Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Hidden Gem of Birds, Berries and Wine Surprisingly Close to Urban Rush

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Hidden Gem of Birds, Berries and Wine Surprisingly Close to Urban Rush

Article excerpt

B.C. island: Oasis of birds, berries and wine

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WESTHAM ISLAND, B.C. - A hidden oasis that seems far from the urban rush of Vancouver awaits visitors to tiny Westham Island, B.C., a mere 30 minutes south of the big city.

Floating homes on one side of the partially single-lane wood-deck swing bridge into the community near Ladner, B.C., are the first sign of the calm that welcomes folks to farms, a fruit winery and one of Canada's most renowned bird sanctuaries.

On this day, dozens of fruit lovers are busy plucking strawberries, raspberries and tayberries at several farms, where containers are brimming with the summer harvest. Raspberries, blueberries and gooseberries will entice people back in the weeks ahead.

Down the road, at the Westham Island Herb Farm, owner Sharon Ellis toils in the field of artichokes, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers before it's time to pick the garlic.

The 50-hectare property includes a barn built in 1916, a quaint general store with goodies such as purple basil jelly, mint chocolate soap and dandelion honey made by a local beekeeper.

In an area called Herb's Place, named after Ellis's great-grandfather Herb Ellis, thyme, lemon grass and tarragon are among the items for sale. And seedlings of leeks, kale, sunflowers and various varieties of squash -- including acorn, spaghetti, stardust and butternut -- are close by for the picking.

For years, Ellis has invited school children to her farm, where donkeys, roosters, goats and a Scottish highland steer named Bucky await the sometimes astonished looks from kids who've never been to a farm.

Educating children about the origins of food is a passion for Ellis, who says even parents tagging along on field trips often learn a few lessons during the tours she provides -- often during a visit to the annual pumpkin patch.

"I think that's the only way for people to realize you have to have farmland," she says of raising awareness about locally grown produce. "You can import more food but I don't think that's the way to go. …

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