Katie Denne dreams of restoring her inner-city farm to the bustling hub of activity it once was 50 years ago, but those plans are slowly being washed away.
The 16.2-acre farm, located at the bottom of the Holly Hills subdivision in north Campbell River, sits at the base of hilly Park Road, bordering Woodburn Road on one side and Park Road on the other.
The property was purchased by Denne and her husband Kyle in November 2011. It’s been in the family for three generations and the farm was created by her grandfather in the 1950s.
Back in its heyday, the family farm housed barrel racing, neighbourhood kids rode the horses along the streets and, as the story goes, a herd of cattle once broke free and ended up on the Island Highway before being herded back to the farm.
Today, the farm is a far cry from what it once was. The property is home to three alpacas, chickens, roosters and a couple of horses.
However, the land lies barren because much of the farm’s fertile soil is blanketed in standing water.
“Our poor family farm is being washed away,” Denne said. “Because of the simple topography of our location, Holly Hill Farm has always struggled with a minor flooding issue. In the past, my grandfather had the ditching system cleaned annually to prevent massive floods, which helped greatly. As more houses were built in the subdivision, and more water was used and dispersed, the flooding became worse. Culverts were put here and there, and eventually, the entire Holly Hills subdivision drained into our farm.And it still does.”
Rain water flows down Park Road and into a creek flowing down the middle of Denne’s farm and into the ditch along Woodburn Road. The trouble is, the water gets backed up in the Woodburn ditch and doesn’t drain from the farm land.
Denne said three acres of her property is completely gone and a further two acres is currently unusable. Another eight acres was filled in by Denne’s grandfather more than 10 years ago in order to raise that portion of land out of the most intense flooding.
That land will never be available for farming, but Denne said she and her husband would like to one day build a house on the property so they can live on site, instead of having to commute each day to the farm as they do now.
But Denne’s not sure she can handle living on the farm with the way things are now.
“If we have a house up here and I stare at this getting washed away each year, I’m not sure if my heart can take it,” she said. “What are we supposed to do, just say goodbye?”
She also doesn’t understand why the city hasn’t helped. The city’s new Agriculture Plan encourages local farming and Denne wants to help stimulate the agriculture sector.
Denne said she’s also not the only one experiencing problems – she’s learned through speaking with the neighbours that the flooding is not isolated to her property.
“Neighbours on Park Road spend each winter with their basements and yards flooding and under water,” Denne said. “With the lack of proper ditching and maintenance on Woodburn Road we are all drowning.”
The city says the area has been susceptible to flooding for years.
“For well over 10 years it’s been a problem and it’s been identified as an area subject to flooding,” said Drew Hadfield, the city’s transportation manager. “There’s a high water table in the area and where the farm is (it’s) is very flat, and low lying.”
However, city staff have tagged the area for improvement and are proposing council approve a project that would widen and deepen the ditches on Woodburn Road, starting this summer.
The $150,000 project, would also include drainage improvements elsewhere in north Campbell River. The project has been included in the city’s capital works portion of the budget which council will debate at the end of the month.
“The only thing we can do is improve the ditches to help the water flow,” Hadfield said.
Denne hopes by drawing attention to the issue the city will be inclined to help. She dreams of creating a community cultural hub on the farm to provide the area with hormone-free meats – starting with chicken this spring – fresh produce, and educational programs such as school tours and a pick-your-own pumpkin patch.
She also wants to run a general store on the property, a one-stop shop where you can pick up a fresh bouquet of flowers for the dinner table, a batch of eggs for the next morning’s breakfast, and a chicken for supper.
“We’ve got big plans and ambitious goals, but we take two steps forward then 10 leaps back and get sucked into a three-acre bog,” Denne said. “It’s a farm that houses my history – from my grandmother’s experiences, to my mother’s, to mine, and to my daughter’s.
“Our farm is reminiscent of a lost time, with an old 66 Merc parked inside the gate, a 50-year-old barn built by my grandfather, and a sense of peace and tranquility that is missing in our hectic times.”