friday, when people are in town, as a place where farmers from Venables and beyond could sell their goods. “It could be a cooperative initiative where people from Venables would take turns running it.”
I ask Jim what Bhumi means. “It’s from ancient Sanskrit, and means Mother Earth,” he says.
Mother Earth Organics. Looking about at the lushness that surrounds me, I have to agree with him that the name more than fits.
Bhumi Farm Organics is on Bhumi Farm Road, off Venables Valley Road. Visitors who want to see the area are welcome at any time; those wanting to purchase items from the kitchen market are advised to call or e-mail ahead of time (250-457-7171 or email@example.com) to make sure Helen or Jim are home.