If you want to know why Trudie Bouchard gardens, you first have to understand how she thinks of food.
“It isn’t normal to have our food being grown by other people on mass industrial farms far, far away in California,” Bouchard said. “I think we can do better. And I think locally grown nutritious food is going to help everybody be more healthy.”
The Agassiz herbalist has spent 40 years of her life growing and learning about local food, in an effort to help the world be a healthier place. That’s why, on Feb. 6, Bouchard will be kicking off her first series on gardening with the District of Kent’s Community Recreation and Cultural Centre. The three-session series will lead newbie gardeners through the first steps of starting their backyard plots, from preparations in February, to seed-starting in March and planting in April.
“Basically, it’s how I garden,” Bouchard said about the series. “This is what I do beginning of February. This is what I do beginning of March. This is what I do beginning of April, so they can follow along a natural rhythm in this climate zone.”
The course is aimed a new gardeners, she added, as she doesn’t have any formal degrees in agricultural science.
“I’m just learn as you go,” she said. “But I learned a lot in the last 40 plus years.”
Bouchard wasn’t always interested in herbs and gardening. Growing up in Edmonton, her father had a backyard garden, but Bouchard only became keen on the activity in her 20s, when she met her husband, Claude, and became interested in nutrition.
“When I met him, he was really into granola,” Bouchard said. “He was from hippie times.”
Claude Bouchard’s family had also lived and farmed in Agassiz since 1902, when his cheese- and wine-making ancestors immigrated from France and settled on a 120-acre Limbert Mountain property. Eventually becoming dairy farmers, the family remained in the Agassiz area, and remained focused on working the land.
Bouchard and her husband moved to their own property in Agassiz in 1978, and that’s when Bouchard began gardening herself for the first time. They used the garden at her mother-in-law’s property on Tuyttens Road.
“She was hard to be with because she was wanting me to do everything her way and she was very bossy,” Bouchard remembered, laughing. “Ultimately I learned lots of things from watching how she did it. And other neighbours as well.”
That’s how gardeners learned, Bouchard said, by asking for help and using a lot of trial and error.
“You really only learned how to garden and grow food by doing it,” she said, adding that she also read “a lot of books.”
Eventually, Bouchard went to school to become a herbalist, taking an apprenticeship in the United States and participating in workshops down there. Then, in 2003, the Bouchards purchased the family property on Limbert Mountain and started Limbert Mountain Farm.
“It was all about growing herbs and a nursery,” Bouchard said. “The rest of it just kind of morphed into this much larger than life bistro and store and CSA program and growing food for people and teaching classes.”
Limbert Mountain Farm has been closed for seven or eight years now — Bouchard will be turning 65 this year, and the exhausting schedule was too much to manage — but she still keeps up gardening at her new home. And now, having retired from her nursing job, she felt it was the right time to share her love of growing food with others again.
At Limbert Mountain Farm, she said, she was promoting gardening and nutrition all the time.
“That’s something I did almost on a daily basis, in an informal way,” she said. “And I miss that. I miss sharing with people and getting people excited about food.”
“I’m a believer in the fact that Agassiz should be feeding Agassiz, and that it’s doable,” she said, “even if we start out with people in their backyard, or if that’s too onerous for people, even if they start growing a few things in a planter box or pots.”
So far, Bouchard has heard of a few people interested in the course, but is hoping more will come forward.
“It’s become really evident that there are a lot of people, even just in town, that would really like to grow food … but they have no idea how to start,” Bouchard said. “They’re buying up piles of seeds, but they really don’t know what to do with them or how to turn them into food.”
Hopefully, with Bouchard’s course, “they’ll be successful in growing food,” she said, “and they’ll learn some things … they didn’t know before.”
Courses will be taking place at the Community Recreation and Cultural Centre on Feb. 6, March 6 and April 10. Classes are $15 each, and will be limited to six people per class.
(If more are interested, Bouchard said she would be happy to set up more sessions at another time.)
Interested participants can register online through the Connect to Rec portal on Kent’s website, by visiting the recreation centre in person, or by calling 604-796-8891.