VOICE 138 - Heloise Dixon-Warren and Ted Traer at Moose Meadows Farm.
“We farm with the seasons. Our farm is friendly, diverse, environmentally conscious, educational, and fun!”
If you live in British Columbia, you must visit the North Cariboo region at least once. The region will show you a true Northern beauty and just how versatile our province really is. When you are there, make sure to visit Moose Meadows Farm, located 15km west of City of Quesnel in the rural community of Bouchie Lake. Heloise and Ted will welcome you with open arms, and share their interesting farm life stories like you are a long-time friend or more so like an extended family.
They acquired 65 acres of farmland / regenerating harvested area in the Bouchie Lake community in 2002 and named it Moose Meadows Farm, because there were lots of moose beds in the back when they moved in. They are both Registered Professional Foresters in BC, and sustainable farming and forestry are practiced at the farm. This April, the farm celebrated the 20th anniversary; it is the very fruit of their hard work as well as their commitment on bringing a positive economic and social impact in the communities of Bouchie Lake and the North Cariboo.
When VOICE visited Moose Meadows Farm in late April, it was in the middle of the birch syrup season. Much like maple trees, birch trees can be tapped for a source of delicious and edible liquid sap, also known as birch water. The tapping season for birch trees has only a short window. It usually starts when there is little or no snow on the ground, and it can only last just before the trees begin to sprout buds. For Ted, having grown up in New Brunswick, it was a part of his childhood doing and learning tree tapping. ”In Eastern Canada, every kid goes to the sugar bush. I tapped trees when I was Grade 8 and I made maple syrup right on my mom’s kitchen stove.” He has fondly kept his very first spile he tapped the trees with in 1977, and when they moved to Houston, BC, he pulled out his old spile and started to tap birch trees standing in his front yard just out of curiosity. He made “some kind of birch concentrate” back then, but his curiosity grew into a profession when they moved to Moose Meadows Farm.
There used to be about 3 birch sap businesses in the area, but now it is only Ted who continues to make birch syrup and utilizes the birch trees that are considered a “weed species” as far as the forestry industry is concerned. In fact, birch syrup has plenty of micronutrients including proteins, amino acids, and various vitamins and minerals, making it ideal for culinary usage. Birch syrup is nothing like maple syrup. It is mostly fructose syrup, which is found in fruit, while maple syrup is mostly sucrose, the same as table sugar. When the birch sap season starts, Ted collects over 400L of sap every morning with 3 other volunteers (namely Michel, Scott and Brian - the three Musketeers!), and works late into the night to concentrate it into syrup. Ted gets calls for his birch syrup from all sorts of places like wineries, breweries, distilleries, restaurants, chefs, and individuals.
This birch sap business takes up most of his early Spring time before he moves on to wearing different hats throughout the year as he is also working as a coordinator for Wildsafe BC and Firesmart of the city of Quesnel. Heloise works alongside with Ted on the farm, making delicious birch syrup dressing vinaigrette at home and birch syrup cheesecake, which, if you are lucky, can be found at Bouchie Lake Country Store - a quaint general store and gathering place that is full of local goodies and love; no wonder that is also run by Heloise and Ted. Heloise is also a vice chair of FARMED (Farming-Agriculture- Rural-Marketing-Eco-Diversification), a grass roots, industry lead non-profit based organization in the North Cariboo established in 2006. Their primary focus is on a long term project connecting producers and consumers and increasing food security in the region.
Heloise and Ted sure have a lot on their plate as there is a saying ”slow life is a busy life.” Not only they live off the land, they are true stewards of the land they call home and very passionate about building a resilient community. Every season brings so much to do. You can feel it when you pass through the farm gate with alpacas, donkeys, horses, chickens, and the farm dog “Gooby” greeting you - that it is a busy farm life but a very good happy farm life.
VOICE(V) : What are the four seasons like on Moose Meadows Farm?
Ted(T): “We start off with the sugaring off event in April, followed by harvesting fiddleheads in late spring. During the summer, we collect fireweed and all sorts of wild berries to make into homemade jellies. In September, it is apple pie syrup season. Apples grow really well here and are underutilized, and our apple pie syrup is literally an apple pie in a jar! Then comes pumpkin spice. From October to December, we are busy making Christmas wreaths from sustainably collected boughs from crown land. When you open the box, there is a woof of greens and they smell amazing! Aside from all the wild crafted products, we also offer a unique farm stay that is listed on AirBnB as well as hosting events and workshops.”
Heloise(H): “ We authored Canada’s first Birch Syrup Manual, too. We educate and share based upon our own experiences, and we have done a lot of workshops in BC and as far as in Scotland!”
T: “ I always tell people that you are not a true syrup maker until you burn some. That makes me a true syrup maker!”
V: Why did you start making birch syrup?
T: “ In my university years, I read some article about making maple syrup from different maple trees and their sugar contents. It talked about birch trees in the end, and I realized that syrup can be made from birch trees. It is different from maple syrup and it gives you lower sugar contents, mainly fructose and glucose. This thing kind of stuck in my mind for a long time. Also, BC Forestry industry is designed around lumber business and it hasn’t really focused on other species of trees. There are different interpretations and awareness of the values of different species of tress, and we are giving people an awareness. We make economy out of something that has no appreciative value - be it birch syrup, Christmas wreath or Christmas tree.”
V: What is your favorite month on the farm and why?
H: “Our favourite months are May and September. May is when spring really comes and the Earth comes to life around us. After our Cariboo winters, we really appreciate the spring and the spring weather. The trees flush, the grass begins to grow, and it is typically not too warm. We also love September as autumn is beautiful here. The colours, the cooling temperatures and the warm days. Autumn is harvest time and it is a time to take a big breath before winter is again upon us.”
V: If you were not living in Quesnel, where would you be?
H: “We are both people that could live any where in Canada. There are so many beautiful places one could be. The North Cariboo works for us as it has provided us with work, a good place to raise our girls and making a living, and land that we have been fortunate to live, work and play on for the past 20 years. We feel it is important to leave a place better than one finds it so that has been our approach here. It is not perfect but the community has been good to us.”
V: What is the most joy in your work?
H: “Being independent, working towards creating a more sustainable food system, and the people. We are very lucky as we have all of this and more. With us both being Registered Professional Foresters, we have been lucky to find gainful employment off the farm to support the building of the farm.”
V: How has the Covid-19 or the recent climate change affected your business? Do you see any lasting change in the community?
H: “Covid-19 created some challenges but we were able to adapt. During 2019 and 2020 we were certainly more impacted by B&B cancellations. In some cases, the pandemic has resulted in people supporting closer to home and folks finding the local businesses that are so important to the social fabric of the area.”
V: Any advice to people who are thinking of moving to the Northern Cariboo to live?
H: “Get involved, volunteer, move here not to change it, leave a good footprint, and enjoy the winter!”