Linnaea Ecological Gardening Programme

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, my first garden was grown during my time at the Linnaea Ecological Gardening Programme on Cortes Island in British Columbia.

In 2001 I was working at the Falls Brook Centre in New Brunswick and getting interesting in gardening and organic farming.  I decided that I wanted to go out and get some more hands-on experience with farming.

Unlike the day-to-day parts of my life where I plan and plan, I tend to make big life decisions on a whim.  I looked around a bit on the internet for a gardening program, came across the Linnaea program, and applied the next day – all without doing any research on the program.  It wasn’t a few days before I was to leave on a cross-country train trip for B.C. that I actually looked up where Cortes Island was located.  To my surprise it wasn’t directly across from Vancouver as I had thought, but further up Vancouver Island, nearer to Campbell River.

Thankfully I didn’t end up on a crazy farm, but had a wonderful 8-month (February to October) experience on Cortes Island.

The Linnaea Ecological Gardening Programme has been running since 1987 and offers a full-season hands-on course on organic agriculture, small-scale farming, and permaculture.  The farm runs a market garden and CSA program and also has 30 acres of pasture and hay fields, cows, sheep, and chickens. Each year ten or twelve students students are in the programme.

My time at the farm consisted of work in the market garden, work in my own vegetable plot, an applied permaculture design course, classroom sessions on various agriculture topics, and various hands-on short courses such as herbology, blacksmithing, woodworking,  and food preservation.

I loved all parts of the programme, but my favorites parts were working in my own garden plot and my special project on natural dye-plants; our class project for our permaculture design course where we designed a full-property plan for a local small-scale farming property; the blacksmithing course; and the times we helped out on the larger farm with haying, cattle rotation grazing, and lambing.  One night I spent a two-hour shift looking over Della the sheep who had a prolapsed uterus, in case something happened and the vet needed to be called.

Cortes Island itself was amazing.  It’s a small island of just over 1,000 permanent residents.  The closest community to the farm has a school, restaurant, small grocery store, and a community building which houses the library, doctor’s office, post office, second-hand store, kindergarten, cafe, and the weekly farmers’/craft market.  Mail only came in three times a week, so mail-day was always a good time to run into most of the community members and catch up on news.  The island has beaches, lakes and hiking trails and I spent many days traipsing around the woods (thankfully never encountering one of the island’s cougars), canoeing, kayaking, and swimming.

When I was there, the instructors for the programme were all residents of Linnaea Farm and they would teach part-time and do farm activities the rest of the time.  Most of the students lived in a large house on the lake.

There is a cost to the programme.  When I went it was less than $2000 for tuition. I checked the website and it is now around $3500.  I still think this is a great price for an eight-month course considering a two-week permaculture course usually costs around $1500.

As has been pointed out to me many times over the years, I could have saved my money and time and learnt all of these skills by myself, by reading books, and talking to other gardeners as I went. That’s true, but I don’t regret my decision to take a year off work in 2002 and go live and learn on a small island in BC. It was awesome.

Over time I’ve realized that full-time farming is not the occupation for me, but I’m still grateful for the time I spent at Linnaea and continue to use many of the skills I learnt there in our home garden.

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16 thoughts on “Linnaea Ecological Gardening Programme

  1. WOW – I am loving your blog for all that I am learning…AND what I am learning about Marcelle, my friend! This is incredible…what a great time spent!

    First off – – that last picture, you’re adorable! You look SOOOOOOO young! it’s beautiful.. This place sounds amazing. I wish that there were a place like this that would provide a programme for young people today (teens), to help them realize and learn the benefits of living off the land, and being one with nature.

    I think, even though a full-time life of organic farming may not be for you, it seems you have gleaned a lot of useful lifelong information from your experience there!

    Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Thanks Stacey! I can’t believe it was ten years ago that I was at Linnaea – it feels like just yesterday that I was feeling dwarfed by all the big trees. And you’re right, I was so young! It was an amazing place – I went back to the island for a visit five years ago and loved it just as much.

      • wow – that is great. I wish there were programs around like this that young people could partake in (ie. Megan & Emily). I think they would love that (perhaps not 8 months worth, but a couple of summer weeks would be great opportunity).

        It’s always nice to re-visit somewhere we went when we were younger (or perhaps less educated and more naive?) It’s nice to re-appreciate things again.

        • Have you heard of the WWOOF program? It stands for “Willing Workers on Organic Farms” and is international. You sign up for the area you’d like to work in, get a book listing all the farms that are part of the program and then you can contact the farms directly and offer your help in exchange for room and board. You can go for a few days (although most farms prefer at least a week) or for longer stays. I’ve done it twice for one week each – once in Newfoundland and once on Cortes when I went back to visit. Both were great experiences. I’m not sure if there is an age minimum, but you could always go with your daughters if they’re too young 🙂

          • I have heard of that program, my friends Roger & Samantha worked on a farm in Kentucky through them, I didn’t realize they were in Canada as well…and what a great idea, to do it with the girls!!! I like that! A perfect summer ‘vacation’ from normalcy!

  2. Turns out you and I were in coastal B.C. at the same time. I was a few hours drive north in Port McNeil. Too bad wordpress won’t let me comment with photos. My experience working for a large forest land management outfit was quite different from your organic farming. BC has incredible diversity. My memories: trees over 65m in height, snowy peaks in July, fishing salmon and crabs from shore, and 217 bear sightings in 4 months (I kept a log). My worst memory was ironically the produce. Terrible. The store in town had 2 week old tomatoes and apples at crazy expensive prices. Too bad I couldn’t raid your garden back then! Throughout the whole summer I only once made the trip ‘into town’. We went to see strippers in Campbell River. Nice eh!

    • That’s neat Chris. I’d love to see your photos! 217 bears…holy, I wouldn’t have stayed very long.

      And like my stepdad (Don) commented, we went up to Port McNeil for a few days to visit his friend Mark who owned the float plane company there. Who knows, we might have crossed paths there a few times 🙂 Mark was nice enough to let me go on a six-stop run with one of his planes which was pretty amazing. We also ate at one of the local restaurants where I had the best perogies I’ve ever eaten.

  3. Thanks for visiting my blog Marcelle and I look forward to reading yours! What a fantastic course you took and I agree, the money was well spent. To have such an intensive learning experience with so many other people and working hands on with your instructors. Amazing. Learning out of books can never replicate that knowledge or give you that kind of a life experience.

  4. Small world, Marcelle, when your Mom, your Grandmother and I went to visit you on Cortes, we all drove up to Port McNeil to visit my friend Mark, and we spent 2 or 3 days. So you were in Port McNeil when Chris Norfolk was there!

    • That’s really neat! Maybe we crossed paths while we were there. I had such a great visit in Port McNeil with you, Mom, Memere, and Mark. The float plane trip and seeing Alert Bay’s longhouse were amazing.

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