One of my personal missions for my recent trip to Gabriola Island was to find the farmer behind the amazing garlic I tasted when I visited the Island for the first time during a high school trip. The garlic was so flavourful and juicy that I wondered whether I had ever actually eaten garlic before. After hours of futile research, I was saddened to learn that the man behind Gabriola Gourmet Garlic, Ken Stefanson, had just recently passed away, leaving behind his loving wife and an incredible legacy.
In a twist of fate, I was introduced to another incredible Gabriola resident, Jennifer Knight. Jenn and her husband Will Sprogis own and operate Deep Roots Farms, a homestead located in the heart of Gabriola Island. Armed only with the knowledge that I was obsessed with sustainable garlic farming and on very little notice, Jenn very kindly welcomed me and my family to explore her farm and learn more about the work that they do.
The Garlic Farm
Garlic isn’t just an incredible produce from a culinary perspective; it also has endless health and medicinal benefits. There’s a huge difference between the kind of garlic that farmers like Jenn and Will are producing than the average anemic-looking bulbs you might find in a run-of-the mill grocery store.
It was fantastic to see (and smell!) their relatively small but mighty garlic farm. They are currently producing around 12,000 heads of organic garlic in four varieties: Spanish Roja, Majestic, Music, and Salt Spring Select. All four have their own distinct flavour profile, which will suit a variety of preferences (Spanish Roja is very, very hot!) and needs.
The garlic takes up most of the room and provides the highest income, but the couple also grows a variety of other produce such as tomatoes and lettuce, primarily for their own consumption.
As a surprise parting gift, Jennifer gave me a bag of freshly picked garlic scapes. Back at the campsite, we successfully fried them up with a little bacon over the fire and enjoyed them with our burgers and chips. Talk about an upgraded lunch!
The Icelandic Sheep
Another key feature of Deep Roots Farms is the Icelandic Sheep.
The only reason I know anything about them is from the ample time spend in Norway, and the extent of my knowledge was that the were used by the Vikings as a sustainable resource. I didn’t realize that Icelandic sheep are one of the world’s oldest and purest breeds of sheep, and that they are incredibly rare in North America.
The sustainability comes from the fact that these sheep can be used for their milk, meat, and wool (which is then used for those famous Icelandic sweaters you will have seen if you’ve ever been to the country). They are very compact, (pretty) friendly creatures who happen to have a high birth yield. Jenn and Will primarily breed and sell them, but also occasionally use them for meat and milk. Apparently they haven’t yet taken up the art of wool spinning and sweater making, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.
As far as livestock goes, they also raise chickens and pigs, mostly for their family and friends’ own consumption. If you’re in the area, you can buy the chickens’ eggs from their farm stand every Monday. Imagine enjoying a modern life in which you can still eat high quality, humanely meat without ever having to step into a grocery store!
Equine Retirement Facility
Jenn is a long-standing horse lover. She has dedicated a significant portion of their property’s five acres to caring for ageing and retired horses, taking a huge burden off of owners who can no longer care for them. It’s sad to think about so many horses being neglected by their former owners after they are no longer “good”, but it’s great to know that places like this exist.
My sister Bianca with Kaden, one of the elderly residents on the farm.
Family and Community
You may be wondering how it is possible that Jenn and Will do all that they do. If so, you may be shocked to know that the farm is but a small part of their respective and collective resumes. Other than farming, Jenn is also a paramedic and part-time firefighter, as well as a professional photographer. Will is also a cabinet-maker and woodworker, as well as being the Fire Chief of the Gabriola Volunteer Fire Department. Perhaps their most important job however, is also being parents to two toddlers under the age of four.
COVID-19 has hit farmers like Jenn and Will very hard. Normally during the summer, they would have had several people from the WWOOF-ing program helping them out on the farm. However, with the help of their family members and community members, not to mention their own gusto, they’re finding creative ways to make things work.
Jenn and Will are such a great example of two people who have a passion for the land they live on and their creative approach to sustainable farming and living is truly impressive. Although they never set out to take on Ken’s legacy, there’s no doubt that many residents of Gabriola are happy to know that there’s a new generation of farmers taking the business of garlic farming as seriously as he did.
P.S. Gabriola Island is a wonderful Gulf Island shaped by the Pacific Ocean. For more information on how to visit, you can read my companion article, A Weekend on Gabriola Island for all the details.