Marika & Keely in the big green house - spring 2013
Mary Alice with chicken - spring 2013
Amy - spring 2013
Ten years ago I had the fortunate opportunity to spend a day at ALM Organic Farm practicing my newly rekindled love of photography, and the 'new to me' wet plate process. I remember it being a warm spring day, late March or so. The farm was full of hope, optimism, and activity for the coming growing season. Though early in the year, the farm was still busy producing winter crops like kale, chard, root vegetables, and the chickens were dutifully laying eggs. Thanks to the care and attention from the farmhands, the operation was running smoothly with enough produce for a weekly box program, the needs of some local restaurants, and of course, the weekly Moss Street Market in Victoria.
I first met Mary Alice Johnson through a mutual friend when Mary Alice was looking to have a very large painting photographed. She brought the six foot tall canvas to my studio and through conversation about her farm while we worked on photographing the massive painting, I asked if I could come out to the farm to make some plates of the people working there. We decided on day and made a plan that would work for me and the farm.
Mary Alice and ALM Farm, a fifteen acre Certified Organic farm located in Sooke, BC, have been an integral part of the Moss Street Market in Victoria, BC since it's inception nearly 30 years ago. The farm, an historical site first settled in 1912, bears the name "ALM", which was chosen by Mary Alice's late husband Jan, and in Arabic, stands for 'Alif Lem Mim', or Beginning, Middle, and End. Mary Alice says that it could also mean 'alms for the poor', and with a twinkle in her eye, she jokes that could also mean 'A Lot of Money'. (She doesn't specify if the money is coming in or going out.)
Growing quality organic produce for the market and local restaurants, as well as saving seeds from a variety of fruits, vegetables, and flowers for her seed saving company, 'Full Circle Seeds', keeps the heritage farm hopping year round. There is never a shortage of work to be done on the farm. Mary Alice relies on hired help in the form of farm workers to keep the wheels turning. Some workers are longtime employees returning to the farm season after season. Some only stay one season, some even less. One thing is certain though; people never forget their time on the farm.
Mary Alice had a long career as a teacher before taking on the farm life (she did grow up on a farm in Colorado, so farming was in her blood). Though she has not taught in a formal school setting for several decades, the lessons and guidance she imparts to the many people that have had some form of interaction with her or the farm, be they workers, customers, visitors, or even a humble wet plate photographer all leave just a little better than when they arrived.
The farm is not only a food producing piece of land, it is also a place of peace, a place where people can relax and breathe, a place for people to reconnect to the earth and to their hearts. ALM is a healing place where time slows and people can find themselves once again.
On my first visit to ALM I made a few plates, the plate of Marika and Keely above, has become an iconic photo for me depicting two very strong women with a passion for growing food and building community. This photo, along with the others made that day, led to an amazing experience for me to photograph 21 senior food producers across Vancouver Island. The project was called 'Of Land & Sea - Portraits of Coastal British Columbia Farmers, Fishers, and Harvesters'. This work culminated with two gallery exhibits and a book of stories, and portraits made with the historic wet plate process. I'm proud to say that Mary Alice was included in the project.
I recently had an opportunity to return to the farm, though on this occasion it was at the end of the season as the farm was preparing for the long winter ahead. While I was there I met the current farmhands, with their own amazing story. I asked if I could make some portraits of them as a way to mark my 10 year anniversary of the first photo session on the farm with Marika and Keely. Of course they agreed.
I spent a wonderful afternoon with Robin & Jess. I asked them what part of the farm was most meaningful to them as a couple. Without hesitation they said, " 'the nursery', because that is where it all starts!" They talked of the care they give to the new plant starts, and how happy it made them feel to see their work grow into healthy, productive plants whose produce would one day find their way to a restaurant, or to nourish a family in a home cooked meal.
Robin and Jess will be moving on at the end of the season, changed forever by the farm they called home for the past seven months. I know as they move forward in whatever direction the wind takes them they will find success as they nurture their new start in their life.
My sincere best wishes to you both.
Jess had this to say about the experience of getting her tintype made:
"As an archivist, participating in a centuries old process and seeing myself represented in a medium that I thought only existed in a long lost time and place was extraordinary. Sublimating into space-time through what appeared to be an extinct medium - being kept alive by a key group of practitioners - creates a visceral link between past and present. Paying tribute to our visual heritage, while capturing beautiful moments of the present, does both a service to the achievements of days of yore and the nuances of the moment at hand. Ken captures these instances with both serenity and a sense of play. It was a gift to learn about the photographic process which always seemed like a stagnant, still medium to me, dormant and housed in historical repositories, recumbent beneath my gloved hands, but here very much animated and alive."