Shortly after I started this blog I began writing about chicken keepers in a series called ‘Having Chickens Is A Great Way To Meet Your Neighbours’. At first it was pretty easy to interview my friends or folks that I knew who had chickens. By the second year, after having done 34 profiles, in my small island community of Gabriola (pop. 4400) my pool started to run dry so I would intermittently post on our local Facebook community bulletin boards trying to connect with new people. Covid 19 has been a catalyst for many to get chickens and, for me, it’s a whole new source to mine. Sara responded to one of my posts saying she was interested in participating.
Within minutes of meeting Sara and husband Gerald he turned the tables and starting interviewing me: what was my blog about and what was the intent of my interview. They knew I had chickens, but not much more and I didn’t know anything about them.
I immediately picked up on Sara’s Israeli accent and asked about her life there. Her parents were Polish and Lithuanian Holocaust survivors who met in a refugee camp and moved to Israel after the war. They settled in a tiny farming village of about a hundred families where they had chickens, turkeys, cows, and grew vegetables and citrus fruits.
Gerald was born on the west coast of Canada and in 1970 embarked on what was to become twelve years of travelling the globe. In 1975, he and a group of friends wanted to take advantage of Australia’s offer to open immigration to citizens of Commonwealth countries so they headed there. Three years later he became a citizen.
In 1981, Gerald went to Israel for the second time. He returned via ship from Greece and traveled by bicycle to the same kibbutz he’d previously lived on and met Sara on a side trip to Jerusalem, where she lived at the time.
When his traveling days had come to an end he headed back to visit family. Once home, he headed out to Alberta where he got a job with Canada Post as a mail carrier. His friendship with Sara turned into three years of letter writing and they decided to meet again to see if their relationship had a future. He was supposed to travel to Israel – Sara says he got cold feet, Gerald says he’d just started a new job – but he sent her a package of photos and a long letter which convinced her to join him in Canada. The night she arrived it was blowing snow, reminding her of sand storms in the desert. Gerald converted to Judaism and later they married in a Jewish ceremony.
Sara had studied graphic design after her two years of mandatory military service in Israel and worked as a graphic designer in Canada. She wasn’t keen on working for someone else and stumbled into a new opportunity. After visiting a friend who had a stall at a local farmer’s market, she asked if she could sell her homemade hummus there. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough room to share so she got her own table. On the first day, hauling her kids’ wagon half-full of packaged hummus, she sold out in thirty minutes, and quickly became a market fixture. What started as a small sideline from her kitchen morphed into building a commercial kitchen in their basement. When the business outgrew their home they opened The Happy Camel, which was named in Edmonton’s list of top 100 food products.
The bakery included a special oven Sara imported from Israel for making pita bread. For years, she made Mediterranean salads, dips and pita and sold them at five area farmer’s markets, and in hotels, restaurants and bars. Gerald, and later their sons, Daniel and Adam, helped with deliveries and sales.
A decade ago they came out to Gabriola on vacation. The couple were already familiar with the island: 25 years ago a friend loaned them their cottage for a week, and later they came to visit when Adam had attended Camp Miriam. Their long-term plan was to retire on the west coast, but Gerald accelerated the timeline. Unbeknownst to Sara, he arranged with a realtor to show them various properties for sale. By the end of their week’s holiday they had purchased a ½ acre lot with plans to build in the future.
By 2016 they felt burned out by the success of their business. After thirty years in Edmonton, the couple were empty-nesters: Daniel was living in Boston, having graduated with an MBA in Non-Profit Management and an MA in Jewish Professional Leadership, while Adam has a degree in Arts and Cultural Management.
They pulled up stakes just before the financial crisis in Alberta, sold their house and business of 18 years and Gerald retired as a postie after 35 years of service. For three years the couple lived in a fifth wheel while they built the house they designed.
Their home is a one-level, open plan with great views of the garden and a chef’s kitchen. There’s a bank of opening windows above the run of counters which is ideal for Sara, who still enjoys cooking.
Gerald wanted their property to reflect the places where they’ve lived: once you close the garden gates you’re greeted by palm trees, jasmine and bamboo and loads of fruit trees – apple, plum, nectarine, pear, peach, kiwi, fig, olive, grapes and cherries.
Two years ago, he embarked on building a coop. Before it was finished, Gerald fell off a ladder and damaged his lower back and leg. His recovery was slow, so they hired someone to complete the job. The coop became larger and fancier than originally planned and along the way it morphed into Sara’s studio where she does glass-on-glass mosaics.
Once recovered, Gerald built a more modest 4’x 8’x 8’ secure coop: he’s put sheet metal on the floor and on the bottom two feet of the walls for ease of cleaning, insulated the walls and ceiling, installed hardiboard on the underside, exterior nest boxes and a glass/screen door for light and ventilation.
They were lucky to have picked up a free flock of seven heritage birds from folks who were moving off island. Two were lost to predators, but they still have five of the originals: Buff Laced Polish, Silver Laced Wyandotte and Speckled Sussex. The hens have ½ acre to free-range on, which is large enough to prevent them from damaging the gardens. As we toured around their lot I was surprised that their birds were so docile and were totally at home walking around with a stranger. Most birds, even my own, aren’t comfortable with folks they don’t recognize.
When I left, Sara gave me a jar of her hummus to sample. It’s different than what I’m used to, but equally good. I asked how she got the consistency so smooth – dried chick peas are soaked, cooked and then pureed in an industrial blender. A couple of week later, I dropped by to return her jar and give their birds some produce from our local food recovery program.
As I arrived, a young man was unloading his vehicle in the driveway. I assumed, rightly, that he was Adam, their younger son. His goal had been to move to Gabriola with the intention of his using his degree to get involved in the administrative side of the arts scene here. That seemed like a good plan, given that we are dubbed the ‘Isle of the Arts’. Of course, Covid 19 changed all that, but he relocated anyway; at first renting a place and now moving back in with Sara and Gerald to save some money. I didn’t ask if he was a fan of the chickens, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they worked their way into his heart as they so easily do.
They seem to have no problems keeping busy. Gerald works on carpentry projects, she does glass work, they garden and once Covid is behind us, Sara has plans to share her Israeli cuisine with new friends from the island. She also hasn’t retired from making hummus: batches are sold regularly from her roadside fridge. (If you’re local contact me and I’ll pass on her info).
Additional photos courtesy of Sara & Gerald.