Jessica, her husband René, and their three young children are new residents on the East Coast. Two winters ago, they lived over 5000 kilometres to the West in Enderby, British Columbia. Jessica grew and sold flowers while René managed their family-owned, 120-acre dairy farm along the Shuswap River.
It was the land René spent his childhood on, whose creeks he had splashed in and trees he climbed. It was a property he and Jessica cherished and called home, where they worked hard and planned to raise a family.
But plans began to change as the summers saw more wildfire smoke and intense heat.
“In 2017, I was pregnant with our third child, and that was a particularly smoky summer,” Jessica remembers. “Farming, you don’t have the luxury of going inside to work and having air conditioning and air purifiers on, and I was working outside a lot. Our daughter was born with a growth in her lungs and one of the lobes had to be removed when she was one, and you can’t help but wonder if there was an impact there.”
Managing staff exposure to smoke was hard as well.
“When it was really smoky, we would make sure our staff would not go outside or wear a mask, which is challenging when you are physically working and running around.”
In 2021, the year June temperatures reached the low 40s and two heat domes hovered over BC, wildfires surrounded the Enderby farm. The Miedema’s children, used to having free reign outdoors, spent most of the summer inside in the company of air purifiers, and an evacuation plan that involved driving to stay in Calgary and leaving René behind to take care of the cows.
“There was this one day, in particular, I was terrified. There was so much uncertainty,” Jessica recalls. “The sky was almost black at two in the afternoon. There was ash coming down, covering all the vegetables and flowers. We had friends 30 minutes away on evacuation order and thought maybe we were next, but there was nowhere to go because all the evacuation centres were full. It was so stressful and hard on the animals. We had a breaking point and thought we couldn’t live like this anymore.”
When to throw in the trowel
Today, Jessica Miedema is in her workshop prepping for a busy growing season ahead at the crest of a windy hill near the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia.
Bins of bulbs and tubers and packets of seeds lay neatly organized next to each other. Each holds the blueprint for a tulip, a chiffon-like ranunculus, a pastel anemone, a fragrant peony, snapdragons and sweet peas. As a flower farmer, Jessica couldn’t dream of being anywhere more magnificent and productive.
“It’s absolutely beautiful,” she says. “The sky is big and open, and the horizon goes on and on. We are about 80 feet above sea level and two kilometres from the ocean, surrounded by farmland.”
Jessica admits the family’s move to Nova Scotia wasn’t all thanks to flames, smoke and heat. The couple was also feeling burnt out from farming and managing the stress that came with it.
“I was born and raised on the Enderby Farm, and I have very fond memories there,” René says. “It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. But every year was more challenging, for many reasons, and we just had to make a change. I wanted to try something different and was excited about an adventure for our family.”
But the fires were a force they were tired of facing, and they started looking for land outside of the province. Then in winter 2022, they sold the farm, packed up and moved to Port Williams, a small village in the Annapolis Valley on Canada’s East Coast where they had no family or roots. But it was affordable, fertile, and a breath of fresh air.
“We’re so close to the ocean. You definitely get that clean air,” Jessica says. “One of the big reasons we left the interior was that we had so many years of smoke we felt like we couldn’t breathe. Here it is so nice to have fresh air all of the time. It’s amazing.”
Growing for the future
Jessica and René know that although they’ve left fires and smoke behind them, Nova Scotia faces its own challenges thanks to climate change. Warming oceans will allow powerful tropical storms to move further north and hit communities with more frequent and intense rain and wind storms.
This past September, tropical storm Fiona left 405,000 customers without power in the province, the highest number ever on record, for anywhere from two to sixteen days.
Raising children in a world whose winters and summers will look different than their own, Jessica and René have some discomfort belonging to an industry that has a significant impact on the environment, so they are doing their part to lower their carbon emissions.
“We have three little kids, and you can’t help but think about what sort of a future they will have, what world they will be left,” Jessica says.
They practice sustainable farming methods, including composting unused flowers and yardwaste, laying down landscape fabrics to suppress weeds and releasing pest-eating insects instead of spraying pesticides and herbicides, using cover crops to protect the soil and drip irrigation to conserve water. And after having used a successful solar system that offset 90 per cent of their electrical needs and costs on their Enderby farm, they are installing solar panels on their Nova Scotia property. Something they would like other family farms to have the opportunity and government support to do.
“There could be a lot more solar and electric vehicles incentives,” Jessica says. “And for electric power tools and lawnmowers, leaf blowers and chainsaws.”
While moving from B.C. to Nova Scotia was a pivotal and difficult decision where tears were shed, and close family, friends and animals left behind, one year into their new life Jessica and René are busy building bouquets and happy they made the move.
“We are thrilled to be where we are,” Jessica says. “Our kids are really thriving here.”