Embracing a passion for local food and sustainable farming
“My garden was my heaven and to share the gift of food with people was something else. As I’ve learned, all we need is a few things in life… love and food!”
Fleming College student Rachel Spearing wrote those words in a December 2009 letter to The Cottage Gardener, a seed company.
In the letter Rachel – who was requesting a seed catalogue – shared with The Cottage Gardener her passion for her vegetable garden, her enthusiasm, and her hopes.
It was a letter the company owner kept and returned to Rachel’s parents after Rachel passed away in February 2011.
“It certainly appears as if it was meant to come back to us and in Rachel’s way, encourage others with her youthful, genuine enthusiasm for the garden and all that it offers in life,” said Sandy Spearing.
The letter also outlined the healing properties the garden held for Rachel. Following a bad car accident in 2007, Rachel wanted to do all she could to get healthy – including eating right. That led her to gardening and growing her own healthy food.
However, the garden soon took on even greater meaning for Rachel.
“The garden has saved my life – it keeps me hanging on to life when I get down about things, I can weed… and no one bothers me. I cried in here a lot!” she wrote. “But it is also something to look forward to… it’s something I can do, and I see a future in it.”
She wrote of “great conversations” with her dad in the garden, and learning pickling and preserving from her mom.
Recently, a small group met to remember Rachel’s spirit and share in her love of farming.
Frost Campus Principal Linda Skilton, Sustainable Agriculture Program Coordinator Henry Bakker, and Curriculum Consultant Helen Knibb joined Sustainable Agriculture student Annie Richard, recipient of the inaugural Rachel Spearing Memorial Award, and Rachel’s parents, Ted and Sandy Spearing.
It was a chance for Sandy and Ted to meet with Annie, selected to receive Rachel’s award because she embodies Rachel’s spirit and passion for sustainable agriculture.
Rachel was a student of the Environmental Technology program and coach of the women’s rugby team at the Frost Campus. She was very involved in student life at Fleming and was an advocate for the local food movement and sustainable agriculture.
Her award is presented to a first semester student in the Sustainable Agriculture program who “most embodies Rachel’s extraordinary passion for bringing together the promotion of local food, the principles of sustainable agriculture, and building community; for having the courage to put one’s hands in the soil, while dreaming of what might be.”
Annie is currently completing her summer semester (a co-op placement) at Everdale Organic Farm and Environmental Learning Centre in Hillburgh, Ontario. Despite wanting to attend the Academic Awards ceremony at Frost Campus on June 3, due to her intern position she was unable to be there.
However, both Annie and the Spearings wanted to the opportunity to meet and arranged for Annie to tour the Spearing’s farm, located in Bethany, Ontario, where they own and operate Ground Covers Unlimited.
Annie, who did not know Rachel, said her time spent with Sandy and Ted left her feeling “inspired.”
“I felt very honoured to have met Rachel’s parents and spend time talking with them. They are very strong, loving people who are determined to carry out Rachel’s vision and passion for local food, and are willing to share and help in any way they can. They are just really great people” said Annie.
“They have shared with me some pieces of Rachel’s life and so I feel connected to her in some strange but beautiful way – I feel we would’ve been great friends.”
The Spearings were likewise impressed with Annie’s potential and noted that she took a path similar to Rachel’s in finding her true passion for farming.
“Annie has the desire to learn all she can – she just needs an opportunity to practice and believe that anything is possible. We tried to show her that, with a little luck and a lot of hard work, it can happen… We’ll do our best to encourage Annie and her classmates, as Rachel was also well-known for pushing hard when she believed that dreams can come true with enough effort,” said Sandy.
Helen Knibb, who initiated Rachel’s award, said Rachel believed in the concept of sustainability and the need to rethink our existing food system and keep it grounded in community. Rachel had started her own small farm enterprise and was making it a reality.
“She had a vision and a passion and a great conviction that this was the right thing to do – and she was utterly persuasive,” she said.
“My sense in meeting Annie is that she too has been on a journey of trying to find something deeply meaningful in her life. Like Rachel, it was finding the powerful connection between the culinary arts, community building and small scale farming.”
Annie’s path to the Frost Campus has been a rewarding journey to find a life and vocation she is absolutely passionate about.
She has studied Psychology and Education, earning a bachelor’s degree and completing Teacher’s College.
After time at a “desk” job that she knew wasn’t for her, Annie started part-time work in a restaurant and knew it was the right fit.
That was where she developed a love of food. Taking a Culinary Arts program, Annie discovered a further passion for local food and how food is produced and processed.
An internship on an organic farm last summer led her to the Sustainable Agriculture program at Fleming.
“Now, almost a year later, I am more sure and more passionate about farming and growing food than I was when I started. I absolutely love this life and I’m so excited by all of the possibilities the future holds. I just love it all!” said Annie.
“It’s incredibly satisfying to see young people recognize farming as we have – as a good way of life… We’ve tried to teach our children the values of farm life and especially the commitment it requires, knowing that they’ll grow up and leave the farm one day to pursue other interests. It’s even more rewarding when your children or other young people recognize the desire to come back to the farm as a way to support one’s future and enjoy its lifestyle,” said the Spearings.
“Annie is an outstanding student, both in her academic work, as well as in her very strong commitment to the promise of community development and sustainability that she recognizes in the local food movement,” said Henry Bakker.
“The most exciting thing about Annie receiving this award is that inasmuch as she embodies Rachel’s passion for working towards a more sustainable food system, she represents the norm – not the exception – among her peers in the Sustainable Agriculture program,” he added.
“All of the students in the program are engaging these issues in their own ways, and any number of them are deserving of this award. I know Annie is honoured to be chosen to receive it as the representative of a very exciting and committed group of future farmers.”
A legacy and a future Rachel Spearing would be proud of.
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