Humans of Campbell River: Sarah Kehler

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 Sarah Kehler. 

My name is Sarah Kehler and this is my story.

My dad recently told me a story about when I was 4 or 5 years old. He said he remembers watching me watch a whole colony of ants go by. I didn’t move for an hour, I just watched. I’ve always been fascinated by nature, perfect complex systems held in a balance. My whole life I have had a love for wild places.

I grew up in the foothills outside of Hinton, Alberta. My parents bought 10 acres of raw land 30 kilometers outside of town in a small hamlet of houses called Obed. For the first few years of my life, we lived in a small camper for the summers while my parents built our log house from the bottom up. I’m sure I was of little help but I know I was soaking in every ounce of their drive and dedication to building our home.

When I was around three we moved in. My backyard was filled with wild birds my mom would feed religiously, huge gardens of both food and flowers, firewood stores that were meticulously managed by my dad and beyond our property we had miles and miles of uninterrupted forest. The biggest gift I was given was time – I was absolutely free to spend my days amongst the trees, watching clouds pass and star filled skies come into view at night. It was absolute magic. I was an animal lover and magnet for furry creatures. Happiest if I had a dog to walk, a cat to dress up or a bunny to collect treats for.

Sarah Kehler

My mom was a natural gardener. Her green thumb seemed to come to her effortlessly. Even with a limited growing season in the foothills of AB she managed to pull off some amazing crops of potatoes for cold storage, raspberries for the very best jam and flowers. Her flowers were her passion. Every corner of our property was overflowing with life. My mom would work her magic in the kitchen and garden as the seasons came and went. My sister and I had one of those childhoods that would be hard to match. Truly wild.
I wish I had more pictures of her to share of her in her element, but she was not often found in front of the camera. Always behind the scenes baking, knitting, canning, and creating. The smell of dill pickles being made will still bring me right back to those late summer days after a good haul brought home from the farmers market.

Sarah Kehler

I met Jon shortly after graduating high-school. He went on to NAIT to become a heavy duty mechanic and I studied Environmental Stewardship at Olds College. For two years we’d spend every weekend driving for hours toward each other in the world’s worst winter road conditions, and it was completely worth it. I worked summers with the Hinton parks and recreation and then after graduating from college I eventually moved into a position in the agriculture department for Yellowhead County. In the winters I ran workshops for producers, organized invasive plant programs and sat on the boards of different watershed groups. In the summer I wrangled summer staff. It was a job that should have been a perfect fit but the more time I spent in a regular working position the more it left me wanting for more.

Life was good. Jon and I both had successful careers, our first home was built on our acreage, and we had collected a couple of rescue dogs. In 2008 our world was turned upside down when I lost my mom to a battle with cancer. I was 23 and had lost my best friend and biggest support. All the well laid plans for my life seemed to unravel in the following months and years. The way I thought things would effortlessly play out in life didn’t and couldn’t ever come to be. I was 23 and completely lost.

Jon and I married in 2009. Still quite deep in grief but we knew it was time to start living. We have never been the types to sit still for too long, always working, moving toward goals, learning, and building. So getting married was a big check for us.

Sarah Kehler

Things seemed to be getting back on track and we were inching toward the thoughts of starting a family. I have a complicated history of auto immune conditions – a rare blood clotting disorder that was triggered in my teens and shortly after being married I had a very close call while travelling through Alaska and was diagnosed with Lupus. It was a lot.

It took a little while to find a team of doctors that would take me on as a patient but eventually, we had care we could trust and jumped in with two feet. And in January of 2012 we had our first son Rory who came early at 32 weeks. I developed HELLP Syndrome, but he was healthy and happy. We spent three weeks in the NICU in Edmonton, our lives were forever changed. Motherhood has been incredibly healing for me. All the grief I was buried in seemed to melt away. In June of 2013 we welcomed our second son Callum at 35 weeks, a shorter ten day stay at the NICU and a quicker recovery for me. We were blessed to have them both earth side. Our family was whole.
There was never a question that I would be a stay-at-home mom. I’m not even sure we talked about it; it just was. We started dreaming about the idea of moving to Vancouver Island after visiting family in the Saratoga Beach area and falling in love with the oceans, climate, and farming community around Black Creek. Making a big move from Alberta to Vancouver Island felt like a new fresh start after a rollercoaster five years. A way to write a new story.

We purchased our 20 acres farm in downtown Black Creek in 2013 and officially made the move in the spring of 2014. Kehler Vegetable Company opened in the spring of 2015 with the first small flock of laying hens, a couple acres of vegetables and new berry plantings.

Sarah Kehler

I didn’t know that this is what I wanted the farm to be until I started doing it. I had ideas about being able to work from home and along side our small boys, I started showing up and letting the farm evolve into what it is today. Like it was supposed to happen this way and I was pulled into it. The farm became an undeniable thing – like how can we not do this? All the skills I had collected through my childhood, college years and odd jobs added up to this thing that is working out.

We immediately felt welcomed by the farming community here and our customers who have supported us since day one. Each year things change, plans fall apart, weather, failed crops, disease, and our own passions flex. And that’s the most beautiful thing about the farm. There is always next year.
One thing looking back now that I never anticipated as an outcome of the farm is our health. Sure, we thought we would grow our own food and it would be magic, but truly learning how to fuel our bodies and showing our boys how food is created, raised, and stored. Real whole food from real farms. After my struggles with autoimmune disease, I can finally say that I trust my body again. Food is medicine. Sun in medicine. This life we have build saved my spirit and my body.

Sarah Kehler

Having a farm and love of travel don’t usually go hand in hand. We make space in our lives to get out there. Always game for long road trips down into the dessert after the harvest season is done, multi-night mountain summits on the weekends, or following a BMX race circuit for the boys to compete in. So many of our rough patches and low lows have offered us clear perspective that time is passing – and quickly! We make time for beautiful places, showing our boys around this lovely world is a tremendous gift.

Once we are out on the road or trails the dust seems to settle around us and we just sit in nature, take a few photos to remember where we have been and get back to being patient with ourselves and with each other. Showing the boys around this beautiful world is what keeps me passionate and inspired. We live seasonally. Ridiculously busy summers give way to slower falls and the deep rest of winter. Spring buzzes in our ears and we complete the cycle again. I am grateful that what we have gone through has brought us here.

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