Rebecca Vaughan and Jeremy Grassick
Have you ever wanted to live off the land, to be completely self-sustainable and conservative in life? Rebecca Vaughan and Jeremy Grassick have been working towards this for some time. Their original plan was to buy property in Baynes Lake and build an Earthship – a “passive solar house that is made of both natural and upcycled materials such as earth-packed tires, pioneered by architect Michael Reynolds.” Yes, I had to look it up… and it’s pretty cool. But, life had other plans for them.
Rebecca and Jeremy met in Victoria, BC while they were both attending school for massage therapy. After they completed their program in 2008, they were looking to live in a mountain town. “Jeremy had completed the MAST program in 2002 in Fernie, and said to me well if we move there I’ll have like 20 friends, so Fernie it was,” says Rebecca. They originally lived in the Beavertail Lodge at the Ski Hill, looking after it for the owners during the ski season. They then moved to “Little Italy” just off downtown, where Rebecca worked as an RMT out of her home and Jeremy at Fernie Physio. Around this time, they knew they wanted to start a family and put energy towards their own home and gardens. They were researching the Earthship, when Susan Sim approached them with an idea and an opportunity of a lifetime.
Susan has owned 250 acres on Hartley Lake Road since 1965 with her husband Duncan. They spent the summer of 1970 on the land, testing out garden spaces and chose the area where Spruce Spring Stream Farms (SSSF) is today. In 1972, they returned and continued to develop the gardens and shelters, using organic gardening techniques, which included working the land by hand, composting, companion planting, mulching, crop rotation, white Dutch clover for ground cover, compost teas and cover crops. SSSF’s main garden was the smallest of them all. This was part of the “back to the land movement” so it attracted a lot of interest, with people coming to the farm each summer to help, creating a land-based community.
Susan continued to live on this property for many years, but came to a point where she needed help with the land. Local Craig Walker and his wife Kylie moved onto half of the property, which is now known as Wakita Springs. When Susan felt it was time to move on from the farm, she wanted this young family to be able to still live there. This is when she approached Rebecca and Jeremy with a Tenant in Common Agreement, sharing the 69 acres with Kylie and Craig. Just like that, the Earthship was off the table and the off-the-grid living on Hartley Lake was on.
“What makes it so special is that there are over 20 springs and two creeks that feed water right into our home and garden,” Rebecca tells me. It all sounds pretty remarkable to me. Power generated by spring fed micro hydro solar panels, chicken droppings and plant based compost teas to enrich the soil, water from artesian springs, the use of simple machines… it also sounds like a lot of work.
“We feel like we’ve inherited this land. Susan really wanted someone who shared her ethics and had her energy, it was really important to her. We have this responsibility to maintain and live up to the practices she put in place,” they tell me.
“It has already a farm, but had not been a farm for ten years. So we wanted to revive that, and get farm status right away. We opened up another acre and a half of land for produce growing, a small orchard and a 1000 square foot green house.” Rebecca and Jeremy began by selling at the markets last year, and this year they started to sell to families as it was too challenging with their newest addition, Nadia. “Every Wednesday, we wake up at 5:30/6am and harvest the produce and provide food for 30 families,” Rebecca says. And the demand is there. When they posted the opportunity, they had over 75 requests immediately but they can’t support that size.
It is a lot of work, but these two feel as though it’s worth it. With hopes to grow their family, they are happy with the size of the farm as it is still manageable alongside their jobs as massage therapists. They do plan on refining what they do, working on the efficiencies so they can do more for less.
In the end, Rebecca and Jeremy want to provide a great product and service and they admit that they do make sacrifices to ensure they can. “We don’t go to the lake, do yoga or go mountain biking. Farming is beautiful but it’s a lot of hard work. We just feel like we owe the land something, and producing this awesome produce makes it all worth while.”
Thank you, Rebecca and Jeremy for your hard work and continuing a very impressive tradition. For more information on SSSF visit Sprucespringstreamfarms.ca.
1. When did you first arrive in Fernie and what brought you here? We came in 2010, to start a practice in a mountain town.
2. Where did you first live in town? Beaver Tail Lodge, at the Ski Hill.
3. What was your first impression? Well, our very first impression was Dano Cutts. We met him at the Annex Park with his septic truck, the base was pumping and he was dancing. It was so funny, he was the first person we met in Fernie.
4. What keeps you in Fernie? The community. Whatever we do, everyone is so supportive of us, so encouraging. I love that people know us. We really try to support local businesses, and everyone supports us as well. The young families show how great this community is, putting down roots here.
5. Do you have a favourite Fernie memory? The Ski Patrol party at the Beaver Tail Lodge. We did the most epic Hootenanny themed party. It was legendary. We had to repaint the walls, re-grout the tile, but it was so much fun.
6. What is your favourite time of the year in Fernie and why? J. I like the fall. Because of the transition and it’s super beautiful. You can still do everything. R. fall and winter, mainly because all of the farm work is done. And I love cross-country skiing on our road. Fresh powder tracks and so quiet.
7. Where do you see Fernie in 5 to 10 years? Hopefully with a new elementary school or two, and a rec centre.
8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals? R. My pants are ready at the door like a fireman’s. I hop into them, and work in them for a good hour before anyone is up. And hopefully try to eat and drink something within the first two hours. Jeremy starts his day by hanging out with Nadia, reading her books.
9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you. R. I am three courses away from my wildlife biology degree and for seven years I did wildlife biology field work. Tracked grizzly bears, studied moose… I’ve done it all. Jeremy tree planted for 11 years and used to own a rock climbing gym in Calgary.
10. Quote to live by: R. No matter where you go, there you are. J. There’s a fine line between a free spirit and a lost soul.