Elmarie Roberts, Organic Gardener, Educator, Communitarian
by C. L. Cook – Gorilla Radio
“Sharing something sustainable, something healthy, and something that makes us happy…”
Despite traveling half-way around the World to find it, Victoria was a homecoming of sorts for South Africa native, Elmarie Roberts. The educator and organic gardener arrived in Canada with her young family in 1994, settling first in Vancouver. It didn’t take long for the Roberts’ to look further west, and starting a new life on Vancouver Island.
Elmarie’s journey into organic farming was a roundabout one too. Before getting her hands back in the dirt, she taught ESL classes, ran her own sustainable retail business, and worked with the charitable, St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Her career however began to go in another direction when taking an Organic Farming as a Business course at Victoria’s Camosun College led to the Haliburton Community Organic Farm and the creation of her Sunbird Farm. It also led some years later to Gaia College, where she both earned Growing Food and Organic Master Gardener certificates, and employed her teaching instincts becoming an instructor for Gaia’s Growing Food in the City course.
“It’s a good thing,” she says, the teacherly tone of her lightly accented Afrikaans coming across over the telephone line.
“You can feel it in your bones, when one is out there working with your hands in the soil.”
And it’s a coming of full circle in a way, going back to her beginnings of growing up close to the land.
“My dad was in the parks department of the local municipality,” she tells me, her voice casting back over the years to her childhood in South Africa.
“I loved hanging out in the greenhouse with him, and discovering what was under the pots,” she says, reminiscing about,
“…those early, formative years, when you remember happy things, like the warmth and the smell of a greenhouse…and plants just growing beautifully everywhere.”
Elmarie has since passed her Sunbird Farm plot along to new farmers, and while she still keeps her fingers in the earth maintaining a demonstration plot growing herbs, flowers and seed, she’s concentrating primarily on passing along knowledge gleaned at Gaia College, and her eleven years running her hands through the soil at Haliburton to a new generation of organic farming students; imparting to them both the practical lessons of organic gardening learned, and more vitally the spiritual connection between farm and farmer.
Elmarie Roberts currently teaches Gaia College’s Food in the City course, and instructs too at Haliburton Community Organic Farm’s newly initiated EcoFarm School. She reminds, farming is also about community and, “…sharing something sustainable, something healthy, and something that makes us happy.”
Fifteen years on, the Haliburton Community Organic Farm Society is thriving despite its uncertain beginnings, (thanks to an uprising of sorts by locals concerned about rampant housing development in Saanich) and continues to be “…a leading model of community-supported, small-scale sustainable organic agriculture carried out in harmony with local ecosystems.”
Gaia College continues in the tradition of its founder, Heide Hermary to cultivate community and be, “A global community of educators, professionals and students teaching, working and learning in the areas of holistic land management, health and environmentally sustainable technologies.”