In North of Town, Peak contributor, author and CBC journalist Grant Lawrence profiles the lives and livelihoods of those who have chosen life at or beyond the end of Highway 101.
Picture this: a country store, stocked full of fresh, organic vegetables, a freezer full of meat from animals raised on the surrounding farm, free of antibiotics and hormones, and a whole lot of other local goodness.
It’s all laid out and priced, but there’s no one there to take your money. You help yourself to whatever you want (or can afford). There’s a cash box where you leave your money, and you can even pick out your own change from an open egg carton.
The Farmers Gate store has run on the honour system for years, and owner Pat Hanson isn’t planning on changing the format anytime soon. The store is located on the historic, 30-acre Andtbaka Farm just south of Lund.
“Andtbaka is an old family name,” Hanson explained when I toured the farm on a soaking wet rainy day. “This used to be the Hill property back in the early 1900s. It has every conceivable soil, rock, swamp and tree that you could think of.
“I purchased it 38 years ago. It was a stump farm then, so we cleared it, fenced it, brought in all the animals and put orchards in.”
The farm has turkeys, ducks, sheep, cattle, pigs and geese, but Hanson pointed out that their primary product are the chickens, many of which run free all over the farm.
“Poultry is our highest sales,” said Hanson. “The second is vegetables.”
Anyone who has spent time in Lund will know a Scandanavian name like Hanson could go a long way back, and sure enough, Pat Hanson’s roots stretch to some of Lund’s original European settlers.
“My grandparents were from Sweden and Finland, and they moved here in 1911,” said Hanson. “They got a preemption in Galley Bay in Desolation Sound and settled there.”
In the 1920s, Hanson’s grandparents built a one-room schoolhouse in Galley Bay and brought in a teacher for the local children, many of whom would row several kilometres in all manner of weather for an education. Years later, Hanson was born in Okeover, and has lived in the area her entire life, save for a few sojourns for school. She has five grown children who have all worked on the farm. One 22-year-old son remains living there, and he still helps out.
When it came to naming her favourite livestock, Pat didn’t hesitate.
“You get very attached to the milk cows,” Pat extolled lovingly. “You’re milking them twice a day and you help them when they’re calving.
“You keep them for years, training them from heifers and you have them around their whole life, so when they come to the end, well, you just shouldn’t put your own animal down. I’ll do that favour for other farmers so they can return the favour for me. It’s always a tough day.”
Andtbaka Farm is surrounded by towering cedars and fir, and thick wilderness on all four sides. Wild predators are a regular challenge.
“Bears are a constant problem,” said Hanson. “They love having fresh chickens and ducks and turkeys for snacks. We’ve also had cougars. The young ones can clear fences.
“They usually pick a very stormy night when you can’t hear them and they’ll take out my sheep. I’ve also seen a mama cougar packing kittens, moving them from one hiding place to another.”
What does Hanson do when a cougar goes after her livestock?
“Well…” answered Pat carefully. “You’re supposed to call the local conservation officer and report all these things and hopefully they get around to coming out and dealing with them. But, as you know, there’s been some famous women around here who have managed to take out quite a few problem animals.”
Hanson was of course referring to Nancy Crowther, the famous “Cougar Queen of Okeover Inlet,” who arrived on these shores when she was a child in 1927 and lived in Penrose Bay until she died in 1990.
“She was amazing,” recalled Pat fondly. “Cougar Nancy taught my mom to shoot cougars, and then my mom taught me where to shoot the cougars: in the neck.
“I don’t like getting rid of animals, and I try not to. Even the bears. If they’re not a problem and keeping their distance, they’re free to do their thing. The same with the cougars.”
The other threat that has impacted everyone’s lives, even at the end of the road, is COVID-19, but it’s had an unexpected effect on Hanson.
“My life has gotten a lot busier since COVID,” said Hanson. “More people are staying home and some have decided to raise animals, so they ask me questions. Or they’re raising chickens and getting me to process them. And more people are shopping locally, which is lovely.
“That means more time spent stocking the store and growing vegetables. I enjoy it. I’m obsessed with growing good food and working the land, and so much of it ends up in the store.”
I asked about her store’s longtime honour system.
“I believe that 90 per cent of people are honest and appreciate good food and will come and pick and choose. They leave me a list of what they bought so I can track what’s selling and what isn’t, and what balances and what doesn’t,” said Hanson. “They put their money in the cash box or send me an e-transfer.”
Hanson started off by selling her own meat and produce in a pair of old fridges but has since expanded to offer lots of other local products.
“It’s all the goods from this farm plus other local goods like soaps, pies, wool socks, insoles, jams, jellies, pickles, cookies, all produced by local people,” she added.
For the record, Hanson’s favourite item in her store is SassyMack’s homemade ice cream.
But I also had to put it out there: had there ever been any issues with the honour system?
“Over the years I’ve experienced a few problems,” she said. “But because Lund is such a small and close knit community, and because so many local people believe in this store and its system and don’t want anything to change, they have looked after those problems for me. In a small community you get a real feeling for what’s going on. People keep their eyes on things and it works so well.”
Hanson’s store is located on Highway 101, a few minutes south of Lund. Look for the sandwich board sign on the east side of the road.
Grant Lawrence is an award-winning author, columnist and radio personality who considers Powell River and Desolation Sound his second home. An audio version of this story originally aired on CBC Radio.
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