The hands of Mary Alice Johnson and young folks looking at cucumber seeds.
Photograph, date unknown
Courtesy of Mary Alice Johnson
Courtesy of the Sooke Region Historical Society
This audio clip is an excerpt from an interview by Sooke Region Museum Collections Manager Montana Stanley on Mary Alice Johnson and her work and life in Sooke.
Montana: What is your current role in the community and how do you view your role?
Mary Alice: People see me as sort of the mother of organic vegetable growing and farming because I’ve been doing it a long time. When you do something long enough then you get a reputation, hopefully a good one. I love farming, and I love the teaching component, because immediately young people started coming to the farm, and wanted to farm with me. And I said well I don’t know what I’m doing, but you can do it with me, and so I’ve had, I don’t know how many people who have come and worked with me at the farm, lived there, and got on to set up farms themselves. So I see myself as a teacher of young farmers, and also as a food producer in Sooke.
Montana: What results or impact have you seen from your work in the community?
Mary Alice: I think during my youth we moved to “Better Food Through Chemistry”, big agriculture, big box supermarkets, packaged, prepared foods. I remember the first Betty Crocker cake I made as a girl, and we’ve moved away from just good, fresh food that is locally grown and doesn’t have a lot of chemicals… now we get our seeds from all over the world, and many of them are GMO, and not even real seeds anymore, hybrids, expensive, in the hands of big corporations, and I think my role in the community is showing another way, is showing the value of good, local food, and it tastes wonderful. I grew up on great food, my mom was a gardener and a great cook, and she had to cook for our family, we were a family of 9. My father fished and hunted and that was how we fed our family. But we left that, and went to the big agriculture kind of food. Then, I guess, living in Asia, I got really good food there, because they hadn’t really moved into the big corporate agriculture, of course that’s happened a lot now. So I see myself as being, just holding the fort there, or being an example of what really good food can taste like. I don’t think when I first started I wasn’t passionate about no chemicals, it just didn’t make sense to put poison on the food I ate. So I just kind of… but it’s actually the young people who built the passion in me, because they’re passionate about local food, growing your own food, non-GMO, local food, and its importance to the environment on climate change. Food is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, so where do you get good food? I think that’s my role in the community.