Not Your Average Life:
Inside the Gathering Place Homestead
By Renée Hartleib
When Lovena Harvey returns from her company’s Campbell River office to her Cortes Island home, there’s usually a piping hot bath waiting for her. Sounds nice, right? But wait, it gets even better. The bath that Lovena’s husband, Ryan, draws for her is outside, under some giant, fragrant cedars, and heated from beneath by a blazing fire.
“Being able to unwind in our outdoor tub, smelling the wood smoke and cedar and staring at the stars is just phenomenal,”says Lovena. “It immediately grounds me to this place where we live and deeply connects me to the land.”
Certainly, this isn’t your average hot bath and the owners of Gathering Place Trading don’t live your average life. From being homesteaders who grow most of their own food to business owners who dare to do business differently, the Harvey’s are definitely carving out their own path.
Lovena and Ryan were solo travellers from different parts of the world when they met and married 22 years ago in Queensland, Australia. Ryan was from South Africa and Lovena was from Canada and together they chose to settle in British Columbia, the province that had snagged Lovena’s heart.
They had their first child and became organic farmers in the mountains near Pemberton, before moving to Cortes in 2002. They arrived on the island with a vision: to buy land and build community. And that’s just what they’ve done.
They purchased 22 acres of land with three other families, forming a small intentional community where all the children were homeschooled. “We’ve been able to give our children the gift to freely roam, build shelters and forts, sleep in a cave over night, and learn from the land,”she says. In a world where many children are behind desks and screens all day long, this kind of childhood seems idyllic indeed.
At the same time that their children have grown, so has their business! Gathering Place Trading launched 15 years ago with a single product – loose Rooibos tea from Ryan’s homeland. It has since transformed into an international importer of dozens of quality food products. In addition to the uniqueness of their products—an entire fair trade spice line from India and the purest sea salt in the world—the company distinguishes itself from the competition by always sourcing direct from farmers and having strong environmental and fair trade policies.
They also take the term “family business” seriously, bringing their children on sourcing trips to South Africa, India, and Asia. “It’s been the best kind of education,” says Lovena. “Our kids have always helped in the garden, in our home, and with the business. We see it as a tremendous advantage for everyone.”
Lovena says she is no longer surprised when her kids come up with a better idea than the adults in the room. “Adults don’t always have all the answers,” she laughs. “Trust your kids. There’s an innate knowing that children have and they often suggest great solutions.”Lovena adds that this really surfaces when the family travels together. “You need to rely on each other when you travel – it’s been very unifying for our family and has really deepened our bonds to each other.”
Growing their own food is one of the other things that the Harvey family does together. In addition to producing the rosemary and bay leaf for customers who buy their Canadian culinary herbs, they grow most of their own food and have created an edible landscape that they proudly call their own “food forest.”
Their beautiful, well-tended organic garden beds contain almost any vegetable you can think of, plus fruit trees and a variety of berry bushes. At all times of year, the Harveys have fruit abundance, in the form of apples, cherries, pears, peaches, figs, grapes, blueberries, raspberries and a myriad of lesser known berries (gooseberries, logan berries, honey berries, and boisin berries).
Known as “the Berry Master” among family and friends, Ryan is the brains behind the berries. “He’s done so much research and also has an innate sense of what the berries need and how they want to grow,”says Lovena. “Every year he focuses on increasing his skill, doing proper pruning, and is always expanding his patches.”
A gardening risk-taker, Ryan has also successfully nurtured the growth of plants that usually only produce fruit in hotter climates, including kiwi and pomegranate.
“We started out as organic farmers and it’s such a joy, and a continual adventure, to nurture this part of our lives,”says Lovena. Putting quality of life before business growth is a value all of the Harvey’s hold dear and one of the main reasons why they continue to live on Cortes, despite the fact that their company’s main operation site is now in Campbell River.
Even though their youngest child is now attending high school in Campbell River, and in some ways it would be easier to live there full-time, the entire family is in agreement that Cortes is home. Even their eldest, who goes to University in Squamish, is returning home this spring to follow in her parents’ entrepreneurial footsteps and run her own kayak company – Misty Isles Adventures.
“The community of Cortes embraced us when we first moved here and has continued to accompany us through all the events of our life. This is still a place where people bring you meals when you have a baby and rally around you when there’s a death or a fire.”In fact, Lovena and Ryan experienced this generosity first hand six years ago when they had a serious car accident that derailed their life for many months. “People made us meals, stacked our wood, bought us groceries, and helped with our kids. It’s just an incredibly caring, close knit community.”
On the Cortes Ferry on a Monday morning, parts of this community are heading off island to school or work, visiting together and catching up on island news. This is a very different commute than most Canadians. Commuter highlights from Cortes to Campbell River include being escorted by an entire pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins and sighting humpback and orca whales.
These moments of wonder and connection add to the feeling of gratitude that Lovena and her family feel. “In a world where it’s becoming harder and harder to unplug, we feel very lucky,” she says. “Life is just simpler on Cortes.”
Renée Hartleib, writer. writing coach, 902.422.1693 , halifax. nova scotia