Standing Spruce Farm & Apothecary

Posted on Wednesday, 13 April 2022 under Stories

Standing Spruce Farm & Apothecary is on the traditional territory of the We Wai Kai First Nation and is part of the traditional harvesting grounds of the Laichwiltach people. It is also the oldest farmland in Campbell River. It is a place with rich history, cultivated by Indigenous people for countless generations and farmed by settlers for many decades.

Lesley Assu of the Haida Nation is the owner and operator of Standing Spruce along with her husband, Jamie Clark, and their two children. A herbalist, farmer, and mother, Assu was raised in Haida Gwaii and in her father’s community, the We Wai Kai First Nation. Assu describes, “I’m still living on those grounds that my people were harvesting for tens of thousands of years.”

Assu is deeply connected to both the land and the sea. Growing up she spent summers in Haida Gwaii. She also spent time in the forests further South in the area around Campbell River. She learned about medicinal plants and eating traditional foods as medicine from her relatives.

Photo by Standing Spruce Farm & Apothecary

For much of her life, Assu spent a large portion of the year working on commercial fishing boats, living off of a diet of fresh seafood. When she got married and started living on land year-round, her diet shifted to primarily food from the grocery store, and she felt her health decline.

She found buying food at the store difficult, knowing the environmental impact of industrial farming and having ethical concerns about how animals are treated on factory farms. Whether because of the suffering of the animals, the food they were eating, or what the fields were being sprayed with, food from the store, especially meat and eggs, was making Assu sick.

At the same time, Assu recognized changes in the weather and the direction we are going. “It scared me. I wanted to have a family and I wanted to have kids. As soon as I had enough money, I bought a piece of land that I could do something with and help to feed my family and live in a different way,” she recounts.

Searching for solutions, Assu and her husband decided to buy a small farm and begin raising and growing food. “It started for us with chickens and being able to raise animals in a really holistic way,” Assu says. She believes deeply in the priority of raising animals and growing food with empathy, in an ethical way.

As they raised more animals, people from their community began to reach out. Assu and Clark quickly realized the need for healthy food that had been produced ethically and began to expand their small farm to provide for their community.

Photo by Standing Spruce Farm & Apothecary

Standing Spruce Farm and Apothecary is now a multifaceted and diverse space.

Closest to Assu’s heart is the apothecary and medicinal business. Taking the knowledge that she learned as a child, she uses natural ingredients that grow in the area and on the farm to make teas, salves, balms, and other medicines.

She is also starting a medicinal mentorship program in 2022 on two acres surrounding her house. The mentorship program will bring children from the community to the property once a week and teach them to grow medicinals from seed. Assu describes that she will “Show them how you take that from a seed to a plant, care for it and then to be able to make it into a medicine themselves.”

Assu relates how the soil on Standing Spruce’s land has been severely depleted due to years of abuse and lack of care before the property was in their hands. They are working to build soil health and reintroduce plants to the property.

We’re going to be reintroducing a lot of those flowers and bushes that are found on the other side of the highway and then bring them back here where they’ve all been kind of wiped out”

At Standing Spruce, Assu and her family raise and grow food for themselves and their community.

Standing Spruce has four different breeds of heritage chickens for eggs. The chickens are all free-range and live on healthy diets. Beehives provide them with honey, which they infuse with medicinals that they grow and harvest. Some of the medicinals are infused over months at a time. They also have a grass-fed beef side of the farm where they raise heritage cattle on a 26-acre space. Assu says, “They kind of just live their own lives and we go feed them and hang out with them and check them out every day to see how they’re doing.”

Standing Spruce has always been grounded in Assu’s belief in the importance of farming ethically and with empathy.

“The animals here live as close to a normal life as we could possibly provide. So they’re not generally corralled in any way. Aside from minor pasture management, they’re living life beside us, so in a lot of our photos they’re just there you know, they’re enjoying their life. They’re growing up in family units, and we’re only taking what we need as a family and for other families.”

Photo by Standing Spruce Farm & Apothecary

Assu’s Indigenous upbringing has shaped her approach to farming and the practices she adopts. Standing Spruce operates on a zero-waste policy, making sure they use every part of the animals they raise and find uses for all the food they grow. Assu describes that she learned to waste nothing through her Indigenous upbringing. “There was nothing that was wasted when you were hunting,” she says.

When fishing, every part of the fish they caught would be either filleted or boiled down to make food, including the bones, head, and tail. Anything left became crab bait. Deer are treated the same way, with no part of their body wasted. Their skins and hooves are used or traded, and the visceral fat is used to make salves and medicines.

“We do the same thing here with the cows,” Assu says, “We take all of the fat, we keep all of it, and the skins are often traded or sent away. The bones and everything are kept for soups.” Animal consumption fat is used to make salves and soaps.”

In addition, the animals are fed in part through the Loop program, with food that grocery stores in the area have thrown out. This allows the farm to use food that is not fit for human consumption that was previously discarded.

Photo by Standing Spruce Farm & Apothecary

Assu encourages people to reach out to her with any questions or if there’s anything she can help with. Standing Spruce offers many of their products online through their website, including hatching eggs, chicks, and medicinal products.