Updated: Oct 8, 2021
The rain is coming down, the kind that comes at you sideways, makes puddles when you walk and soaks you through to the skin. Tasha Kang, the farmer behind Sparrow & Co., is in her element, happily harvesting
lettuce for the farm shares she's going to give away later that day. She's wearing a yellow rain poncho and crocs on her feet. She is not deterred by the dark clouds and volumes of water.
“It’s better than snow,” she laughs as we walk along the rows of vegetables that thrive under her care. She points out vegetable varieties whose descriptive names remind me of a garden in a Tolkien novel. There are the Dragon Tongue beans, which are yellow with purple streaks and the Easter Egg radishes that are pink, crimson and purple. The Violet Sparkle pepper is purple perfection. The Asian Greens of Fun Jen, Mizuna, and Tatsoi elevate a green salad mix to a multi-cultural party.
“Look how the squash alley is coming along,” she indicates a row of black plastic wrapped around mounds of dirt with round holes cut out for the squash to grow through it - a technique to keep the weeds to a minimum and the soil moist.
Next, we examine the snap peas that are ready for harvest. The soft green of the plants camouflages the peas of the same colour. Finding the ripe peas amongst the leaves is like a “Where’s Waldo?” exercise. She pulls up one of the smaller pea plants by the root and says,“Oh, look at this.” She shows me what looks like little balls of dirt attached to the roots.
“The plant is making nitrogen. This is exactly what the soil needs. Isn't that amazing?” I had to agree. Who knew? Nitrogen balls.
Self-taught, Tasha easily identifies the names of all the weeds, many of which, are edible. Nothing is wasted on this farm. The weed, “Lambs’ Quarters,” has nutritious green leaves that can be added to a salad or soup. I pluck a leaf and chew on it. It tastes a little bit nutty. In addition to her knowledge of weeds, Tasha knows which pests eat holes in her precious crop and how to combat them without using chemicals. Although Tasha has no formal training in farming, her passion for learning has led her to study the best practises for growing organic vegetables. Through trial and error, over the years, her knowledge base has expanded. The lush environment is a testament to this expertise.
This is a much different scene from early Spring when the farm was getting prepared for its inaugural season in this location. Dried corn stalks from the previous farm had to be cleared using hard rakes. The drought in May caused the soil to be dry and brittle. COVID delays meant the drip irrigation system Tasha ordered was not available. Instead, labour-intensive, low-tech watering cans were employed to hydrate thirsty plants. When I surveyed the situation, I wondered how this parched piece of land was going to provide farm shares for multiple families. Tasha, on the other hand, had faith. Literally.
“God called me to do this, so I know it is going to work out. All of these setbacks are just teaching me to trust.” Trusting God is central to the farm’s mission. The name, Sparrow & Co., comes from the Bible verse that promises that just as God takes care of the tiniest sparrow, so God will take care of humans. Two weeks after I witnessed the dry and barren landscape, I returned to a field of green. Rich compost had been delivered and the drip irrigation system was in place. Lettuce was ready for harvest.
Sparrow & Co. is a non-profit organization that donates farm fresh vegetables to local food programs and partners with other organizations that serve the community. Tasha is the first person to say that she is only one part of the team that runs Sparrow & Co. Her responsibility is to run the farm, but Grace Chan, Carrie Morel, and Paul Riihimaki take care of everything behind the scenes, including: the website, customers, volunteers, partnerships, and finances. Tasha says they depend on each other and on God’s leading.
In the context of a world-wide pandemic, when people are polarized and fearful, Sparrow & Co. and the humble farmer at the helm, stand as an example of what can be accomplished when people work together for the benefit of others. This is love in action. These brave people give me hope that the dryness of the past year and a half may be replaced with an abundance of nurturing and care that rains down on us and the earth.
Teresa Veltman is a freelance writer living in Stouffville with her husband Jim and two children, Kris and Sara. She grew up in the country outside of Stouffville, riding ponies and harvesting green beans from her parent’s garden. In between, she has lived in Vancouver, Uganda, and Toronto, working in education and social justice. Lately, Teresa teaches piano and writes when she can. Teresa loves to write articles about people who are doing inspiring things as well as stories that shine a light on important topics. You can contact Teresa at Teresa.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Veltman, Teresa. "The Farm with a Big Heart." On the Road, Stouffville. Sept 2021, p. 20-21