Faced with a choice between commercial or agricultural development, a Westbank First Nation’s family opted for the latter-and reaped more than a source of organically grown food.
Roxanne Lindley faced a difficult choice: whether or not to develop her family’s 35 acres, which form part of a highly-sought-after parcel of land on the Westbank Indian Reserve. Pressure to sign 99-year leases on the property and allow commercial development was intense because of the tremendous value of the property.
“We had and independent analysis and property evaluation done a couple of years ago and found that each acre of our property was valued at $100,000,” Roxanne says.
But although the lure of potential profit from lakefront development was great, Roxanne and her family wanted to do something else with their land. It as been in their family for untold generations and they did not want to give up control to outsiders. Instead, they had a vision of developing a business that would incorporate the traditional teachings of the Okanagan people, provide the family with clean, non-toxic food and earn them a steady income from their land.
Thus the idea of Lindley Family Farms was born. Established in 1997, it is a family-operated, organic market garden. Roxanne and her family worked with the Western Indian Lending Association (now known as the First Nations Agricultural Lending Association), headquartered in Kamloops, to develop a business plan to borrow money for capital development and the purchase of necessary equipment and supplies to start up the farm.
Roxanne is manager and co-owner, along with her mother Elizabeth, sister Sherry, husband Wayne, daughters Twyla and Rheanna, and son Nathan. Other family members help to keep the operation going by contributing both know-how and sweat.
One way Aboriginal values are incorporated into working the land occurs when plants are transferred from the nursery into the ground. “Everyone who handles the plants thinks good thoughts, when transplanting the vegetables,” says Roxanne. This respect and care continue throughout the growing cycle, right up until the crops are harvested.
The Lindleys know they must give something back to the land because it is there for them to live off of in a responsible and practical way. For this reason, they have opened their farm up to the community, encouraging First Nation’s youth from Westbank to work there. The youth help with planting, irrigation, harvesting, weeding and general farm maintenance.
“The changes we see are positive,” Roxanne says, “The youth feel contact with the earth and draw strength from it. When they say to us, ‘Those are our vegetables,’ we know they’re taking ownership of their work.”
The Lindley’s have learned a great deal from operating the farm; not just in growing vegetables but in growing relationships as well. “Our son Nathan was working at the vegetable stand when an elderly couple came in. They were a little short on money, so Nathan said, ‘Don’t worry, just pay me the difference when you come back.’ It was incredible. The couple were so touched by his offer that they started crying.” Now, the couple returns on a regular basis and has become staunch supporters of Lindley Farms.
The farm has four acres of vegetables under production, with 20 acres devoted to hay. The vegetables are grown organically for local markets. Although the crops are not certified by the provincial government as ” organically grown, ” the Lindleys are careful to avoid using chemicals in any part of their operation.
“We fought with moles and magpies, and at the end of the season two young bear cubs visited us,” Roxanne says. ” The worst were the moles. They didn’t bother our root crops, but they chewed holes in our underground irrigation drip lines. Instead of using poisons, we used a trap designed specially for moles.”
“Thirsty birds were another problem; they pecked holes in our tomatoes. We placed containers of water around the rows and left a mister going, hoping the birds would drink the water rather than peck holes in the vegetables,” she says.
Customer service is an important key to the operation. The family blends common sense with their sense of community as Aboriginal people in the way they treat people. “Last year, we picked vegetables specifically for people and even delivered the produce around supper time so our customers could truly savor the sweetness of the corn. There is really nothing like eating freshly picked corn,” says Roxanne.
“At our stand we encourage people to eat the vegetables raw. If the customer was not aware of a certain vegetable or variety, we offered a free sample,” she adds.
“Looking back at our first full year of operation, I’d say the concept and operation of Lindley Family Farms has been a very rewarding experience for my family,” Roxanne concludes. “Not only did we earn extra money, we contributed our ideas, energy and time and created an experience that has been beneficial to us all. The connection to Mother Earth has given us strength and provided us with a sense of balance, which is necessary in the fast world in which we live,” says Roxanne. “Our land is very productive and we take a tremendous amount of pride in our family-operated business.”