Bradley Johnson (left), Bert Samson, Joyce Harry and Tyrece Harry of Petak Produce recently attended a recent Williams Lake Farmers Market to sell petak — Shuswap for potato. (Rebecca Dyok photo)

A labour of love: Petak Produce continues growing despite challenges

From wildfires, floods and COVID-19, little has stopped the First Nations owned garden

Another late start to the season did not stop gardeners from Petak Produce attending the Williams Lake Farmers Market with their bountiful harvest.

Bradley Johnson, Bert Samson and Joyce Harry of the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation were more than thrilled to sell their labour of love over the last few weeks — primarily potatoes — with visitors. This year they were also joined by summer student Tyrece Harry.

“This is my fourth year overseeing the garden, and I’ve had the same staff every year and it’s just awesome,” said Clayton Harry, general manager of SXDC Ltd. and SXD Limited Partnership.

“They’re very knowledgeable and require very little input from me.”

The three-acre garden located near the Fraser River between the First Nation communities of Canoe Creek and Dog Creek has seen its fair share of events throwing a wrench into the months available for growing.

Read More: Province purchases ranch for Interior First Nation as part of ongoing treaty negotiations

“The garden has been through a rough patch I would say four years,” Harry said.

Wildfires swept through the Cariboo-Chilcotin region in 2017 and 2018 followed by flooding last year which Harry said resulted in local roads and their irrigation lines being washed out.

In 2020 things were off to another slow start primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“But I think we’ve made the best of it,” Harry said.

A new tractor purchased by the community has already been seen as a big help where most work such as weeding is done by hand.

With the harvest season nearing an end, Johnson, Samson and Harry will work into October ensuring there is seed for next year’s garden where carrots, beans, zucchini, squash, onions and three varieties of potatoes —Yukon Gold, Russet and Red Pontiac will be planted.

Read More: Growing community: ?Esdilagh First Nation plants potatoes for members

Petak Produce has also sold their garden vegetables to local restaurants, ranchers and neighboring First Nations as well as at the Big Bar Guest Ranch and Dog Creek store. Some is even donated at community events and for lunches at Rosie Seymour Elementary and Dog Creek Elementary Junior Secondary.

As more First Nations seek to pursue community-owned gardens of their own for food security and potential revenue, Harry said they still have work ahead to make Petak Produce which has just a few small greenhouses into a self-sustaining venture.

“I think if we’re more community based that’s a good place to go,” he said.

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