Learning from Cast Iron Farm Cooperative

By Olga Lansdorp

Nestled in suburban Sooke, near Victoria BC, is a parcel of land that is doing things a bit differently then their neighbours. Cast Iron Farm is a cooperative farm consisting of a core group of five adults (and their children) that focuses on farm animals. On the property, instead of a house with a lawn and a few shrubs, you will find an animal farm with chickens, pigs, sheep, some fruits and vegetables, and two dogs. There is a large volunteer squash patch in the chicken area, with a giant dark green pumpkin hiding in the two-foot tall squash leaves. There is a veritable smorgasbord of fruit and vegetable options for the chickens to eat. In the sheep area there is a large pile of apples for them to eat, in addition to their regular food. There are also several four-month old pigs contentedly wallowing in the mud nearby.

After showing me some of the sights, Erin, one of the core adults in the farm cooperative,  and I sat down in a shady spot at a picnic table, with two sleepy dogs at our feet. We started talking more about how this cooperative farm works, its history, and musings about the pros and cons of cooperatives. I gained some pearls of insight from the conversation. For example, Erin brought up the concept that alone you can go faster, but as a group you can go further. In other words, it is slower to make decisions as a group, but in the long run you can accomplish more in a group compared to if you are alone.

Do you have a group of friends that you meet with regularly, maybe for summer barbeques? Does the topic of conversation ever veer towards what you would do if there was an apocalypse? Especially in light of climate change floods, droughts, fires and landslides, I suspect many are having these conversations. Interestingly, Erin, her husband and friends were having these conversation over the dinner table in Coquitlam back in 2012. At the time one of Erin’s concerns was not being able to provide her children with the diet they needed, especially the meat. Fast forward two years to 2014 and Erin, her husband and three friends bought the land that was to become Cast Iron Farm. And now, in 2023 the farm has plenty of meat, and I caught of glimpse of a teenager bounding past, full of energy. This is not to say that everything is idyllic on the farm: for example, progress on legally housing all members of the cooperative and their families on the farm has been a challenge under current ALR restrictions. Erin shared with me that progress on this has been much slower than she expected when they acquired the property nine years ago.

We also touched on another idea, that as humans we tend to take our accomplishments for granted after we’ve achieved them. Erin brought up how an improvement to their kitchen setup provided a huge boost to their productivity washing dishes, and after a week of appreciating it, she noticed that she was taking it for granted. I could relate to this concept, and I suppose it’s a human tendency. Sometimes it’s important to recognize the results of our work and take a moment to appreciate how far we’ve come.

As I prepared to leave Cast Iron Farm, I said goodbye to the two dogs and to Erin, and left with a deeper understanding of what’s going on under the hood of a cooperative farm. Thank you to Erin and Cast Iron Farm for sharing with me!