A lively buzz hums through the dining room decked tastefully in a modern salute to farm history. The invited guests at Backyard Farm are getting to know each other even better now as appetites are beyond sated.
The fullness comes with a satisfaction having just experienced the magic of a kitchen filled with love and an appreciation of the evolution of how each component of the meal was raised and selected for its dish. The ingredients are pure, then through creative chef alchemy transformed into their most delicious and elegant form – true artistry on each plate.
I overhear as Backyard Farm Chef/Proprietor Chris Van Hooydonk whispers to kitchen confidante and longtime team member Kyle Campbell, “If anyone has a question for me, I’ll be back in 10 or 15 minutes. I’m just slipping out to tuck the girls in and say goodnight.”
In that small request is the answer to everyone’s question: Why would Chris and family back away from fame and perhaps, fortune as a chef headed for celebrity status to a unique small farm lifestyle? Mikkel and Chris analyzed the value of time together to build a family as more precious than the value of money. Neither shy away from demanding work. Their dedication is an inspiration to all who know them.
At Backyard Farm, they have actualized that intention. The historic farmstead has been transformed to an exemplary culinary kitchen and production facility complete with a dining room to host private parties of food enthusiasts. And now adding an adjacent patio – partly in response to the physical distancing parameters set through the Covid-19 pandemic.
The patio is intended as proactive compliance to physical spacing to ensure invited guests and Backyard’s family and staff remain safe. In a previous post called “When Local Politics Get Ugly, We ALL Lose“, I shared how that kind intention and step toward the livelihood remaining viable through those times took a terrible turn.
Video: Day in the Life by Lionel Trudel
Many friends feel that some members of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS) and Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) miss a full appreciation of what Chris, his family and team are accomplishing on this property. The ALC “is an independent administrative tribunal dedicated to preserving agricultural land and encouraging farming in British Columbia.”
In its 2020 Business Plan, the RDOS stated a Vision: “We envision the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen as a steward of our environment, sustaining a diverse and livable region that offers a high quality of life through good governance.” It prefaced that: “People, both those choosing to live and those just to visit our valley’s, come to our regional district for the climate, the lakes & rivers, the mountains, our wines and tree fruits and many other reasons. The vision acknowledges that we wish to provide a high quality of life for our citizens, but to do so in a sustainable manner where none our decisions today impact adversely on future generations. Our future actions will move us incrementally towards this vision.”
Chris enlisted talented friend, photographer and videographer Lionel Trudel to film a farm tour and introduction to Backyard Farm and its initiatives. Please take a moment and view it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKCSrcFIUPE
The video has Chris leading the viewer through the property and sharing the history, operations and plans. You might even meet the chickens or rooster!
Mikkel in the Garden
Let me assure you, there’s no fiction in the video. On the occasions I have been privileged to drop in for a private event or to deliver something, strenuous work is in progress. Often Mikkel is working the garden and juggling her helpers, Ainsley and Baker. As toddlers, the girls mean well and Mikkel’s patience is abundant. The special snap peas planted are there in large part as a healthy snack the girls can harvest themselves.
Mikkel is planting, weeding or gathering the bounty such as greens, vegetables and fruits for the kitchen or flowers to accent the plates, adorn the tables and guest bathroom. For me, watching her garden work is poetry in process.
Hot Times in the Kitchen
Inside, things are percolating in the kitchen whether it is for catering off site, a private function at Backyard Farm or in the creation of culinary products for sale. Often the ovens are on so it is hot while the team presses on with precision. Always it smells divine: It’s so hard to resist reaching in and tearing off a hunk of bread or raiding a plate to taste!
I also love that Chris and Kyle absolutely adore mentoring others in the craft. In everything that’s done on this property, there’s a legacy component. If I’m lucky to hang around, I walk out having learned some culinary insight.
For me, it’s become habit to take a look at the chalkboard to see the evidence of the menu for the last or the upcoming event. Salivating is normal as I read it. Based on past experience of the cuisine by Backyard Farm, I can almost taste the nuances.
The tree fruit is picked once ripened ensuring optimum flavour. When my husband and my visit was timed perfectly for the peaches, as we were leaving Chris plucked a couple from the heritage tree and sent us off with them. As big as cantaloupes, these delicacies soaked us with their juices and we practically needed a shower after polishing them off. Now that’s Okanagan living!
Request to the RDOS and ALC
It’s time to pivot. While the global pandemic made us all too familiar with the word pivot, its definition remains clear. It is time to make an adjustment.
Historically, the RDOS and ALC have seemed to weigh heavily on enforcing rather than sustaining. In effective stewardship, it is not enough for management to set rules valid at the time they are written. True stewardship considers current information and practices enhanced by visionaries. Rules and definitions periodically need to be adjusted if actions are in keeping with the purest purpose.
What’s happening at Backyard Farm is a revolutionary approach to preserving farming heritage while making it viable. To those who can impact the decisions around this and other agricultural enterprises, I ask you to take the time to fully grasp the situation. I want our agricultural land preserved for future generations. And yes, Backyard Farm is an excellent model of how this can happen for small holdings.
Another Private Dinner to Remember
We attended a private dinner held July 1 organized by our good friend Jennifer Martison. The food was exquisite and the company outstanding. It reminded me of how Backyard Farm includes an educational component in all it does. Whether it’s Chris himself or another member of his team, each serving comes with a lesson such as where the ingredients are sourced and how the dish was prepared.
Former antique collectors, my husband and I have been downsizing. Many of our pieces that have a culinary story to them have been gifted to Chris and Mikkel with a bit of a barter for tasty things. The loving display of these items and how they fit with farming heritage warms our hearts every time we see them. The legacy the folks at Backyard Farm are creating truly does manifest in every detail.
I’ve included a photo gallery from that evening. Warning: Images may induce drool.