Agriculture & food special: Cowichan Valley residents finding farm friends on Facebook

“Is everyone else’s birds really hideous right now?”

“Haha yep, my poor Houdan rooster has like 2 tail feathers right now!”

“It’s totally normal to use the spare bedroom for curing sweet potatoes…right?”

“Was debating using mine to dry walnuts so I think it’s normal.”

You never know what’s going to appear on the Real Farmers of Vancouver Island Facebook page but one thing is certain, however odd it might be, you’ll get a response to pretty much any question you ask.

“Although there are many types of people on the site, newbies to long-time farmers, it is easy to pose a question to target some good information from the right people,” explained Linda Silver, who has been a member for years.

The Chemainus resident raises goats, sheep and poultry and occasionally farm-sits. She prefers the Real Farmers of Vancouver Island Facebook site to similar ones, mainly because of its breadth of information.

“I look to Real Farmers for information on anything from zoning issues to suggestions on what might be wrong with a sick chicken. It is also good to keep posted on events pertaining to farming, buying/selling hay, livestock, equipment or produce,” she said, “also recommendations for farriers, sheep shearers, people who fence or do tractor work, etc.”

Started up by Nanaimo hobby farmers Bryn Parkin and Jason Brown in 2012, The Real Farmers of Vancouver Island has become a valuable resource for large-scale farmers and small-scale hobbyists alike.

The group recently hit the 6,000-member mark quashing any doubt about just how deep the Island’s farming roots are.

A good number of those members are from the Cowichan Valley, including North Cowichan’s Lyndsey Milward.

While she doesn’t call herself a hobby farmer, Milward does say she’s a chicken collector.

“I have backyard chickens and love the heritage breeds,” she said. “The group is awesome for finding specific breeds of chickens without having to wait for poultry swaps.”

Swaps come roughly once a month in the warmer months but not throughout the fall and winter. The Facebook page instantly connects those looking to buy with those looking to sell. And by most accounts, business is booming.

The bonus is the diversity of birds available is higher than most swaps, Milward said.

“Because it’s easier to sell the birds in the group, the chicken farmers can really branch out and get new breeds and crosses without worrying about ending up with too many left over,” Milward explained. “Now you can even buy rainbow six-pack of chicks which is six chicks that will lay different colours!”

Most of all, though, Milward says it’s having the support of the group that gives her confidence to raise the animals.

“I’m not sure backyard chickens would even be as popular as they are without groups like these,” she said. “You can learn so much from each other. I mean I could probably confidently raise any farm animal with the help of these people.”

The same rings true for Sahtlam’s Kim Kovacs, who joined the group in June of 2013.

The page has quite literally changed her family’s life.

“It’s changed the way we live for sure,” Kovacs said. “It’s given us great friends and support. The page is kind of what got us into all this farming.”

Kovacs had initially joined the group to sell excess tomato plants, to find current meat rabbit pricing, and to look for rabbit cages but it has become so much more for her and her family.

“We have also used it to connect our daughters with local Island beef farmers for 4-H calves,” she explained. “I reached out on the page and it’s worked out great for us for contacts.”

The family originally had a half-acre residential property but now live on a small acreage in the ALR in Sahtlam to accommodate their love of agriculture.

“We are doing a bit of everything,” Kovacs said.

Her family now has sheep, beef, chickens, ducks, and turkeys for the holidays. “Oh and I bought a pig last weekend,” Kovacs added with a grin.

A post in the group announced a 4-H auction in Coombs so the Kovacs family went.

“Then we went ‘how do we get a pig home in the van?’” she said with a laugh.

Kovacs agreed with Milward that the page is one of the best places to list young hens for quick sales.

“Folks are always looking for healthy layers,” she said.

The Real Farmers of Vancouver Island is moderated by Teresa Fraser. The Nanaimo resident became friends with the founder after buying poultry from her back in 2015. It’s become a staple in her life as a farmer and horse rescuer.

“It’s amazing to be able to reach out to others of the same interest,” Fraser said.

The site has been a great tool for Westholme’s Adam Loewen, whose family has a long history of farming but has only been doing it himself for about four years.

He’s currently focused on raising lamb and chickens for meat as well as producing specialty garlic.

“Farming can be very challenging, and I often find myself faced with a problem I don’t have the foggiest idea how to solve,” Loewen explained. “For me, The Real Farmers of Vancouver Island group is a great place to ask questions about farming and crowd source some answers.”

Recently, the page helped him figure out how to trap a mink that had been terrorizing his chickens. It also diagnosed a ewe that had a blocked duct during lambing season. What’s more, he sold 100 per cent of his garlic via the page this year.

One must use discretion when filtering out advice, he cautioned.

“The challenge, as with any online forum, is there is a wide spectrum of people commenting. Some are knowledgeable, helpful and encouraging. Other are…well, not so much. If you post a question you often won’t know if the people answering have any idea what they are talking about, or if they are in fact actually farming themselves. The best case is if you can get a good discussion going with lots of people commenting. Then the good ideas tend to bubble up to the top. Overall I find the group to be helpful, and with farming, I’ll take all the help I can get!”

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A chicken collector, Lyndsey Milward has many different types. The ‘Real Farmers of Vancouver Island’ Facebook page has been useful in helping her not just to acquire the birds, but to also them healthy. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)
Lyndsey Milward checks out the ‘Real Farmers of Vancouver Island’ Facebook page. It’s a community of farmers and like-minded hobbyists that help each other out. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)

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