Duck Creek Farm was founded by John Wilcox in 1990 and is gratefully succeeded by his loving partner, Sue Earle, and her two children, Eland and Ella Bronstein.
November 9, 1941 – June 15, 2012
John Wilcox, farmbudsman, engaged citizen, was born in Windsor, Ontario, and raised by his grandparents on their six generation family farm at Woodslee, which also had a Duck Creek running through it. He graduated in Agriculture at Ridgetown in 1961 and volunteered in a Ghandian Village Development in rural India. Being the first agricultural volunteer, he became a founding member of Canadian Overseas Volunteers (now CUSO-VSO) Back in Ontario he wrote farm news for the Department of Agriculture. He ‘emigrated’ to BC in 1964 and worked for 4 years in Operations, Canada Land Inventory in Land Use Planning with the BC government in Victoria. He created a map by hand of East Kootenay area by land use.
He moved to Salt Spring Island in 1973 to fulfill a lifelong dream to bring 25 acres of farmland into production, at the time also working on coastal tugs. Finding he could not afford to farm, he returned to India in 1976, via Central Asia. He spent 26 years at sea, on tugboats and Coast Guard, to be able to afford to farm. He bought Duck Creek Farm in 1990, and developed it from an overgrazed property, as well as designing and building the house, which looks like it’s been here almost a century.
He founded and served on many community agriculture groups, including the Salt Spring Farmers’ Institute (1991 -95 Rep), Island Natural Growers (co founded 1995, served until his passing), District ‘A’ Farmers’ Institute Advisory Board (1993 -1996), director of BC Federation of Agriculture (1993 -1996), founding secretary of the FARM Community Council (1996, before email, when his phone bills were $600 month!), founding director of Investment Agriculture Foundation (1996), founding director of B.C. Agriculture Council (1997), Chair of District ‘A’ Farmers’ Institute (2003 -2007) and he was trying to create a National Farmers Union island chapter when he died. For many years, John wrote a monthly column called Barn Side (BS) for Country Life in BC, where he never held back from stating what he thought,and urging readers to look deeper at the politics of food systems.
John is also known as Johnny Canuck, for his anti Free Trade mission in 1988, when he drove a 1941 Chevy, with a maple leaf painted on it, across Canada.
John was married to Judith Stuart in Victoria, and they have a daughter Lisa. Married to Lynda Wilcox, he fathered Samantha and Emma, and was stepfather to Lynda’s son Dan. Sue Earle and John met in 2002, and had ten years on the farm together.
This was written by Trent Hodges, a new apprentice, after four days on the farm, and about a week before John died.
There is a great Wendell Berry poem that talks about teachers and learners. He asserts, in beautiful prose, we encounter teachers and mentors everywhere; we often just aren’t ready to accept their wisdom or are too impatient to see them. He says that these teachers come into our lives at different times and usually at just the tight time, when we need guidance and direction.
After spending not quite a week on Duck Creek farm on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, I have been blessed to see a teacher. His name is John Wilcox. He is a farmer in the true sense of the word. He is not someone who just produces food for his income; John is a man of the land. He has invested his entire life with passionate intensity in the gentle relationship of man and soil. His family heritage includes five generations of Canadian farmers who have passed to him their love and knowledge of the land, years of lessons learned and wisdom attained. Looking through John’s office, plaques and newspaper clippings line the wall. Each tells a story of past and present groups he has been involved with, awards won for his efforts in the name of farmers, ribbons for best produce at the market, news stories. It becomes quite clear after seeing this room that John is not just a farmer, he is the embodiment of a vision for farming. Like a seed sprouting from good soil he is the transformation and transcendence of man to ideal.
