We were out at the Evelyn Hall just before Christmas at the craft fair and happened to meet this interesting lady and her husband selling coffee by the cup and Nicaraguan trinkets. They said they owned a farm out Kitseguecla Loop way and also sold Haskap berries. This looked as if there may be a column story here and I asked if I could come by and see what they were doing.
Now and then I can sniff out a scoop and I tell you this is one. This amazing family, Rob and Ellana Zoller and their three daughters have found their passion in life right there on the family farm. They have purchased the old Rodgers place just past Trout Creek and welcome anyone who wants to learn and experience the how of where their food comes from.
This mission is not something the couple has just come to the realization is important. No, it is something they both grew up with from an early age.
Both have been around farming their entire lives. Ellana was brought up in northern Manitoba and trained as an occupational therapist. She has spent time in Nunavut and worked closely with many reserves in the northern Manitoba area.
Rob was brought up in the Kelowna area and attended Olds College in Alberta after high school focusing on agriculture, prior to getting his teaching degree in Lethbridge. The desire to help people become more resilient and develop food security seemed to follow Rob around as he spent time in Guatemala and Nicaragua, volunteering at a preschool, planting fruit trees, and supporting community garden development.
Rob and Ellana crossed paths and were married and then spent the next 10 years in Manitoba formulating their plans to get closer to family in B.C.
Establishing in the Smithers area fit that bill quite nicely and locating near Witset would allow Rob the opportunity to teach and develop a connection with the community and Ellana could share her therapy skills with nearby communities.
And now they could get back to farming, raise their children within that lifestyle and create a place where they can teach others the value of working in agriculture. The importance of growing your own food, either in the garden or raising animals in the barn, can bring the family closer to their dream.
Ellana wants to improve physical access around the farm so everyone can get as close to the animals and gardening as possible.
The family has been able to extend an invitation to the teachers at Muheim school, where their daughters attend, to understand the value of understanding where their food comes from. Friday is Farm Day and two classes come out to the Living Roots Family Farm to dig manure, measure the growth of their class pig, and join in other farming activities.
Rob’s connection with Witset also brings out his class and other classes that want to learn these values. The eggs are collected, hay is changed for the rabbits and projects are completed. This week, fat from the pigs has been rendered and was spread over bird feeders for each student. Students also got to make Haskap smoothies.
Other projects included the construction of a pig shelter and feeder giving students an opportunity to handle tools.
When it is time to harvest all the children participate and everyone is aware that their animals will be butchered to provide food for them.
“To develop this respect for an animal that is essentially giving its life so we can survive is a very important learning experience,” said Rob. “Food does not come from Safeway or No Frills, and we all need to know that.”
The pigs will be taken to the abattoir and then cut and wrapped at the Diamond D ranch up the Lawson Road outside of Telkwa. All the students will follow the process to the distribution of their share. School teachers and parent helpers also appreciate the experiences of Farm Day and believe it helps even the most introverted come out of their shell and connect. Having the opportunity to connect and have hands-on experience with the farm is very beneficial for them.
The family has not forgotten their connections in Nicaragua and Guatemala so when the timing is right they plan a trip south to visit friends. They have worked in an orphanage and spent time at a coffee plantation in Selva Negra studying holistic approaches to agriculture.
“It all fits in our package of learning and doing farming, it keeps you grounded and committed,” Rob said.
“We love growing our food, and spring season can get very busy,” said Ellana. “We also market garlic and asparagus. Our Haskap berry orchard is two acres and that in itself can be demanding during harvest time. We also have a fully accessible guest house and encourage patrons to join us in the family farm life. We love this farm, this community, and want to continue to share our rural lifestyle.”