Three ducks waddle around freely on Ryan May’s expanding gardens in Pitt Meadows chomping up slugs that might otherwise destroy his crops.
May was initially hesitant to let them wander, worried they’d trample his seedlings.
But once he let them go free, he realized they knew how to step around the plants – they also take care of his slug problem and are much happier.
“I’ve found a deep and satisfying love for these animals, which adds to their benefit and revenue,” May said “When they were in captivity and bored they were a sorry sight and made a terrible mess. I was so upset I’d even thought about killing them! Now that they are out and happy, doing what they do best, I am happy.”
The ducks turned a problem – slugs – into a product: duck eggs.
This duck experience is part of the principles of permaculture – watching and promoting farming the way nature meant it to happen with flora and fauna working in symbiosis.
Growing up between Vancouver Island and Pitt Meadows, both May’s parents had gardens and orchards.
When he headed off to university, he planned to study biochemistry and genetics, but he soon discovered his interest lay more in ecology and horticulture.
He changed his focus at school and then during the summers, he started working on various ecological agriculture projects.
After graduating, he travelled around the world by bicycle, working on dozens of “cutting-edge sustainable agriculture projects.”
Since then, he’s taken courses in permaculture, organic growing, seed saving, and ecological restoration, and he has worked on contract and internships “from B.C. to Brazil.”
But May also saw an opportunity on the farm in Pitt Meadows where he spent much of his childhood, and started rehabilitating the gardens.
May said he loves the farming lifestyle. While other biologists spend their time in front of computers, he is “out in the field most of the time, working and playing with plants and animals and really practicing my art.”
On the ecological farm, he added, “the whole point is to interact, foster, and eventually even eat.”
“Farming is fun, challenging, tasty, always changing, and very inspiring.”
Applying the principles of permaculture means observing what’s happening naturally and working with nature, not against nature.
In addition to the ducks, May has goats clearing land, mushrooms restoring soil fertility, beans climbing trees, and flowers attracting native bees and predators to the garden.
“It’s a food-producing ecosystem over here,” he said.
The property May is farming includes greenhouses, gardens, and cultivated blackberries, and it’s a lot of work. However, he’s had help from volunteers, work parties, friends, and When travelling abroad, May did a lot of “WWOOFing,” which stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms.
In exchange for four to six hours of work a day, people can get room and board as well as some education on farming.
“It’s a great energy exchange and a lot of fun,” May said. “It’s a model I am integrating into my projects.”
This fall, May is going to Guyana, South America, with Canadian University Services Overseas (CUSO) to teach horticulture to youth ages 15 to 20.
“Vocational training opportunities in Guyana are extremely limited, and agricultural potential is very high,” he said.
As a fundraiser, he is selling apple trees. In addition, for every apple tree he sells here, he plans to plant two in Guyana.
“It’s a great way for me to keep growing over the off season here,” May said about his upcoming trip.
“While the clouds are grey and thick here, and snow falls, I will be growing bananas, graviola, acai, and passion fruit, among a hundred other things.”
To buy an apple tree, contact May at email@example.com or look for him at the Haney Farmers Market where he sells produce from his farm weekly.