First Light Farm: How Pro Skier Chris Rubens Made The Most of a Global Pandemic

They don’t call it First Light Farm for nothin’.
words :: Ben Osborne
photos :: Chris Rubens

So….ski season ended kind of abruptly. Tell us how it all played out for you when COVID started to spread across the world.

March seems like years ago now! Mid-March is when COVID got real in Canada and my last day of skiing was March 18. I was on the start of a ski trip in the Rockies. We were meant to travel around the Rockies for two weeks, filming and shooting an episode with Forecast magazine and TSN. The day we drove out was the day that things got serious. Whistler had shutdown, and we knew our trip would enviably get shut down, since we were already out there we went up for the last day that Sunshine was open. It was a beautiful day and it was really nice to get away from the devices and news for a few hours. The next day we packed up and headed home.

What was the scene like in Revelstoke? Were people still skiing? It’s such a small town, were things status quo or did they change a ton?

The scene in Revelstoke was similar to most mountain towns I think. Some folks took it super serious others were stoked to have time off and go play in the mountains with nobody around. I would say that the majority of my friends took everything seriously and didn’t go skiing, mainly worked on house renovations they had been putting off for years or other projects we now had time for. Greg Hill is a really good buddy and my girlfriend’s half-brother so we kinda started a pod with them early on. We were all on the same page, not sure what was happening in the world and knew we would all be happy in a few months if we started growing food.

“When COVID first hit my first thought wasn’t about investments(probably because I don’t have any) or money that I had not made—for me it was instantly about food security.”

We then came up with the idea of building some Gothic Arch greenhouses, this was a great COVID project, few tricky problems to figure out but once we had the jig built, anyone could come and build one. We offered it out the community and a bunch of people came over and built them. It was cool to see these popping up around town.  As time progressed things organically started becoming more and more normal, slowly integrating with more people, business opening up, now it seems like it is more or less back to normal minus the foreign tourists.

You started a farm! Was that pre-meditated, or totally spontaneous? Tell us a bit about that.

My girlfriend Jesse and I have been talking about starting a farm since we got together. She has worked on farms before and has known that is what she wants to do with her life. For myself, it has been more of a progression that stems a lot from working on curbing my carbon footprint and living more sustainably. When COVID first hit my first thought wasn’t about investments(probably because I don’t have any) or money that I had not made, for me it was instantly about food security.

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Food security isn’t just a third world problem—it’s an issue in Ruben’s backyard, and he wants to help fix it.

We spent the first month working on a community farm idea, which is still in the works but turned into a bigger project. At that point we had 200 some odd tomatoes that we had been growing, a 60’ greenhouse and a walk-behind tractor, we were committed to starting farming. We went searching for some land to use and managed to find two plots that the owners graciously let us grow on.

I saw you posted about the Revelstoke grocery store being out of greens after the highway was only closed for 24 hours. That plays in the whole ‘food security debate”—tell us a bit about your relationship with food and how it has evolved throughout this whole experience.

So our grocery store in town only has fresh produce for about a day in half. This happens when we get big snowstorms in the winter and the road shuts down, it normally happens a few times a winter. I think a lot of people my self included felt incredibly lucky/privileged to live in a small mountain town during this pandemic. Our lives really didn’t change a whole lot and it is a much easier situation to navigate being around fewer people with lots of open spaces.

But we are incredibly vulnerable and rely on the food system delivering us food. COVID has exposed much of the fragility of that system with foreign workers having a hard time crossing borders or living in such despicable conditions that COVID has taken a toll on them.

Ruben’s partner, Jesse, works the earth at First Light Farm.

To me, it really highlighted wanting to rely less on the food system and start growing food closer to home. Here are some numbers for Revelstoke (I would imagine most mountain towns are similar or smaller) 1.6% is uber local(16km), 1.8%is local (the valley), 5.8% is regionally local (250km). So while I am grateful of all the amazing things that living in a mountain town like Revelstoke brings I think it is important to understand and try and improve its weaknesses too.

What was the biggest unexpected hurdle of starting up the farm?

The reason why we have not started a farm until this moment is because of the land. We were very hesitant to lease land, you put so much effort, money and time into breaking the land, amending the soil and then at some point you have to walk away from it and start all over.

“I think that element of farming is kinda like mountains, there always something changing or going wrong, you need to have the ability problem solve and adapt.”

We are both very active outdoor people so we want to live in a town like Revelstoke but the land prices are basically unattainable especially if your business idea is to farm, the profits are slim. So we are already looking till next year, we want to expand and grow our business so we are on the hunt to figure out a solution for finding land.

Other than land there are lots of challenges with farming. We have already had a virus that spread to our tomato plants, we had to throw two hundred tomatoes plants away just when they were ready to go in the group. But I think that element of farming is kinda like mountains, there always something changing or going wrong, you need to have the ability problem solve and adapt.

Anything exciting planned for the rest of summer? Tending crops and riding bikes?

Hahaha…well right now farming seems to be a 12 hr a day 7 days a week job so we are feeling pretty fortunate when we can sneak out for a bike ride. We are coming into harvest season so I don’t anticipate getting less busy. But we are stoked, we have learnt a LOT, are still learning every day and it is clear this is what we want to do without lives. That and we are hoping for a surf trip on the island in the fall, that is our kinda holy grail at the end of the summer.

Thanks for chatting Chris, and best of luck with the farm! I hope you can help feed the hungry mouths in Revelstoke for many years to come.