Humans of Campbell River: Standing Spruce Farm + Apothecary
Humans of Campbell River is a collaboration between Destination Campbell River and Bluetree Photography. Showcasing the stories of those who call our coastal community home. Each week we deep dive into a new story and the connections between people and place. This week we’re sharing the story of Leslie Assu and her journey to starting Standing Spruce Farm + Apocathery.
My name is Lesley Assu. I am Taaskiinguungjaats ( The singing sands woman ) of the Naasa’agas Xaida gaay Clan of Skidegate, Haida Gwaii and Au’maqwa of the Ligwilda’xw people of Cape Mudge.
I own and operate the Standing Spruce Apothecary with my husband Jamie and our two children. Standing Spruce is a small homestead located on the traditional territory of the We Wai Kai Nation. In this beautiful place, we can provide all our traditional remedies and self-care, as well as ethically raised Heritage Cattle and poultry for our family and customers.
I grew up in these territories, as a kid we spent many days in the forests harvesting berries and tadpoles, as well as by the creeks collecting pussy willows and herbs.
During the summers, we lived with our family in Skidegate; practicing and learning our culture, unconditional love, and our cultural values. The bulk of my knowledge and connection came from these places of love and magic.
It was an environment where healers of all kinds were the norm, where traditional foods as medicine were a staple in my Aunty’s and Uncle’s homes.
I was raised from a place where the spiritual aspect of healing was as important as the medicine itself, whether it be traditional medicine or prescribed; The belief that our wellbeing is directly associated with the land’s wellbeing and that most of our healing can be done by asking the plants and spirits for their help is paramount.
From a young age, my understanding of our surroundings was deeply rooted in the unseen world; touch healing, dreaming and plant medicines.
My understanding revolved around spirits, our ancestors, the roots of the forest, and the magic that happens there.
The light coming through the trees at sunset,
The life in a single dandelion seed,
The love of our ancestors,
and the gifts that come from the earth we inhabit and all the land has to teach us.
In my world, I was blessed with many powerful women and healers: My aunty Milly Jones the touch healer, and my adoptive mother Eva dick, who always encouraged me and led the way in keeping our traditions alive.
These women gave me the confidence to learn and grow in this field. Nurturing people in need, Tending our animals, stumbling along yarrow and lungwort to save for scrapes and coughs, and gathering willow bark to ease headaches.
I’ve learned that humbly living in a world that asks so much of us every day, I needed to make it my work to share the value of our plants, medicines and all their capabilities; maintaining hope that these teachings are here for my children and any children who come after us.
With my husband by my side, we bought a small farm where we began our journey in ethical farming. Protected vegetable and medicinal gardens were erected with an unstructured free-range approach in mind. Native plants like nettles and horsetail grow alongside squash and beans. Lavender and rosemary, by wild Nootka roses used for sore eyes and pregnancy teas, and huckleberries alongside goldenrod. In this way we allow the land to provide us and show us what we don’t know we may need.
Standing Spruce is the result of years of using my traditional knowledge to develop products that ease our ailments and provide skincare to my family that won’t cause reactions. Teaching my children the value of plants and medicines just as I had been taught. Luckily for us, our property had been left alone for years, providing the opportunity for native plant species to resurge and take over the land. Here and in our nearby territories, we’re able to harvest 90% of our medicinal plants for Standing Spruce teas, salves, and cultural uses.
Sustainability for us has always been one of our most valued ideals. Care for the land and trees, having awareness about where our food comes from were taught to us from a young age. Growing up largely on fishing boats, I understood the sea provided for us, our diet was filled by harvested shellfish, salmon, and halibut.
Once we had children, fishing had to be put aside; this was a sensitive time, knowing I had to find a new way to provide for my family, and for my children. We quickly recognized a need in our community for healthier ethical options like small-batch poultry, beef, pork and eggs.
It was important to us to try to forge a connection with the land, to fill the place of the ocean; I feel we’ve done that here at Standing Spruce, and with this farm, we are passing our knowledge onto our children and providing them with the opportunity to create connections just as we have.