-Britt Santowski, Publisher, Sooke PocketNews
This International Women’s Day, SPN would like to pay tribute to one of our own women, Mrs. Ellen Lewers. She and her family—husband Richard and three boys Timothy, Richard and Derek—first moved to their three acre property in Sooke in 1987, coming from a quarter acre lot in Victoria.
Before the term “food security” existed, the concept was big in her heart. Early on, the family had meat birds on site, including turkeys and pheasants. They also had geese, peacocks, turtles, ferrets and pheasants.
The Lewers established a garden nursery on their land, which included their man-made pond. The land came with about 65 cherry trees, but they were producing very little and what they did produce was quickly consumed by birds. So, they nurtured the land and planted and sold raspberries. They also provided food to the Sooke Harbour House, including locally raised meats and locally harvested fruits.
The entrepreneurial sons started a petting zoo that proved to be quite an attraction, with kids busing in from as far as Port Renfrew and even Nanaimo to visit the enterprise. Mrs. Lewers insisted that they boys pay for feed and shelter, and this petting zoo covered those costs.
As the world got more regulated, insurance concerns ultimately shut down this venture. They were told it would cost about $30 per child per visit, and with hundreds of children flocking to their zoo, the costs were too high to bear. So, they had to shut that down. Their location became an informal animal rescue, with injured animals periodically dropped off.
Another cost that makes farming really hard is their water costs. With their raspberries, they were bringing in about $3,500 a season; the water bill alone for this venture was about $1,000.
That said, the spirit of the petting zoo continues on every year with the Sooke Fall Fair—where Mrs. Lewers has for years served (and continues to serve) as President. The Fall Fair was first started by the Sooke Community Association over a hundred years ago, and Mrs. Lewers has become a core volunteer. She spearheaded the incredibly well-attended car show, which will be going into its third year this summer. The funds raised from this show go entirely toward the Sooke Fall Fair, which is ultimately for the enjoyment of the entire community.
And speaking of community, Mrs. Lewers is involved in many aspects. She has served on various committees and boards with the local government, including the Variance Board. She helped compile the 2008 Official Community Plan (the latest one Sooke has). She once served as the president of the Sooke Garden Club. She’s participated with Gardens in Bloom. She sits on the current Affordable Housing Committee. And, their family’s house and farm has been included on the Secret Garden Tour, another very successful annual function that celebrates the beauty of Sooke.
They still have some animals on hand, including goats, ducks, geese and chickens. You can always drive-by Mrs. Lewers Farmhouse and buy some freshly laid eggs and food harvested from her garden.
Ultimately, what drives Mrs. Lewers is a strong desire to preserve the small community feel of Sooke. She’s an advocate of education that connects food with food source. She champions food security. And she’s putting her money where her mouth is by contributing where she can, when she can.
So, here’s a big SPN tip of the hat to a remarkable women Mrs. Ellen Lewers, for all she does for the community of Sooke.