|Vancouver Farmers Markets is about people who love fresh food at festive gatherings. With the initial goal in 1995 to create the fun and value of weekly Farmers Markets in urban settings, the Society and the Markets have become Vancouver plazas of fun, discovery, and connecting. Each month V.I.A. introduces you to one of the fabulous Market vendors!|
Vendor Profile #6 Lowland Herb Farm
By Kim Peterson
What’s a good recipe without a hint of this and a dash of that? Experienced cooks and discerning gourmands know that the right herbs can make or break a dish. For farmers’ market regulars, Boni Townsend of Lowland Herb Farm provides the je ne sais quoi for many a meal. Though she insists she’s no master gardener, she is definitely experienced, having farmed her 4.86 plot in Chilliwack for 43 years.
Herbs can change the tone of a dish, they can also trigger memories of childhood or a particular place and time.
“Food is a really big deal,” says Boni, who recalls an exceptional story of herbal recollection from several decades ago. She’d been growing an unusual herb with distinctive red leaves. A woman approached her table and became very emotional when she saw the plant.
“She looked at it, she was practically in tears,” says Boni. The woman’s companion explained that this particular herb grows on the mountains in her home country and she missed it. “It was quite wrenching,” says Boni, who noticed that the woman had a series of numbers tatooed on her arm. “It was probably a communist country and she couldn’t go back.”
Despite these occasional flashbacks, most customers aren’t looking for unique herbs, but the old standbys: oregano, rosemary and basil, lots of basil. Unfortunately basil requires a lot of heat, and that’s not always in the forecast.
Boni is always happy to try new varieties and is finding niche markets in herbs “cultural herbs” like Shiso, a whole leaf green used in Japanese and Korean cuisine.
Sweet Marjoram is used in middle-eastern dishes, but like basil, is not a happy plant when the cold weather hits. So Boni gives her customers a taste of Italian Oregano, which has a similar flavour, “and of course they come back and buy a plant, or keep buying it.”
Lowland’s customers are more health conscious than ever, says Boni, and willing to try new herbs. “There are some pretty sophisticated customers at Trout Lake,” she says. “They’re happy to try and use these things.”
The farm itself is “health conscious” and has been a certified biodynamic since the 1970s; Boni is a resourceful weeder, and uses much of the incidental growth in her compost, which is then used to fertilize the crops. “You strive for a closed system as much as you can,” she says, “it’s a great philosophy because you know exactly what you’re putting into everything.”
In addition to using traditional biodynamic preparations, Boni also has a tried and tested system of matching up plants that are good companions; plants that, for one reason or another, help each other grow. For example, rosemary and sage not only work well together lyrically, they grow well when planted beside one another (Simon and Garfunkel were onto something!). And then some plants just don’t like each other: peas and garlic are not compatible. There are plenty of books and websites devoted to discussing companion plants, but time and experience also do the trick.
“Sometimes you do it and you learn, you think, that’s what’s happening here,” says Boni.
Vancouver Farmers Markets are in full swing for summer. Visit Lowland Herb Farm and other vendors at markets in Kitsilano, Trout Lake, the West End and Main Street Station.