A farming family in Rossland scales up to feed as many as possible
“Farming is at the heart of us,” says Miche Warwick. “Being involved in community food security is some of the most rewarding work we’ve been part of.”
For three years, Warwick and her partner Dan Hayden have been running Happy Hills Farm with the help of their four children. Located just outside Rossland in Happy Valley, they grow a huge variety of vegetables and microgreens, plus raise chickens.
Prior to founding the farm, the couple simply wanted to feed their kids. With backgrounds in permaculture and local food systems and production, they decided they wanted to be all-in when it came to raising their own food for their new family.
“We converted our entire backyard into growing space to be self-sufficient,” says Warwick. “We decided the best way for us to care for these little humans is through what we feed them.”
However, the couple soon realized their backyard wasn’t big enough.
“We decided we wanted to help feed our community,” says Warwick. “We wanted people here to have access to more good food. We wanted to establish a commercial farm, something that Rossland didn’t have.”
By chance, they found a couple who had land but wanted someone else to farm it. Happy Hills sprang to life in 2017 with a few chickens and a big dream.
Thriving more than expected
Fast forward to the start of 2020 and Happy Hills was clicking along. The family sold their goods at the local farmers’ market and at the farm gates, their microgreen production supplied five local restaurants and their veggie box program supported healthy eating for 30 families. They also hosted farm tours for students and youth so they could learn more about local food production.
Then the pandemic hit.
“Suddenly, all restaurants closed. We had 50 pounds of greens waiting to be harvested. What do we do?” Also, Warwick says, “People stood up and said, ‘We want local food.’ We were getting tons of calls and emails.”
Step one was to donate the microgreens to the food bank. Then, “We scaled up production as best we could. Our deliveries more than doubled to 75 per week.”
It was great for business, but also overwhelming. The couple worried about how they could meet this growing demand.
An expanding horizon
Like many producers, they reached out to the Trust.
“We were actually emotionally blown away by the Trust’s response—how quick and how impactful it was for us,” says Warwick.
To help primary food producers bump up their production to meet demand during the pandemic, the Trust introduced two programs in April 2020: the Basin Food Producer Loans, which assisted with operational and equipment costs, and the Basin Food Producer Wage Subsidy, which helped producers hire workers for the 2020 growing and harvesting season.
For Happy Hills Farm, the programs were a game-changer. The couple was able to hire three workers for the spring and summer and a fourth through to the end of fall. Previously using 75 50-foot beds, they added 65 more beds. They also built a farm store so more people could access their food.
“These two programs have changed the face of our farm. They have been so instrumental to our success this summer and fall,” says Warwick. “We are growing a huge variety of food and now we have a way we can sell it throughout the season. And because the farmers’ market didn’t run this year, we’re supporting other local producers by bringing their items in. We are seeing between 150 to 175 people a week at our store—it’s been very busy and really cool.”
The family is now looking to the future. They know times are still uncertain, but they see a bigger horizon, too.
“For next season, we’re going to continue to scale up to 200 beds and expand the types of food we’re growing: more herbs, different veggies, nuts and berries. And then looking down the road we want to develop a good system for farming in our climate, at 1,100 meters, and focusing on crops that will thrive. COVID-19 has made people look inward and appreciate what we have here, but also think about what we need more of.”