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.