Terroir: How the Land Where We Live Influences the People We Become


Terroir (n): The characteristic taste and flavour of a crop (usually wine) or the characteristics of a people (often rural) that are imparted to them by the land they inhabit.

Origin: French

Root meaning: “Of the Earth/Soil.”

Just as the land gives life to the plants that we grow and helps to impart particular characteristics, flavours and subtle quirks on them, so does the land where we live help to determine our own fate. We are a product of our environment after all…

 

The Land That Gave Me Life

Just as the land gives life to the plants that we grow and helps to impart particular characteristics, flavours and subtle quirks on them, so does the land where we live help to determine our own fate. We are a product of our environment after all.

On the Burrard Street bridge, overlooking my hometown of Vancouver in my younger days.

I’m a west coast girl through and through. For those of you who don’t know, I was born and raised in Vancouver, BC, Canada. I’m proud of my roots. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest has had a profound impact on the person I am today. I don’t foresee myself ever leaving this coast. But I did spend most of my life trying to escape Vancouver.

Don’t get me wrong… As far as cities go, Vancouver is a beautiful one full of amazing people, eclectic culture and passionate soul. It’s perhaps the only city I’ve ever seen that seems to grow organically right out of the forests and the mountains and the sea that form its base. Perhaps that’s why Vancouver is full of “hippies” and nature buffs. It’s in our blood (or rather, our roots). But it’s a city nonetheless, and so many people want to own a piece of its wealth and beauty that it’s actually become difficult to live (and make a living) there. (Exit the hippies, enter the hipsters… Sigh).

The population has exploded over the years and everyone seems to be fighting for scraps over the few remaining affordable properties, often going into huge amounts of debt just to “own” a piece of air in an apartment building. 

The traffic is insane, and when I lived there I wasted hours of my life stuck between vehicles on the slow route to and from work, just trying to get through another day and pay the bills. For me, the stress of living in this city, magnificent as it could be, manifested itself in the form of anxiety, depression and a deep longing to be somewhere else.

I was unhappy playing the role of city/suburban girl trying to make it in the world every day of my life. I didn’t feel like I fit or belonged there. I knew deep down that I wanted to live somewhere quieter and more rural, where I could really connect to the land where I lived. 

Some people feel right at home in the city. I’ve known many of these people in my time; People who could never understand why I wanted to leave so bad. These people have the amazing ability to connect with the land even through the concrete that entombs it. Not me. I prefer the soil.

So about 5 or 6 years ago, Ryan and I decided to start “shopping around” for a new home, somewhere far from the concrete and city lights. To be honest, I think Ryan would have been quite happy to stay, but he knew how unhappy I was there and so he jumped onboard without hesitation. Gotta love that man for going along with all of my crazy dreams:)

 

The Search For Our Place In This World

We looked east to the rocky mountains and north to, well pretty much anywhere north of where we were. But neither of those directions felt quite right. In the end we decided to head west to Vancouver Island. 

Just as the land gives life to the plants that we grow and helps to impart particular characteristics, flavours and subtle quirks on them, so does the land where we live help to determine our own fate. We are a product of our environment after all.

Vancouver Island, as seen from the ferry.

Something about the west has always called to me. It’s where I feel most at home. Plus, we figured we could live a simpler, quieter, more rural life without having to give up the things we loved most about the west coast city we grew up in: the forests and the mountains and the sea, and definitely a little bit of that laid back west coast vibe that sadly gets drowned out in the city by the road rage and accompanying traffic noises.

While our journey to Vancouver Island is a story in and of itself, what I will say is that we never hesitated to make this crazy dream of moving out here and embarking on our homesteading journey a reality. We’ve been here 3 years now and we’ve never looked back. Hands down it was the best decision we’ve ever made, and although we have suffered our share or tragedies, traumas and hardships since we made the move here, I actually stop quite regularly here and look around me and say out loud to myself “Wow. I can’t believe I live here.” 

Just as the land gives life to the plants that we grow and helps to impart particular characteristics, flavours and subtle quirks on them, so does the land where we live help to determine our own fate. We are a product of our environment after all.

I finally feel like I’m on the right path and I love the place we’ve chosen for our forever home. But still, sometimes I wonder if maybe there’s an even better place for me somewhere else.

I’ve travelled the world pretty extensively, and I used to arrive in different places (both urban and rural) and wonder “Could I live here? Should I live here? What kind of life would I lead if I lived here? Could I become the person I want to be in this place?”

I considered moving to Europe after I studied in Vienna in my early twenties. I thought about Cape Town when I traveled to Africa shortly after. I thought about the east coast of Canada out on some craggy rock where the land drops off into the Atlantic Ocean. I definitely considered many places in Australia and New Zealand as I travelled and met amazing people and dove into and off of things over there. 

Could any of these places be home for me? There’s a whole world out there! How do I know if I’ve settled in the right place?

 

My Trip Back “Home”

Just as the land gives life to the plants that we grow and helps to impart particular characteristics, flavours and subtle quirks on them, so does the land where we live help to determine our own fate. We are a product of our environment after all.

Celebrating Evelyn’s second birthday at my family’s home in Vancouver.

Ryan and Evelyn and I travelled back to Vancouver a couple weekends ago to celebrate Evelyn’s 2nd birthday. It was awesome to see family and friends we hadn’t seen in a while and we definitely enjoyed that part of it. But every time we go back it seems to be even busier and the face of the whole city seems to be growing and changing at an astonishing rate. 

