Lifestyle

Celebrating more than a century of farming on Cortes Island

Mike and Donna Manson (right) of Sunny Brae Farm receive a B.C. Century Farm Award last Sunday at their place on Cortes Island.  - Photo courtesy of Sunny Brae Farm
Mike and Donna Manson (right) of Sunny Brae Farm receive a B.C. Century Farm Award last Sunday at their place on Cortes Island.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Sunny Brae Farm

It’s been an excellent growing season, yet there’s one crop disappointing Cortes Island farmer Mike Manson.

“The apples,” he says. “There’s not a lot this year. It’s like that all over the island.”

The blue berries and veggies are doing just fine at Sunny Brae Farm, yet the apple trees – some more than 100 years old – blossomed too early when the bees weren’t buzzing and the natural result is, well, a lot less fruit.

That’s a farmer’s life and it’s happily embraced by Mike and his wife Donna who carry on an old Manson family tradition.

“Food is important and quality food has value,” says Manson.

Last Sunday, Sunny Brae Farm was honoured for its long-standing commitment to producing quality food when the Manson family was presented with the Century Farm Award.

“From the time they arrived in B.C., the Manson family has been contributing to the economic growth of our agriculture sector,” says Minister of Agriculture Pat Pimm.

John Manson arrived at Cortes Island from the Shetland Islands in 1887 and joined his older brother Mike.

They set up a small trading post at the site known today as Manson’s Landing.

Not long after, 20-year-old John walked the island looking for a homestead site.

In 1888, he found 46.5 hectares (115 acres) of suitable land that he later purchased. The farm raised sheep, pork and poultry and produced potatoes, vegetables, apples, eggs, cream and butter.

Produce was sold to local families and logging camps as far away as Vancouver.

The first orchard was planted in 1908. Today, many of these trees still survive and are in full production.

In 1982, Nicol Manson, son of John Manson, planted 240 apple trees. In 1984, high bush blueberries were added as a crop.

Today, Mike is the third generation Manson to act as the farm’s steward. The farm has been in production for 106 of the past 125 years and Mike says it was his father’s vision for the farm to keep moving forward.

That’s why Sunny Brae became fully organic in 1992. The farm is primarily known for its blueberry production. It also sells eggs and recently received a flock of purebred Dorper sheep that will be bred for meat lambs.

The Century Farm Award was presented Sunday during the Museum of Cortes Island’s celebration of the 125th anniversary of the arrival of the Manson brothers on Cortes. Manson’s Landing is named after the family.

“We were pretty excited to receive the award – there’s a lot of pride in this family farm and part of the pleasure is sharing it with others. It’s a beautiful place by the water,” says Manson, who joked about the farm’s longevity. “By attrition you get recognized! It’s not as if we were getting recognized for growing the biggest blueberry.”

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