We pass through the machine shop. There are tools and equipment scattered everywhere. The smell of rust and gasoline is strong but pleasant. It seems to tell a story – one of hard work and failure and success and love. John, now 70, leads me into the room to look to look for the tiller. It is my second day on the farm and there are so many questions in my head I seem to lose track of them as they arise. Just as I mouth my next query, John shouts “there she is!” the tiller comes into view. “Now this is a machine, got her for 150 bucks at a garage sale, can you believe that?!” His excitement is real and infectious. I want to exude the same energy and emotions, but I don’t know what the true value of this equipment is. I, however, act astounded as to not look like a total rookie. John carefully teaches me how to start the machine and how to till. He tells me to let the machine do its thing and that my only role is to guide it. To not push too hard or force it, but to work with the machine in balance. His explanation is very unclear and reminds me of a mind twisting zen poem. With great trepidation I pull the knobs and levers and walk the machine down a bed of cloddy, chunky soil. The teeth of the tiller dig into the ground as I try and keep a straight line to not run into the newly sprouted potatoes inches to the right of the masticating metal teeth. I struggle for the first couple of lines, but then find rhythm and learn to relax my grip on the machine and feel the dirt.
After lunch, John, his partner Sue, the other farmhand Anna and I sit around with happy dull eyes. The warm food lays in the hammock of our bellies and we enjoy the fleeting blessed moments. I ask John when we are going to seed the beets, beans and corn. He turns his gaze towards me and tells me he doesn’t know. He explains that farming is best based on intuition. That the weather and the land will decide for us, that it is not a decision for us to make. I happily take this lesson from the teacher and am quiet.
This poem was written by Ella Bronstein, John’s stepdaughter, on the evening of his passing.
emptiness and vulnerability,
the feeling of death
the quiet room sits waiting,
full of sadness and regret
how many bodies have been wheeled though
how many lives brought to a close?
that poignant air. heavy with the spirit
lies thick above your resting head
the smell that lingers on you,
your copper band and powerful fists
the life force that you were still swirled in the air,
bringing to mind the twinkle in your eye,
your gruff hugs and authenticity
your kindness and integrity
Today a soldier fell –
a fighter for the free people –
standing tall at battle’s edge,
an arrow shot him down.
His battle cry still resonates
Through the ashen air and and torn trunks
It pleas to us
“lest we forget”
but how to forget when your presence is on everything I see?
your touch evident in the blooming flowers and soft chair.
in the closed doors and bird cries echo.
Such vulnerability in the place I call home
realized with a sense of pride the way we all stood like eagles,
brushed by your sacred chieftain wings,
lighting us and igniting a fire –
a desire and a hunger for life
you lived it, breathed it everyday
walked the walk and talked the talk,
well, screamed it anyway
just a man with a heart of gold and not enough time.
standing in the picket line attempting to explain
the simple way it was supposed to be
not asking for recognition,
just a friend to walk beside
pull some weeds and share a laugh
to see that fire slowing,
the ember dying
you were a hurricane force, a tidal wave –
not a fading ember
to see you age would have wrecked the legend
Johnny Canuck – cowboy, farmer, renegade
you are who little boys want to grow up to be,
you are who people die following
you are a spark plug, an enigma
you are ours and we love you
come back and never leave
send us the signs
Lord knows we’ll be praying for something good
to happen up there
and maybe it will trickle down to us
burning the world into saving ourselves
the time is now the tides are shifting
you are the change wake up
Ah but I’ll miss your smile.
Reflections from his Beloved, Sue.
Pathfinder, country person and citizen.
Artist, steward, defender of land, community and country.
Dancer, sage, friend.
Founding father of many farm organizations,
and source of inspiration for many.
Passionate lover of life, gentleman and clown.
John Daniel Wilcox’s legacy is vast and deep and bright.
He devoted his life to service to his country,
countless volunteer hours doing his duty
as citizen and organic farmer to create a vision that sustains all life.
He always led by example, by his good sense of what was right and
by showing what hard work and hard play gave to make a man shine.
And shine he did!
His spirit lives on, strong on Duck Creek Farm.
Surviving him are his brother Jim Wilcox, daughter Lisa Wilcox, first wife Judith Stuart, daughters Samantha Wilcox and Emma Rubatscher (Jon), second wife Lynda Wilcox, stepson Dan Brooke (Erica), granddaughter Megan Brooke, partner Sue Earle, stepson Eland Bronstein and stepdaughter Ella Bronstein.
Sue and John spent 10 loving years together and helped to co-create the oasis known as Duck Creek Farm. He is missed everyday and felt in the whispers of the wind. If you have stories or pictures of John or the farm, comment below–we’d love to hear them!