When Amir Niroumand bought his Agassiz farm three years ago, he was looking for a different life.
The fuel cell scientist had grown up with memories of his grandparent’s hobby farm in Iran, and in 2013 had grown tired of the city’s endless bustle.
He decided it was time to find a farm of his own, and after three years of searching ended up at a 40-acre dairy farm on Hamilton Road.
“When I stopped here, I was like woah. This is so beautiful,” Niroumand said. “Once you turn in the valley, the energy shifts.”
He bought the land, and set about creating Abundance Farm, a sanctuary where he, and others like him, could come to rest, rejuvenate and grow.
“I trusted that if I started this, people would come,” he said.
Although, he added, laughing, “I had no idea who would come.”
The answer was many people, largely from Vancouver’s artist community, but also from Chilliwack and the surrounding area. Four people came to live on the property as caretakers, watching over the land Niroumand comes to visit on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
The rest are weekend workers, coming out to Agassiz to farm, laugh and play.
“People want to know more about food,” Melanie Buffel, one of the four people who live full-time on the farm, said. “The first year we did it, none of us really were farmers.”
But, she added, “that was a really good year, given that we didn’t know what we were doing.”
That was the year the farm produced what Buffel called “dinosaur vegetables,” after using cow manure from the old dairy barn to fertilize the field.
“We had chard leaves that would cover your body,” she said. “It was incredible.”
The following two years brought the yields down to more typical numbers, but the interest in the farm kept growing.
This season, about 40 families have signed up to participate in the farm. Groups of workers are organized into cells, with each family coming to the Agassiz farm once a month and bringing back boxes of produce for those who stayed behind.
“That’s kind of the idea, for city dwellers to grow our own food,” Niroumand said. But it’s also a chance to establish community in nature.
“For me, that’s a higher priority than the garden,” he said. “It’s more of an excuse to get together.”
In addition to the garden, the farm also has a sweat lodge, a stage, a barn loft draped in colourful fabric for impromptu concerts, a fire pit and a trampoline.
“It’s got to be light,” Niroumand said. “They’ve got to come for the joy and for the kids.”
“They want to come and bounce on the trampoline,” Buffel added, “and not spend the whole day weeding.”
The farm does have plans to expand on its property. A “food forest” is growing off to the side of the garden, and a new on-site caretaker is working to make sure Abundance will have its own supply of seeds.
But each change happens a bit at a time, keeping the relaxed atmosphere that makes Abundance so desirable to people from the city.
“Whatever we add, we’ve got to be mindful about it,” Niroumand said. “We need to have that work-life balance, and at least practice it on the weekend.
“Have a productive weekend, but it’s also joyful.”