Celebrating International Women’s Day: Interview with the sisters behind Greendale Acres Farm

In Culture, News by Anywhere Vancouver

In honour of International Women’s Day, we are spotlighting three local sisters who are in charge of one of Metro Vancouver’s most popular and forward thinking farms.

Danielle, Vanessa and Mariah operate Greendale Acres Farm in Chilliwack. In 1997, their father, John Bruinsma, read a magazine article about a student in Utah who set up a corn maze to help families experience farm life in a fun way. This concept appealed to John, who, along with wife Diane, had strong ties to the agricultural community in the Fraser Valley.

Just two years later, John and Diane, along with partners Lloyd and Wendy Taekema, opened the first corn maze in Canada.

The Bruinsma family

Today the historic farm is operated by his three daughters along with their husbands and 9 small children.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we recently interviewed the three sisters to learn more about their work on the farm and what it means to inspire the next generation of female leaders.

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What does it mean for the three of you to continue your parent’s legacy and operate the farm?

“We grew up on this farm so being able to continue our family’s legacy and work alongside each other is incredibly rewarding. Growing up on the farm, our parents taught us to work hard and the importance that agriculture plays not only in our families but also in the community at large.”

“We spent a lot of time outside, picking up sticks, picking apples, weeding and hosting guests when the farm first opened. Later all three of us spent many years away from the farm in different endeavours and when we returned we realized how special it was to have the opportunity to provide a space for everyone to enjoy and learn about agriculture.”

How have the three of you managed to balance operating the farm and your personal lives?

“It can be challenging at times. We each have 3 young children (all under the age of 8) and busy lives so sometimes life just doesn’t feel balanced. We have learned to be flexible and adaptable knowing that some days will be more focused on family while others are more focused on the farm or business. It’s all about finding a balance that works for each family in the season they are in and supporting each other through it daily. There are days that we do not always feel like we’re thriving but each day is a new day and we focus on doing the best we can in the season we are in.”

Danielle, Vanessa and Mariah alongside their husbands

What is your favourite part about operating the farm?

“We love watching families enjoy the space we have created. People live busy lives and as our cities become increasingly urbanized we see the importance of providing a space where families can be free to run, explore and immerse themselves on the farm. There is so much magic in farming – it starts with a tiny seed and as the months pass and we care for this little seed, the farm comes to life full of flowers, pumpkins, corn, lavender and more.”

Who are the women that have inspired you, and why?

“We are always inspired by our Oma who passed away several years ago. She came to Canada on her own to start a new life for her family. She had 5 children in Canada and her and our Opa started a dairy farm to provide for their family. She cared about gathering our loved ones and keeping everyone together through traditions. We went to her house every Saturday for pancakes, every Sunday for soup and buns and every holiday. Our mom has carried on this tradition; her and our dad constantly have new people staying at their house and host large gatherings. Growing up, our door was always open and we hosted new friends who became like family. This has been something that’s very important to the makeup of our company. Our goal and brand promise is that our guests feel like friends and family and in fact, many of them have become just this.”

How do you hope to inspire the next generation of women in farming?

“The world evolves quickly and so we are passionate about the concept of growth, both on our farm and also within ourselves. We are working on growing new things on the farm to diversify the farm and being okay with it not working out at times. We try, we fail, we re-assess and try again. We are passionate about learning, gathering new skill sets and working on our mindset so that we can be ready for new challenges as they arise. All three of us are passionate about wellness and caring for ourselves and our families. This provides us with the energy we need to continue farming, running the business and caring for our families.”

What are some challenges you see women face in the farming industry and what can local communities do to help support you?

“As the world evolves, farming requires different skills and education. Farming is shifting and people are doing more on smaller pieces of land. For example, people are starting backyard gardens, community gardens and learning to maximize the potential of what they have. We hope to inspire women to become innovative with the land. We want to encourage people to support local farmers, growers and business owners. They are what makes the community interesting and unique.”

Are there specific initiatives or projects you’re involved in that help foster gender equality in your industry?

“We continue to look for ways to diversify and contribute to the agricultural industry. We provide education and training to our staff and aim to evolve our hiring practices in order to give women a chance to excel in our industry. We support women alongside us through mentoring and leadership and hold our team tightly, treating them like family. We have many staff who have their own families and we provide flexibility for them to care for their families and equal pay opportunities on the farm.”

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

“There is a famous proverb that talks about women holding up ‘half the sky’. To us this means that women can equally contribute to our family, business and community in order to elevate everyone around them. The generation of women before us taught us to be strong, bold and create change. Now having daughters of our own we hope to inspire them to find ways to be kind, to gather people and lift up the community in their own unique way. International Women’s Day is another opportunity to highlight, reflect and appreciate everything that women do; not just on this day but always.”

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