A few years ago, Mike Bragg invited me and my littles for a play date. Our kids the same age, and Mike and I equally bike-obsessed, we walked the few blocks to their place in main-town Fernie (AKA Little Italy) and it was impossible to miss. Gardens in the front yard, gardens in the back yard, a large greenhouse, and one little corner left for their two-year old’s bike zone.
We sat on the grass, and within a minute out popped his wife, Madi. “Would you like some fresh pressed vegetable juice?” Hard yes, and it was delicious. I left that day with garden greens, a scoby to start my own kombucha, and a whole lot of motivation to put some love into my garden!
Six years later, it came to no surprise to learn Madi was opening up a garden centre – Three Sisters Farm and Greenhouse.
“Providing tools, plants and provisions for sustainable gardens. Lots of organic options! All our seedlings and plants have been tested and grown here in Fernie, BC or are rated to zone 2 and 3.”
So, just where does Madi’s passion come from?
Madi was born in Thunder Bay, Ontario, moved out west when she was two and back east again for high school years. Her mom was a single parent with three kids, and a huge inspiration to Madi.
“After a big grocery shop, with three kids in tow if they wouldn’t let her reuse her own plastic bags for whatever reason, she would walk away. You know as a mom how tough shopping with kids is! It was the early 80s, and she knew then there was too much plastic in the world,” Madi tells me. “One of my earliest memories is of being at a community garden plot, running around while she was gardening, chasing grasshoppers.”
Madi recognizes she didn’t think too much about the environment as a teenager, but when she settled down and was on her own, it was hard for her not to think about where she got her food.
“It bothered me that my food had been tortured or fruits and vegetables not grown ethically. I can’t turn it off and have to do everything I possibly can, so our food is leaving as little of a footprint as possible. I know it shouldn’t be happening at the individual level. It should be happening at the corporate level. They need to become stewards, it’s the easiest, fastest and most effective way.”
Growing her own food started slowly.
“At first it was just realizing that strawberries taste better out of my own garden. Then, wow tomatoes taste better. When I learned how to grow, I started to see how it was making a dent in my grocery bill and kept growing more things. We were saving $6-700 a month!”
Seeing this kind of impact within their household, Madi started to wonder what else she could do. “How could I make change by helping people learn to grow food? I felt like I needed to contribute beyond my own level and for my kids to have the opportunity to experience what we have. And that’s how we came up with the idea for a garden centre,” Madi says. They sold their place in town, purchased a piece of property on Anderson Road, which used to be a garden centre, and made their dream a reality.
The goal was to offer people something different by doing it differently. Providing organic seed and soil, carrying things in bulk, selling trees as whips (one-year old) for easy transfer to zone 3 conditions and less shipping costs and emissions, reusing containers, utilizing cloth pots… the focus is really on reducing waste, sustainability, and offering items that are better suited to our environment.
Most of the time they’re open, Madi is sharing her knowledge and providing tips on how to garden… and this makes her feel great, knowing more people are out there, growing their own food and sharing their own journeys with others. They currently have one open greenhouse on the property, and another they plan to use once the temperatures warm. They have plans to expand the retail space, with more bulk and continued support of local artisans and businesses. In the long-term, Madi has dreams of an orchard and a market garden!
After chatting with Madi for an hour over zoom, I realize how much more there is to learn, how much room there is to grow and I immediately ask about whether she has considered offering classes. Her eyes light up, “We will for sure be hosting workshops, utilizing the wealth of experience and expertise of many residents who live right here in the valley. We’ll set out twenty chairs on the lawn and have people from the community giving advice to local gardeners! I just want to help people grow food.”
Thank you, Madi! Now, just how many lawns will turn garden this spring…
1. When did you first arrive in the Valley and what brought you here?
February 2012 and Mike’s work brought us here.
2. Who did you first meet?
Tanya Malcolm. Turns out I arrived pregnant and suffered from severe morning sickness. I lost a lot of weight (33 pounds at 7.5 months pregnant) so Mike hired me a doula.
3. Do you remember your first general impression of Fernie?
I guess technically I lived in Fernie ten years before I moved here to snowboard. I didn’t even work, just bought a pass and snowboarded every day. When I came to check it out with Mike it was summer, and I thought oh my gosh the mountains are so beautiful, and the sun shines much longer than in Nelson. The river! I didn’t like the highway through town, but the valley was so beautiful.
4. What keeps you here?
The community, the people who live here.
5. Do you have a favourite Fernie pastime?
Gardening for sure.
6. What time of the year do you love most in Fernie, and why?
Summer, I just love the warm temperatures and eating out of the garden.
7. Where do you see or hope to see Fernie in five years?
I hope to see Fernie getting rid of their lawns and growing vegetables.
8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals?
Right now? I come in and make sure that the greenhouse didn’t freeze. All of my babies are in here. Honestly, snuggling with my kids.
9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you.
I’m a pretty open book! People are surprised by the meaning of the name
of the garden centre. Three Sisters is a type of companion gardening… corn, beans and squash which form a symbiotic relationship. I’m also one of three sisters… so there is a trinity of reasons, as cheesy as that is!
10. Quote to live by: “Unless someone like you cares an awful whole lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Dr. Seuss, The Lorax.