By Katie Phelan
From left to right: Mark, Nao, Katie and Cohen
Cover Photo credit: Mark Sims
I really didn’t know what I was letting myself in for when my fiancé and I decided to move from Siena, Italy to the Comox Valley. (Well, that’s not exactly true; I knew there would be a lot of trees, and that I would be able to turn right on a red light – but that’s about it!) My fiancé Cohen is originally from BC, and although I am originally from Ireland, we met in Italy in 2010 and lived in Tuscany for four years where we taught classes in environmental sustainability, food culture and animal welfare. Whereas Cohen knew the island well in advance of our big move, I had no idea what life here would be like. I was excited and anxious – and more than a little bit worried about having to drink sub-par wine (Italy had spoiled me in that regard).
When I arrived at Cohen’s sister’s farm (Honey Grove) in December, my first impressions were overwhelmingly positive. Even my wine worries were allayed when I discovered Beaufort – what luck to live just minutes from one of the best wineries in BC! Every day I am struck by the beauty of the environment here; by the bounty of natural resources and by the purity of the air. Most of all, I have been heartened by the momentous support of a community that wills newcomers, like Cohen and me, to succeed. I’ve been gifted smoked salmon and farm-fresh eggs; sewing machines and salsa; fishing rods and the loan of tractor. Taken out of context, none of these things are particularly impressive but when you are starting out – learning the ropes and getting to grips with a new home so very far away from any other that you’ve known – these are precisely the things that mean everything. I’ve been hugged and welcomed to the point of chaffing and while I still can’t get used to turning right on red, I do begin to feel like this beautiful valley is becoming my home. I feel this sense of nascent belonging most strongly at Honey Grove in Merville.
Visitors to Honey Grove regularly use words like sanctuary and haven to describe the calm appeal of this idyllic spot. For Nao, Mark, Cohen and me, the glorious (and ironic) reality is a little different. We’re busy! An abiding belief in the power of community – as well as a commitment to stewardship – drew the four of us together, so if Honey Grove offers sanctuary, then that comes as a corollary of hard work. And lots of it.
Our job is all at once thoroughly simple and tremendously complicated – that we should leave this earth in a better condition for subsequent generations is a task that demands both selflessness and egalitarianism. We are not better simply because we exist and future generations don’t. At Honey Grove, we acknowledge our environmental and humanitarian responsibilities and act towards a cleaner, safer and better world. Nature is a sagacious teacher; worker bees make honey not just for themselves, but for the whole hive.
By taking care of the land and of animals and of each other, Nao, Mark, Cohen and I learn lessons in humility. We learn how to progress and develop in a sustainable manner. We learn that good intentions fruit when action follows, so Nao keeps bees and gardens; Mark bakes organic bread; Cohen raises pigs and makes salumi (Italian-style cured pork) and I can talk forever about quality food products that have been produced in a mindful manner. We are a team with a humble task, and we relish it.
For more information on Honey Grove visit www.honeygrove.ca.