Would you believe me if I told you that there’s a farm on Innes Ave in Cranbrook?
That’s right, Christian Kimber of 3 Crows Farm is an urban farmer, who utilizes not only his yard, but his neighbour’s yards to grow vegetables and micro-greens year-round.
Kimber has been urban farming for over a decade, specializing in salad greens and micro greens. He sells to local restaurants and at the local Farmers’ Markets.
I chatted with Kimber two weeks ago, and he gave me a tour of his impressive operation. It was so neat to see a local person urban farming and utilizing every square inch of their space to the max.
Kimber says he got his start after seeing a man named Wally Satzewich on the news. Satzewich was one of the first people to coin the term SPIN farming – SPIN standing for small plot intensive.
“I bought a few of his courses, and I figured I could make a go of it here,” Kimber said. “I was looking for a job I could do from home that was flexible enough that I could also care for my son and be available for him. [At this time] he had been diagnosed with autism for a couple of years.”
He explained that his wife was inspired to become a behaviour analyst. Their consultant, at the time, encouraged her because of her instincts and aptitudes. She now owns Rocky Mountain Behaviour Analysts and has offices in Creston, Kimberley, Invermere, Golden and Sparwood, with her headquarters here in Cranbrook.
“She worked really hard to complete her masters and it was a challenging certification to acquire. I wanted to, and continue to, support her in that. So, that ruled out a 9-5 for me. I was a park ranger, working [away from home] for days at a time and it wasn’t ideal. My long term prospects there weren’t improving. So I figured I would give this a shot.”
The Kimbers moved to Cranbrook in 2008, and bought the house next door to their current one. Since then they’ve built a new house and their entire yard is a buzzing, green oasis.
“It was a double lot, had a lot of thistle and was very overgrown,” explained Kimber. “I developed a couple of big gardens here and then I approached a couple of neighbours across the street. I noticed one of the senior citizen neighbours had a garden that looked like it wasn’t being used, so I asked her if I could use her garden to grow vegetables. She thought that was fine.”
“She talked to her neighbour, and he thought it was a great idea. He didn’t want to mow his lawn anymore so he asked if I could grow on their front yard as well. All I had to do, really, was fence it off to the deer and get the soil in place.”
Kimber pays for the plots by providing his neighbours with fresh produce. A win-win.
“I’ve got a few other gardens as well, over the years it varies, depending on who’s available and what’s working out,” Kimber said, adding that it’s night and day to have spaces that are close by. “I can walk or ride my bike over to harvest, to plant, to weed.”
Kimber grows a variety of goodies, but he specializes in lettuce and micro greens. While I was there, Kimber was growing everything from beets, kohlrabi and radish to kale, salad mix, basil and arugula.
“In the summer, half of my business is restaurants, while the other half is the Farmers’ Markets. I regularly attend the Cranbrook and Fernie markets. Most of the restaurants I work with are Cranbrook based, with a few in Kimberley,” he said. “The restaurants have been super supportive. They have made a huge effort to work with me and the unpredictable seasons. Having a steady supply can be a challenge with such a small area, and a season that’s less than predictable.”
Kimber pointed to this year as being one of the most unusual growing seasons he’s ever had.
“We had a cold spring, and then the heat just rolled in. At the end of May, for example, we had our last frost on a Saturday, and then it was 29 above on the Monday,” he said. “I can grow frost tolerant plants, but they don’t like the heat. Or I can grow heat tolerant plants, but they don’t like the frost.”
I can relate to Kimber’s woes, having a large majority of our arugula do fantastically well for our first cutting, while the second growth bolted almost immediately. Even now, there are plants that are struggling with the heat (enter beans and spinach), while others (like tomatoes, peppers and zinnias) are thriving.
Kimber uses a variety of popular methods in his gardens such as crop rotations, the SPIN method, organic processes and more. He uses row cover to keep the weeds down on his neighbour’s land. He has different ways of watering different plants. He has an impressive compost, and like me, is growing squash in some of the compost boxes.
He has also made the most of working with other local businesses. He has worked with local breweries, taking their spent hops off of their hands to add to his compost and soil. Kimber has a wealth of knowledge from years of growing and research and continues to evolve as new methods and ideas are created.
“It’s really a rewarding process, as much as it can be challenging,” he said. “I’m always open to new ideas. I try to never pigeonhole myself into one ideology or method. I’m not certified organic, but I follow many organic methods. I think it’s important to be open to learning and growing in a variety of ways. What works for you might not work for someone else, and what works one year, might not work the next.”
You can catch Kimber at the local Farmers’ Markets, eat some of his veggies at local restaurants like Soulfood and The Raw House, pick up his produce at Farm-to-Folk in Cranbrook or Stoke Market in Kimberley. Find out more information by visiting his Facebook page: 3 Crows Farm.
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