Q & A with Ice Cap Organics
It would be hard to find a more quintessential example of the young, BC farm family than Alisha & Delaney Zayac of Ice Cap Organics, who own and operate a small-scale organic farm in Pemberton with their two children, Annika (5), and Ira (7).
The couple broke into farming close to a decade ago without a lot of previous experience – they just knew they wanted to settle in the valley and figure out how to “make it work”. They’ve been selling their selection of organic market veggies, herbs, and flowers with VFM since the earliest days of the Ice Cap operation, and are anchor vendors at our West End, Kitsilano, and Nat Bailey Markets.
On a smoky day back in early September, VFM staff had the opportunity to tour the Zayac’s piece of heaven in the Pemberton Valley and get the low down on life at the farm…
Ice Cap Farm Stats
# of years farming: 9 # of acres in production: 5 # of crops grown: 30+
Q: Ice Cap grows over 30 varieties of crops – what do you consider your specialty?
A: We like to consider whatever vegetables are in season our specialties, so in the spring salads and lettuces and radish, peas, bunching greens and broccolini. In the summer tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, zucchini and garlic. As we move into fall Brussels sprouts, carrots, sauerkraut, winter squash and onions.
Q: Why did you decide to call your farm “Ice Cap”?
A: The glaciers that start just north of here continue all the way up along the west coast to Alaska, but those glaciers all have their own rivers and aquifers that run to the ocean, but the actual ice caps are often connected and contiguous. The aquifer that we tap into for our farm is fed by the numerous glaciers around us, and the rivers that border the meadows where we farm are also glacier fed. So we are surrounded on 3 of 4 sides with big snowy peaks, some of which hold giant glaciers, and those feed our aquifers and rivers.
Q: Did either of you have experience farming before you started Ice Cap? How did you break into the field?
A: No farming family background but Alisha did spend a summer working with the Helmers before we got started, and I helped the Helmers out part time a bit too. There we learnt a lot about the markets and the organic community. But we didn’t learn the details of growing all these different types of vegetables. We mostly googled stuff and read books to figure things out. And a lot of trial and error.
Q: What has been your greatest farming triumph to date?
A: Probably starting a farm and having kids at the same time was our biggest challenge, and this year both our kids are in school so it is a triumph to have made it to this point. We completely underestimated how much time raising kids requires, so having to find the time to make it all work was hard, but we did it and now they are off to school every day which frees us up a lot more.
Q: What is the most challenging ongoing thing about your operation?
A: The basic structure of a small mixed vegetable operation is inherently inefficient compared to large scale monocrop farms, mainly because we can’t mechanize each little task, so each unit of production has more labour input, making our produce more expensive than large scale monocrop farms. However that is because externalities like environmental impacts or social ramifications aren’t taken into account with pricing, which means our unit of production is actually a really good deal in comparison –if you take those externalities into account.
Q: Tell us about winter on the farm – how does your operation change in the cold season?
A: We keep harvesting as late as possible from the field, like we literally shovel snow off the leeks or kale at times, but inevitably there comes a time when we just can’t get anything from the field anymore and we switch to storage stuff. But our falls are usually good for growing and and the winter doesn’t really set in until late in December so if we plan well we can have a wide variety of storage stuff like carrots, beets, turnips, kohlrabi, potatoes, onions and garlic, leeks, squash, cabbage and more like eggs and sauerkraut. Some winters we can grow spinach or greens like arugula and kale but it depends how harsh the winter is…
Q: What advise can you offer other young farmers starting up in BC?
A: Find a niche and shamelessly exploit it. Once you have that figured out work really hard and never give up.
Find Ice Cap each week at West End and Kitsilano Markets, and coming up this winter at Nat Bailey and Hastings Park Winter Markets.