5 Ways to Evaluate Your Work

Winter sunlight

This winter, Bryan and I have been working on updating our business plan.

It’s easy for us to put this on the back-burner since we spent a lot of time on our original plan and tend to think it was thorough.

But, going through our old one made us realize that we’ve changed, our vision for the farm has changed, and we haven’t always followed through on some of our original ideas. And some of those original ideas were good.

One of them was to evaluate our business using the “Five Filters Analytical Process,” something I learned while at Windhorse Farm.

The 5 Filters are:

  1. Ecological Filter: Are we causing harm to the non-human beings in this place or elsewhere? Is there tangible enrichment of the lives of other beings?
  2. Social Filter: Are we contributing to community harmony or to its opposites (divisiveness, animosity, territoriality)?
  3. Economics Filter: Are we helping to build economic stability for our community (human and non-human) or does our business pose undue hardships or financial risks that are likely to destabilize the local economy? Does our farm reflect ecological economics rather than market economics?
  4. Spiritual Filter: Do we notice an increase in kindness, compassion, and awareness among the humans involved in this farm business? Alternatively, do we see an increase in covetousness, aggression, and ignorance?
  5. Magical Filter: Are we becoming more connected to the peacefulness and energy of the land, experiencing each plant and rock as alive and distinct, or are we becoming isolated, dulled out, and cut off from that “direct knowing” or “non-conceptual” experience of the earth?

Remembering to consider these Filters when evaluating our business as a whole, new tool or infrastructure purchases, new enterprises, and our lifestyle is something that is valuable to us but not always (or often) easy for us to do. I know that at one point, I had written the Filters out and pinned them up on a corkboard. But I stopped noticing it, or the paper got covered with other “to remember” items.

This is one of the benefits of spending time going through each section of our business plan. We didn’t create our business plan for a bank (though we used parts of it when we were applying for our mortgage). We created it for ourselves, to make sure that we were on the track that we wanted to be on. That we were actually creating a farm business with the values and goals and hopes and dreams that feel right to us as we grow and mature.

This reminds me of a quote I was inspired by as a young(er) woman, travelling from farm to farm. It’s from Summer Day by Mary Oliver:

“Doesn’t everything die at last and too soon? Tell me what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.”

Dried Poppy Pod


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Happiest of Holidays!

Bryan and Shannon

We wish you a healthy and happy holiday season…..filled with delicious meals, warm socks, and snowflakes on eyelashes.

Cheers to you and yours,

Bryan & Shannon, your Broadfork Farmers

High Tunnel in the Winter

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Farming Conferences: Part 3

Heart-shaped sorrel leaf

Technically, the Food Secure Canada (FSC) conference isn’t a farming conference. This was a “big picture” conference with more academics and project managers in attendance than farmers. There were no production, marketing, or business sessions as there are in most farming conferences. But there were sessions on policy, the state of agriculture nationally and globally, and food systems issues and success stories.

In the farm business planning course we took before starting Broadfork Farm, Bryan and I learned that Policy Risks are just as important to be aware of and prepare for as Production Risks. And so, we made a commitment to educate ourselves on the policies that could affect us, and work towards changing or shaping those policies wherever and in whatever ways we could. Of course, we don’t have a ton of time to devote to that goal, but activities like attending the FSC conference help move us in the right direction.

Food Secure Canada videotaped some of the sessions. I’m embedding 2 of the videos into this blog post because they reflect some of my highlights. But check out FSC’s website for more.

Ok, so onto some of my highlights:

  • Vandana Shiva. Her talk was part of both the ACORN conference and the kickoff to the FSC conference. As always, she was amazing. So inspirational. And real. And generous. And present. If you don’t know who she is, she is so worth knowing about and having as a hero! Her talk was videotaped and so you can watch it yourself here (the intros are worth watching but if you’re impatient to get to Vandana Shiva, I’d skip to minute 19).

  • New Farmer Roundtable. This was the main reason for my attendance at the FSC conference. As a new farmer, new farmer issues and policy work strike close to home. I’m a committee member of a National New Farmer Coalition (inspired by the National Young Farmers Coalition in the U.S.) and we are currently working on a national new farmer survey that will inform a new farmer policy platform (stay tuned for more details in 2015!). Many of the members of that committee were in attendance and we had the opportunity to get together which was great. A highlight for me was hearing a 10 minute snapshot on the new farmer situation in each region across Canada, in particular, in the Northern Territories, which I rarely hear about!
  • Dawn Morrison, indigenous food sovereignty activist and researcher from BC made a point about thinking in terms of ‘foodlands’ rather than ‘farmlands’ (as food isn’t only farmed, but also hunted and gathered…which requires habitat) and also brought up the point that unused (or underutilized) land is a contentious term….land that we see as unused because it’s not being actively farmed can still be a great and valuable source of food (for both humans and other species). Having as much land as possible under human management isn’t necessarily going to provide more food. I felt incredibly grateful for this viewpoint and it has really stuck with me.
  • Dialogue with Members of Parliament. This included 2 politicians (one NDP and one Liberal….no Conservatives responded to the invitation) and 4 individuals representing different perspectives in the food system. In particular, a highlight for me was seeing my friend Alex Fletcher, young farmer from Wind Whipped Farm in BC and Youth President of the National Farmers Union speak on behalf of new farmers. This talk was videotaped too. Watch it here.

