All Bastien Simoneau wants to do is leave his daughter with land that is functional, beautiful and sustainable.
He is in the process of transforming his land in the Burgoyne Valley from a monoculture farm to a functional ecosystem for both humans and wildlife. Over the better part of a decade, he has created six functioning ecosystems on the property, with eight different ponds, wetlands, a food forest, a prairie ecosystem and a natural west-coast forest. His philosophy is what he calls “intuitive intelligence,” which is doing things that just make sense. To him, something that makes sense is working with the land so that it can provide for him, his family and the natural world around them.
“Eventually it’s a system that is going to be self-sufficient,” he said. “When I’ll be done doing the structural aspects of it and all my systems are in place it’ll be a bit more natural. I’ll be able to focus on food, so canning, jerky, my trout and everything.”
Through Simoneau’s approximately 20 acres, the evidence of mingling human and natural needs is evident. Near the house, what initially looks like a pond is revealed to be, under closer inspection, a swimming pool surrounded by natural wetland plants. Simoneau explained that the pool has given people a place to swim in the summer, and has also provided a habitat for frogs, salamanders and newts. To add to the balance between human and nature, he also built a wood-fired oven next to the pool/pond.
“It’s food for us and an ecosystem for newts and frogs. I think there are red-legged frog, that’s a blue-listed species, and we’ve got an over-abundance of them. We’ve got tons of newts. When I vacuum the pond I can see all of the creatures,” he said.
The swimming area is just one of Simoneau’s ponds and water features on his land. Every year, as a birthday present to himself, he builds a new pond somewhere on the property. His ponds are all used for different purposes. He lets his dogs play and swim in one pond, while another is turning the former farmland back into a wetland. He has also stocked one pond with rainbow trout. Eight water features dot the premises, with more coming in the near future.
“Water is so so beautiful. It brings so much life. As soon as we built the ponds, swallows came. They’re eating all the bugs on the surface. Then the frogs, salamanders . . . when I see things like this it’s kind of epic.”
Beyond the human-meets-nature aspect of his swimming pond, Simoneau has also expanded that idea to food. A traditional garden with raised beds sits in the sun near the house, but further into the property is the beginning of a food forest. Food forests are a complex and ultimately self-propagating way of growing food. With multiple kinds of food-bearing plants in the same area, food forests simulate natural habitat for animals, while providing organic and healthy food for people.
“If you don’t bring diversity to a system, then you deplete it,” Simoneau said.
“At the end, it’s all a question of will: what do you want to do in your free time?” he added. “We have been taking for so long from Mother Nature . . . You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to balance it, especially when you can afford it.”
For more on this story, see the Spring and Summer Fixup section April 24, 2019 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.