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Century-old inner-city farm opens March 22 amid growth, change and new prospects

Mason Street Farm is growing wellness, local farming knowledge and of course good vegetables

Kate Hildebrandt
March 19, 2023
Community
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Century-old inner-city farm opens March 22 amid growth, change and new prospects

Mason Street Farm is growing wellness, local farming knowledge and of course good vegetables

Kate Hildebrandt
Mar 19, 2023
From left: Becca, Jesse, JJ, Christine of Mason Street Farm and The Edible Nursery at 1015 Balmoral. Photo: Kyle Gerrard
From left: Becca, Jesse, JJ, Christine of Mason Street Farm and The Edible Nursery at 1015 Balmoral. Photo: Kyle Gerrard
Community
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Century-old inner-city farm opens March 22 amid growth, change and new prospects

Mason Street Farm is growing wellness, local farming knowledge and of course good vegetables

Kate Hildebrandt
March 19, 2023
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Century-old inner-city farm opens March 22 amid growth, change and new prospects
From left: Becca, Jesse, JJ, Christine of Mason Street Farm and The Edible Nursery at 1015 Balmoral. Photo: Kyle Gerrard

The season is about to begin for the farmers at Mason Street Farm. The edible nursery will have its soft opening on March 22 and the season-opening sale begins April 1. With demand growing each year, local farmer Jesse Brown has had to adapt to meet the needs of the community.

“There’s a lot happening now,” said Brown, noting how more people seek out the farm’s bounty with each growing season.

“So, we decided to do things differently this year.” For starters, he handed over management of the farm to long-standing crew member Christine Brennenstuhl. He then employed four experienced growers to assist with daily operations.

More than 100 years old, this micro farm measures about three-quarters of an acre and is situated near three homes between Balmoral Road and Mason Street, just north of the Save-on-Foods.

Potted seedling sales begin March 22 and the farm will remain open six days a week from 10am to 5pm until early fall. Greens, peas and eggs will be available starting April 1; other fresh vegetables will be sold at the market stand as the crops ripen for picking.

In addition, there’s a greenhouse, a weekly food basket program and opportunities for intern growers to work and learn alongside the regular crew.

The food basket program follows the Community Supported Agriculture model where participants pay up front for a share of the harvest rolled out over 24 weeks. The cost is about $25 per week for kits that start small in spring but graduate to a horn-of-plenty by late summer. The greens are especially popular with restaurant chefs and can be found on casual to fine dining menus across town including the Empress Hotel.

The farm stand in summer. Photo: Jesse Brown

While all of this is going on, Brown will be focusing on managing the nursery, supporting the chefs, and also working with Vic High students on their school garden which was sidelined by a massive seismic upgrade project.

“A teacher reached out to us,” he said, “She works with students dealing with stress and ‘school avoidance issues’ and asked if we could help get them into the garden.” Brown decided to volunteer his time with about 10 students resurrecting their garden in Victoria’s oldest school yard from now until June.

Having faced his own similar anxieties, Brown says that’s what drew him to Mason Street Farm 15 years ago while he was running his own landscaping business. He attributes farm work to enabling wellness. “I really do think my internal flora is connected to our farming somehow.”

Brown also points to a steady stream of like-minded ‘garden succession stewards’ who did foundational work at Mason Street, building up the soil, establishing relationships, growing produce just for restaurants.

“Proving to chefs how good food can taste when taken straight from the garden and into their kitchen is meaningful work, too,” he said, clear on the business of paying forward all that’s good about this place.

Now he’s passing that torch to Brennenstuhl and planting new seeds that may yield a new generation of young farmers down the road.

Brennenstuhl (left) and Brown take a break to catch up on farm business. Photo: Josh Tanasichuk

“The physical labour is intense,” said Brennenstuhl. “It’s like working out in the gym for several hours, five days a week.”

But she says she loves it, even on days when she’s not 100%.

“This farm needs attention everyday so there’s no walking away.”

Both Brown and Brennenstuhl also see the threats facing this green space what with a hungry property development sector and rising taxes. They also see this farm as more than a strip of arable land. It’s part of Victoria’s earliest residential corridor leading to the oldest Chinatown in Canada.

More than a farm and nursery, it’s a historic site that, with farmers, just might keep on adding rare flavour to the city around it.  

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Kate Hildebrandt
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