West Creston farmers take living off land to new level

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Kyersten and Ian Kerr with 15-month-old Lily and 1

Kyersten and Ian Kerr with 15-month-old Lily and 1

When Ian and Kyersten Kerr moved to West Creston nine years ago, their plan was simple: leave the commercialization of the Okanagan and start a farm to create a closer connection to their food. But living off the land became so enticing that eventually their simple plan became less, well, simple.

Mountain Harvest Farm offers organic Berkshire pork, raw honey and grass-fed lamb — and for the their personal use, they also raise turkeys and heritage chickens, have Jersey cows for fresh milk, and have a large garden for fresh vegetables and herbs, which results in a lot of canning, drying and freezing.

“It kind of snowballed,” admitted Ian.

Not that they would have it any other way.

“There’s nothing better than sitting down at dinner when everything on the plate is yours,” said Ian.

“We actually became political vegetarians because of stories about commercial farms,” said Kyersten.

As meat lovers, however, that stance couldn’t last forever, and growing their own seemed like the best option. But they wanted to extend the benefits beyond themselves.

“When we made the choice to live this way, we wanted to support the local economy and know what we were eating,” said Ian.

To that end, their meat is more than just certified organic — it’s a truly local product, fed with nothing from outside the Creston Valley. Grain, peas and lentils from Roy and Sherry Lawrence’s farm feed the hogs, chickens and turkeys, and alfalfa and hay for the cows comes from Meekes Farms. Their lambs are raised on a local farmer’s organic pasture, and everything is butchered in the valley. And although their sausage and other pork products are made a little farther away, in Kimberley, the garlic in them comes from Mo and Mikey Farms.

“That’s important to us, and we strive to keep it that way,” said Ian.

As with over a dozen regional farmers, their products bear the Kootenay Mountain Grown label, having been certified through the program developed by the Kootenay Local Agricultural Society. The farmers appreciate the KMG system because it offers a grassroots, rather than bureaucratic, approach to certification.

“It’s a farmer who knows farming coming to your door, not a pencil pusher,” said Kyersten.

Their choice to farm organically has been a success, with customers, the butcher and clients — such as Nelson’s Kootenay Co-op — all expressing their appreciation for the quality of the meat. One of the biggest compliments, Ian said, came from an elderly man, who said the Mountain Harvest sausage tastes like sausage from 70 years ago.

Ian and Kyersten raise Berkshires, which are given a lot of room to roam in wooded pastures, and the end result is a bit different to other pork.

“Their meat marbles naturally, so it’s akin to Angus beef,” said Kyersten.

Another difference is that the meat has a much thinner layer of fat, stemming from the pigs’ local diet, which is low-protein, with no soy or genetically modified food added.

“They’re not eating steak and eggs, they’re eating Caesar salad and French toast,” said Ian.

While normally-fed Berkshires are usually ready to harvest at four to six months, the Mountain Harvest Berkshires take eight or nine months to be ready — soy doesn’t give them the hormonal boost used to churn out product on a commercial farm.

Of course, if they’re allowed to mature, they can grow bigger — much bigger, as in the case of Sambo, their 1,000-pound boar who likes being petted like a dog, with a gentle disposition belying his size.

Altogether, Mountain Harvest offers 75 pork products, available at the farm near the southern end of Reclamation Road, including all of the expected cuts, and varieties of scratch-made brats, pepperoni, bangers, salami, smokies, breakfast sausage and much more.

The meat also comes in freezer packs, with one offering 25 pounds of chops, roast, sausage and ham. Another adds ribs and ground to that, and then there’s the Homesteader — half a hog.

In the fall, the Ian and Kyersten will add more space for pigs on their 10-acre property, allowing them to further develop their farming philosophy, which they’re happily passing on to their 15-month-old daughter, Lily, and, early next year, her new brother or sister.

“Ultimately, it affects us and future generations,” said Kyersten. “In order for them to have the Earth, we have to start to take care.”

And while it involves a lot of work to return to traditional farming methods, it’s all worth it.

“I love the challenge of what it takes to grow the best food in the world — in the world,” said Ian.

For more information, visit www.mountainharvestfarm.com.