Well, this is the last in the 3 part series on the farming conferences we attended in November 2014 (read Part 1 and Part 2).

I really hope that some of the links we’ve included serve to inspire and/or introduce you to something or someone new to you.

I’m so grateful to have a profession that offers me so many learning opportunities (frequently through making my own mistakes but also so much through the generous knowledge-sharing of others).


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Farming Conferences: Part 2

The Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (or ACORN) holds a conference yearly, moving through locations in NS, NB, and PEI. I think it has become the best farming conference in Canada!

ACORN Conference Program

This year’s conference was the biggest it’s ever been with attendees coming not only from within Atlantic Canada, but all across Canada and the Northeast U.S.

Here are some highlights from this year’s conference (held in Halifax….next year’s will be in PEI). Bryan and I typically attend different sessions and so our highlights are different.

Specialty Crops Stream

Shannon’s Highlights

  • Visiting Off Beat Farm in Cow Bay. This technically happened outside of the ACORN conference but we stayed overnight with farmers Sarah and Jamie right before the conference (since they live pretty darn close to Halifax). We’d never been to their place and were so happy to see them and their farm. Their mushroom production is also really inspiring…perhaps we’ll try growing some mushrooms at some point down the road.
  • Chris Blanchard. I’ve enjoyed articles by Chris in Growing for Market and reading the Fearless Farm Finances book that he contributed to and so was really looking forward to hearing him speak in person. He did not disappoint! All of his sessions were inspiring and useful. I took a ton of notes, especially in his session on Commercial Culinary Herb Production which is something we’re interested in expanding. (Check out this recent blog post he wrote about getting the most out of attending conferences!)
  • Michelle Wolf (formerly known as Michelle Summer Fike) gave a number of marketing oriented sessions. I’d seen her speak at the Farmers’Markets of NS one-day conference held this past summer in Truro. She was an amazing speaker both times and I love absorbing her messages. Every business owner should hear her speak; regardless of the business they’re in!
  • John Bliss and Stacey Brenner from Broadturn Farm in Maine. I’ve been following their blog for years and was super excited that they were speaking at the conference this year. Their ability to manage vegetable and flower farming is a huge inspiration for me. Their session on Flowers and Floristry was the only session in the whole conference that both Bryan and I attended (we typically divide and conquer) which I was so happy about because cut-flowers are a newer enterprise for us and it’s really important that we have a similar vision for the direction the flowers will take us.
  • Seed Growers meeting. This was a meeting for people who have shown an interest in, and commitment to seed production (from beginners to experts). It was essentially a round-table meeting, discussing solutions and challenges in Atlantic Canada’s local seed industry. Bonus: Vandana Shiva shared lunch with us and then answered questions from the group! Check out Bauta’s website for info about the great seed work they’re doing all across the country. And read this interview-style blog post with Steph Hughes, Bauta’s Atlantic Regional Coordinator.

In this picture, I’m sitting on a panel next to Chris Blanchard and Michelle Wolf and we’re listening to Allison Grant from Southfield Organics speak about her approach to pricing.

Pricing Panel

Bryan’s Highlights

  • David Greenberg, from Abundant Acres: It is always enjoyable to see David at the conference and glean some of the information that he and Jen so generously give. His session on Following the Fortier Method was based on his successful experience this past season at their home farm and at Bethany Gardens (the showcase for trying out the Fortier Method). Key points were tighter carrot row spacing (4 or 5 rows in a 30” bed was optimal for yield), and the use of flame weeding following the use of silage tarps for weed control. What’s the Fortier Method? It’s based on the farming practices of Jean-Martin Fortier, farmer at Les Jardins de la Grelinette in QC, and author of The Market Gardener (read Shannon’s review of the book here).
  • Tim Livingstone, from Strawberry Hill Farm: Season Extension and Equipping for Efficiency. I’m always interested to hear Tim talk and see what new information I can gather from his vast knowledge of organic vegetable production. Standouts from his Efficiency session included the use of a barrel washer for salad mixes and baby greens as well as using clear Bio360 for early cole crops to give them a better boost in spring when soil biota are still waking up. It was impressive to see the greens that they produce throughout the winter in their corner of New Brunswick with the use of minimally heated greenhouse structures.
  • Lenny Levine: Growing Great Garlic. It was amazing to hear the process and procedures of garlic growing from someone who has focused on this one crop for 3 decades. Lenny is meticulous and methodical in his approach to garlic and the results show that what he is doing works. Use of green manures, and vigilance for disease control during all stages of growth, harvest, curing, and planting stock selection gives Mr. Levine a great looking crop (8000 bulbs averaging 55-60 grams).
  • Rosalie Madden/Derek Lynch: Session on Green Manures. Rosalie is a Masters student at DAL AC who shared some preliminary findings from her research on growing cover crops to supply Nitrogen to subsequent crops. I look forward to hearing the results from her research. Derek Lynch presented some really great big picture aspects to sustainability in farming. I was interested to hear him say that research has shown soil with lower phosphorus levels in organic systems can perform just as well as high phosphorus levels in conventional systems. Both of these research topics are particularly important as providing these macro-nutrients in a smarter way is and will be necessary to produce good food now and in years to come.

