What is Halstead Farm?

Halstead Farm is the farm where I grew up, and where I plan to return. It is in Merville BC, which is about 20km north of the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. It was first cleared pre-WWI, and following WWI it was surveyed and given to an ex-soldier named Williams (for whom Williams Beach is named). It is ~160 acres in total, though it is divided into 4 unequally sized lots of which ~60 acres in the middle of the plots are cleared, either pastureland or fields and an increasing amount of brush. The remaining ~100 acres are forested. There is a gravelly ridge that runs along the southern end of the Farm, which offers north and south-facing slopes, and is the site of the house and barns. The soils are varied, from sandy and gravelly on the ridge, to sand, loam and peat/muck, in the lower area. Any type of soil for virtually any crop! The original owners planted an apple orchard, which is still productive.

History

The Farm was purchased by my late father and his first wife Carol in 1958, from an elderly couple who had not been maintaining it. There was a house, henhouse, a small shed, and a large barn from the 1920’s with two horse stalls, livestock loafing area and hay storage. Two surface irrigation ponds and a covered well still provide ample fresh water, though the drain tiles and surface ditches which were installed in the early 1920’s were not functioning, and most of the lower fields were flooded. Early on they raised ~100 ewes and cut hay, with my dad working in town and Carol teaching at Tsolum elementary between giving birth to by sister Christina (Chris) and brother Eric. The drainage was gradually improved. At some point during this early era, my dad began also raising ~5 acres of root crops for a farmer’s coop.

In the mid sixties, dad and Carol separated and the farming activities declined in the early seventies when dad rented out the farm and took Chris and Eric to Ottawa while he completed his masters in Economics. This was followed by 3 years in Jamaica working for CIDA, doing agricultural development work and falling in love with my mom.

He returned in 1976-ish to find the fields again flooded, because the tenants had left and beavers had moved in! He and my mom got married and the fields were rented out to the Crowders to bring them back into condition, while he worked for the DIA travelling all over BC. The Crowders used the fields for hay. Shortly after Shani and I were born, he stopped working and began farming on a somewhat more full-time basis. His intention was to homestead as a retirement project, and he also took great pride in creating the elaborate English-style gardens. The orchard provided us with lots of fruit, and he grew lots of our own vegetables. We raised calves and chickens, and began building up a new flock of sheep. He began making use of the timber resources on the property, milling the planks and doing significant renovations to the house and outbuildings. When the old barn had to be taken down in the mid 1980’s he built a new one with all our own timber.

When dad died in 1995, the Farm was producing enough hay and forage for a flock of 30+ sheep, a few calves, and to sell a few thousand dollars of hay per year to procure farm tax status. The ownership of the Farm became joint among my mom, Eric, Chris, Shani and I. For a short stint, my mom, Shani and I ran the Farm as absentees, seeding, fertilizing and liming, maintaining ditches, cutting hay and selling it, and for 2 years in 1998-2000 I lived there and raised pastured broiler chickens while I had nothing better to do. But, we individually realized that it was too much for us ( I reallized that I did have better things to do – university).

So, for the majority of time since his death the fields have been leased out to a local farmer who cuts hay on it and keeps a few grazing cattle. Currently, the house is rented out by long-term tenants. We have had a new well dug and a new pressure tank system installed to service the house and livestock barn. Since the sheep are gone and the fields haven’t been used for hay, brush is beginning to encroach again, and the surface drainage is in need of maintenance.

Legal Bits

At the time of his death, my dad had no will, so this leaves my mom, 2 sisters and brother and I as joint owners –aka “tenants in common”. My sibs and I have 1/8th ownership each of the “estate”. My mom has ½ ownership, as well as being executrix (having financial and legal responsibility) of the estate and having “right of domicile” of the house, meaning that while the ownership of the house is shared, she has the right to live there or rent it out for personal income for as long as she lives.

As “tenants in common” you can’t actually own a part of the soil, so the group has to make application to build, subdivide etc. As far as I know, you can’t use a tenants in common ownership as collateral, or get a mortgage on it or for it. This has restricted our attempts to have cooperative ownership arrangements for the Farm until now. This option also reduces the sale value for the sellers.