The farmland in our hometown of Richmond (a suburb of Vancouver) has ceded to high rises and mega-mansions for the super rich. What were once quiet, rural roads are now busy highways. Every time we go it feels less and less like home.

The day after Evelyn’s birthday party, we travelled into the south interior of our province to my family’s cabin in the heart of the Okanagan Valley. This is where Ryan and I got married (and engaged). It’s where my family has camped and vacationed since I was a baby and I have a lot of fond memories and a strong connection to this land.

 

Nature Calls

As soon as we got out of the city, I began to breathe easier again. I just feel better when I’m out in nature with more space and less noise.

Just as the land gives life to the plants that we grow and helps to impart particular characteristics, flavours and subtle quirks on them, so does the land where we live help to determine our own fate. We are a product of our environment after all.

A roadside stop on the way to the south interior: Evelyn, spotting gophers in Manning Park, BC.

As we drove the winding roads that twist through the peaks and valleys that lead the way to the south-centre of our province, I gazed out the window at the picturesque landscape, the quaint, small towns and the idyllic, pastoral farms, ranches and homesteads, old and new. I gazed out and I thought to myself, “this is nice. Maybe we should live here instead.”

Just as the land gives life to the plants that we grow and helps to impart particular characteristics, flavours and subtle quirks on them, so does the land where we live help to determine our own fate. We are a product of our environment after all.

In the Okanagan, orchards and vineyards spring up from the Earth with abundance. Peaches and plums and apricots and cherries and apples and bushels and bottles and barrels of grapes and wine make their way from farm to table every day in the heart of the summer (and all year round when preserved). It’s a beautiful place with an incredible ability to produce mass amounts of beautiful food and there is land to be had for much less than what we pay on the island. There are lakes to swim in and backcountry to hike in and plentiful wineries and vineyards to be toured. Maybe we should have moved here instead. Maybe we should in the future…

Just as the land gives life to the plants that we grow and helps to impart particular characteristics, flavours and subtle quirks on them, so does the land where we live help to determine our own fate. We are a product of our environment after all.

Just as the land gives life to the plants that we grow and helps to impart particular characteristics, flavours and subtle quirks on them, so does the land where we live help to determine our own fate. We are a product of our environment after all.

Wine touring in the Okanagan. At Poplar Grove winery in the Naramata Bench.

But after a few days of oo-ing and ah-ing at the beauty of this place, tasting and experiencing the best that the land here had to offer, it was time to go home. As beautiful as it is in this place, I wasn’t thriving here. Like a plant struggling to survive in the wrong climate and soil conditions, I was having trouble surviving here in the dead heat and dry air and desert-like conditions of the interior.

Just as the land gives life to the plants that we grow and helps to impart particular characteristics, flavours and subtle quirks on them, so does the land where we live help to determine our own fate. We are a product of our environment after all.

Sure, it was okay for a visit. But I was slowly wilting away here. My soul was being called back to the west; To the ocean; To our home on the island.

 

Home Is Where the Heart Yearns to Be

And so, as we travelled back through the peaks and valleys and forests and mountains and cities, across the Georgia Strait on the ferry to Vancouver Island and up the coast to our home, I finally realized there was no need to keep searching.

Just as the land gives life to the plants that we grow and helps to impart particular characteristics, flavours and subtle quirks on them, so does the land where we live help to determine our own fate. We are a product of our environment after all.

On the ferry back home.

Sure there are many other beautiful places on Earth that we could live. There are other oceans to reside by, other cities to live on the outskirts of, other countries that seem like lovely places to call home, and yes, there are far more wineries on the mainland than there are here on the island… Damn. 

But when we finally arrived back home to Vancouver Island, to the little dot on the map where we consciously chose to make our stand, I looked up at the clear, starry sky, felt the cool, dewy Earth beneath my feet, breathed a big sigh of relief and felt my leaves perk up again.

Just as the land gives life to the plants that we grow and helps to impart particular characteristics, flavours and subtle quirks on them, so does the land where we live help to determine our own fate. We are a product of our environment after all.

Our home in the Comox Valley, Vancouver Island.

I know in my heart that we chose this place for a reason; This is the place that will allow us to be the people we were meant to be. This is the land that will help us develop the full potential of our character. Like a fine wine, this is where we will age best.

I realized this all in a single instant, and I said to myself in that moment, “wow. I can’t believe we live here.” And at last, I knew we were finally home.


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ABOUT ANNA
Hi! I’m Anna, and I’m a city girl turned modern homesteader who’s passionate about growing, cooking and preserving real food at home, creating my own herbal medicine and all-natural home and body care products, and working toward a simpler, more sustainable and self-sufficient life each and every day. 
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I grew up in Vancouver and had pretty much zero experience homesteading before my husband, Ryan and I decided we wanted to escape the rat race, become less dependent on the modern industrial food system (and all modern industrialized systems), and dove head first into this lifestyle around a decade ago.

We packed up and moved to Vancouver Island where we live now, started our first garden, and the rest is pretty much history.

(Well, actually that’s not true… There have been A LOT of ups and downs, successes and failures, wins and losses, struggles, challenges and pivotal moments along the way, but those are stories for another day).

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