ACORN Conference Stream

Even though the ACORN conference is geared towards organic farmers, there are often some sessions or sometimes even full-day or half-day streams for organic eaters. So, whether you are a farmer, aspiring farmer or an organic eater, I encourage you to explore the ACORN website where you’ll find notes from conference sessions (throughout the years) and information about upcoming events (also keep in touch with ACORN by following them on facebook and twitter).


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Farming Conferences Part 1

During the 2nd weekend of November, I (Shannon) was in Ste. Anne de Bellevue (near Montreal), QC for the Eastern Canadian Organic Seed Growers (ECOSGN) conference.

Home for less than a day, we both (Shannon and Bryan) headed to Halifax for the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN) conference and then I stayed on for the Food Secure Canada (FSC) conference (Bryan headed home before this one to keep the cats happy and the house warm….and it just started to snow on his drive home!).

First Snowfall

Attending conferences and workshops are one of the ways we work on our professional development as farmers (which is a big priority for us). They also help us feel connected to the greater community of farmers and food activists which deepens our sense of connection and inspires us to keep the bigger picture of why we decided to become farmers up front in our minds.

I realized this blog post would be too long if I wrote about each of these 3 conferences. So, our next few blog posts will focus on a different conference. Beginning with this one…and the ECOSGN conference.

Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security brochure

This was my first time attending the ECOSGN conference (and only the second ECOSGN conference ever) and I wouldn’t hesitate to go again.

In addition to learning more about producing seed crops, I find that learning about vegetable seed production helps me become a better vegetable farmer in general.

A few highlights:

  • Kim Delaney spoke about Seeds of Transition, a collaborative seed production effort in Ontario with her farm/seed company Hawthorn Farm and 4 market farms. The co-op members share equipment and skills. This group is doing something similar to the goals and aspirations of a new-ish collaboration we’re involved with (called the Cumberland County Ecological Seed Growers Network) and it was great to hear about what they’re doing – definitely a new source of inspiration!
  • Jodi Lew-Smith. The plant breeder at High Mowing Seeds has blown me away every time I’ve heard her speak. She’s incredibly good at converting her knowledge of plant breeding into practical, simpler terms. One thing I learned was how excited High Mowing is to be trying unheated high tunnels for seed production and breeding in the Northeast. But the challenge they recognize is…how to make it profitable? Also, I found out she’s written a novel called The Clever Mill Horse that I’m looking forward to reading.
  • Shoots & Roots Bitters. At the bar, during the banquet and keynote, I went on an ethnobotanical sensory journey! And it was amazing! Check out the website of this very cool company if your interest is piqued…it has tons of great information.
  • Adaptive Seeds. Two young market farmers turned seed farmers/seed company owners. They went on a cool trip around Europe (as Seed Ambassadors) and collected interesting varieties that aren’t currently found in North America. I’ve developed a huge farm crush on these guys since the conference & am really enjoying going through their seed catalogue and website.

Market customers: expect to see some cool new varieties at our market stand next year, grown with seed sourced from these guys!

Adaptive Seeds catalogue

Stay tuned for my upcoming post about the ACORN conference!

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Fields Empty, Hearts Full

Bryan singing into a carrot(?)

We finished our market season on November 1st. We’ll be back at the Dieppe Market in the spring…it’s hard to give an exact date. For the last 2 years, we’ve returned in late April, but we always try to go back as early as possible (the weather, of course, has so much to do with it!).

Thank you to our wonderful customers and to our wonderful fellow market vendors! Your support and friendship inspire us to continue making 20 year goals (and beyond!) for our farming careers. We hope to be growing food for you and seeing your sweet faces into our old age!

