Molly and Matt Thurston.
By Darcy Nybo
It’s not often young people with no family background in agriculture decide to go into farming. Molly and Matt Thurston are two such people. In fact their love of agriculture is what brought them together.
Molly, from Kelowna, got her first real job at age 14 working for the Sperling and Casorso families at the Pioneer Country Market on Benvoulin Road in Kelowna. She graduated with a degree in Kinesiology from Simon Fraser University, and then realized it wasn’t what she wanted to do. She fondly remembered her days at Pioneer Country Market and applied, and was accepted into, the agriculture program at the University of Guelph.
Matt’s first job was working on a dairy farm with boys he played hockey with. He loved working outside and decided agriculture was the perfect fit. He too was accepted at U of G.
The two met at university, fell in love and planned a life as farmers. They came to Kelowna in 2005 and got married. That summer Molly met local farmer, Bob McCoubrey, and the pair both found jobs in agriculture in the community.
“In 2007 we learned that Bob was leasing his organic farm in Lake Country so we decided to take over the lease,” says Molly. “We leased the orchard for a year – our first major introduction to farming for ourselves. We took over the daily production and management and started a small market garden business.”
By the end of the season the pair was exhausted and totally overwhelmed. They went back to their previous jobs, bought a little house and officially retired from farming. Or so they thought.
“We got to go out and have fun but after a while we were totally bored. We missed the puttering,” laughs Molly. “By January 2009 we were looking for another lease. We ended up talking to Bob again and he told us he had one acre of certified organic land at the bottom of his orchard that he wasn’t using and offered it to us for a market garden business.”
They grew vegetables on that land as well as in the front yard of their Glenmore home. “We set up a Monday night market in our driveway and our neighbours would come and pick up fresh vegetables for the week. It was amazing how transformative it was in our neighbourhood,” says Molly. “We would end up with a dozen or more people in the yard talking and sharing recipes.”
Still the couple wanted more. In August of 2010 they entered into negotiations to buy McCoubrey’s entire seven and three quarter acres. They finalized the deal in January of 2011.
This wasn’t your average land/orchard purchase. There were some unique stipulations to go with the purchase. First off McCoubrey knew full well how big a barrier land prices were to young farmers but needed a good price for his land. As a compromise they structured a deal with McCoubrey holding a second mortgage on the property. There were the two homes on the property. The Thurstons eventually moved into one but the other was to be occupied by McCoubrey’s mother Pat.
“It’s worked out great,” says Molly. “Pat is in her early 90s and she has her own garden behind the house. She shares her recipes and gardening tips with us. She is made from that really hearty stock that I hope I develop into.”
Selling their produce is not a problem. The Thurston’s have built up a great rapport with Urban Harvest, one of their largest customers. They are also developing a small business with local restaurants.
Molly says none of this would have been possible without help.
“Having a farm couple that has gone through the same challenges and issues, excitement and opportunities was great. We also team up with local growers and farmers to share equipment or get help and advice. We both believe we need to go out and see different farms, locally, nationally and internationally to get ideas. It gets you excited about the business of agriculture.”
THE DIRT ON YOUNG FARMER LOANS
Not every young farmer is fortunate to either inherit land or get a break from the sellers, like the Thurston family.
Fortunately, Farm Credit Canada (FCC) now has Young Farmer Loan’s available. The new program offers loans up to $500,000 to purchase or improve farmland and buildings.
Farmers can choose between a variable interest rate at prime plus 0.5 per cent or a get their loan at a fixed special rate. There is no loan processing fees for the Young Farmer Loan.
FCC officials said interest rates will be attractive compared to what young producer might otherwise be paying.
Loans are available to young farmers, aged 18 to 39 who are establishing a farm business. Many of these farmers are facing numerous financial challenges including completing post-secondary education, raising a young family and maintaining an off-farm job. The FCC hopes the new program will make starting a farm obtainable for a new generation of Canadian farmers.
For more information on FCC’s Young Farmer Loan go to www.fcc-fac.ca and search for “New Young Farmer Loan.”