Submitted by Chelsea Girimonte
Food and Farm Project Coordinator
Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce
Riverside Farm in Brisco is home to a lot of creatures. Bounding, friendly, and massive Maremmas, handsome horses and mules, honeybees (a kindergarteners’ birthday wish), and beautifully laced chicken and guinea hens. The animals are taken care of with a great deal of thought and affection, by a first-generation farming family—Jennifer Bowes, Trevor Hann, and their five-year-old daughter, Ellie. But at the heart of it all is their sheep.
They keep over 130 in their flock of diverse heritage breeds, which are raised for both fibre and meat. The decision to raise sheep was an homage to their heritage. Bowes explains that her family is from England, where sheep and lamb are big part of their culture. She adds that they are a part of Hann’s family history too. “His grandpa had about six sheep in Newfoundland,” Bowes laughs. “It was the biggest flock in the neighbourhood.”
Riverside Farm sits at the edge of the Columbia National Wildlife Area, off a bend on Brisco Road. It covers just over 300 acres of wetlands, forest, hay, and pasture. Many seasonal visitors and local residents don’t associate the Columbia Valley with agriculture, but there is a long history of ranching and farming here that dates back generations. Bowes has been pleasantly surprised by how many young farmers there are in the area too.
“A new generation of farmers is starting to come in,” she says. “Their farms are smaller scale and multi-purpose. They have chickens, bees, pigs, market gardens, apple orchards. They’re working to make it more manageable than larger, intensive livestock farming.”
The new farms are also eager to collaborate. Bowes believes farmers are finding their individual strengths while working together to create space for everyone in the agricultural community to thrive. For Riverside Farm that means selling waste wool to mulch crops at local vegetable farms, buying Indigo from local growers for natural dying projects, and sharing knowledge and resources with a family interested in cheesemaking.
It’s easy to romanticize the life of this farming family, especially in such an idyllic setting, tucked between mountains, with wetland birds flying overhead. Bowes says it is beautiful and she’s grateful to farm here. But she also warns that it’s a big responsibility and a test of endurance. “I do sleep really well though,” she adds.
The Riverside operation focuses on the production of wool and lamb is only a by-product of their farm. They present their products at fibre shows across Western Canada and they sell raw fleece, yarn, dryer balls, and hand-knit toques in their online shop on Facebook.
If you would like a taste of local Riverside Farm lamb, you have to be quick! They sell out fast and there is often a waitlist. When there is excess product, it will be sold in the “Local Meat Freezer” at Konig Meats in downtown Invermere.
Want to know more about agriculture in the Columbia Valley and how you can support local? Follow along @cvfoodandfarm or visit foodandfarm.ca.