November Market Stand

We want to send out a very special thank you to Ginette Goulet, who has been the Dieppe Market manager since we first started but has moved on to other things (that’s her next to Bryan in the picture below). You rocked it as a market manager and will rock it in every endeavour you take on! We can’t wait to see you at the market next season, but as a market-goer rather than manager.

Marche de Dieppe Market

We also really want to thank the restaurants and other local food businesses that we supplied on a regular basis this past season (check out who they are on our To Your Plate page). We know it takes a great commitment on your part to source local, organic produce. It definitely costs more than buying in from California or Mexico. Our goal is to continuously offer you the highest quality, the freshest, most nutritious and delicious vegetables we can while seeking out new and interesting vegetables and herbs so that you can, in turn, delight your customers!

broadfork organic farm plateEnjoying the Broadfork Organic Farm Plate at Tide and Boar Gastropub in Moncton

We encourage all blog readers to support these food businesses and other food businesses that seek out local and organic foods. They are taking an important step in building their local communities, creating a positive food culture, and keeping their local watersheds and soils healthy now and into the future!

Red Earth Kitchen salad

We love and appreciate you all!


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What Do You Do in the Winter?


People ask us that a lot. Prospective farmers ask us. Market customers ask us. Friends and family ask us.

Our winter work looks very different than our spring or summer or fall work but it’s equally as important to the success of our farm.

Our answer: There are many things we do in the winter.

On a very basic level, we keep our house from freezing. Our house is heated only with our wood stove. A few years ago, we had insulation installed into our old farmhouse which has helped a lot. We don’t heat the second floor of our house, where our bedroom is located, instead just relying on mountains of wool blankets from thrift stores. But heating the house still takes vigilance and we don’t leave the house for too long in cold weather because of it. If anyone is remotely interested in hanging out with us on cold days, it’s highly likely that much of that time will be spent in front of our wood stove.

Shovelling snow is of course something we do (in solidarity with all other Canadians).  But, it’s not just our driveway. The snow from the top and sides of the tunnels must be kept clear so the tunnels don’t collapse in on themselves. This means that when the forecast calls for snow, we can’t be too far from the farm.

Dried herbs

We process all the things we’ve dried. Culinary herbs, medicinal herbs, flowers, and seeds that have been dried and then stored in their rougher state (on the stem or in the seed pod) get threshed or ground or, in the case of the flowers, stuck in vases around the house.

A large portion of our winter diet comes from food we’ve frozen, stored, dried, and fermented and there’s almost always a pot of food cooking (or at least water to warm) on our wood stove.

High Tunnel

We try our best to improve our winter growing/overwintering systems. We definitely don’t have this down on our farm yet and every year have failures and (small) successes. But we keep trying and are still very keen.  Before we started Broadfork Farm, Shannon interned with Paul and Sandy Arnold at Pleasant Valley Farm in Argyle, NY to learn about (among many things) winter hoophouse growing. Their knowledge, experience, and innovation continue to inspire us and we hope to one day be even half as good at winter growing as they are. But until then, we muddle our way through winter growing as best we can.

Crop Plan

The largest chunk of our time in the winter is spent planning for the coming season (and longer….5-year, 10 year, and 20 year timelines are re-visited and re-adjusted).

  • First the Crop De-brief from the past season,
  • then Harvest Projections,
  • our immense Crop Plan (a small snippet of it is shown in the photo above…there are many more columns and rows than you can see),
  • and then Seed Orders take up a lot of time.
  • The Budget, Cash Flow, and the rest of the bookeeping and accounting are all done.
  • Researching equipment and tool purchases, infrastructure developments, new crops, or old crops/new techniques….
  • Soil/land/field/building/market stand improvements and projects…..

Professional development is a big priority for us in the winter. Getting together with other farmers, attending farming conferences and workshops, reading books and magazines and research papers, listening to farming podcasts, and attending webinars are all very valuable for us and we place a high value on them.

We also revisit our business plan, make any changes or make sure we’re on track.We Forecast and Backcast. We learn more about business management in general and figure out how we can improve as small business owners/entrepreneurs. This includes trying to improve our website (which we’re being helped with this coming winter after winning this competition from Carts and Tools!)

The winter is also when people sign up for our Market Food Club and we meet with store managers and chefs to plan the coming season with them (see the To Your Plate page for an idea of who these folks are).

We also spend time recuperating from the work of the season. Whether that’s deliciously sleeping in or spending too long cuddling a purring cat or watching “hen TV” or movies we borrow from our local library, the winter feels luxurious compared to the growing season. Our to-do list is just as long but there are less time-sensitive/urgent jobs on it. Most of the deadlines for tasks are just…To-Do in Winter.

And what does January hold? Clean account books. Bare diaries. Three hundred and sixty-five new days, neatly parceled into weeks, months, seasons. A chunk of time, of life, waiting to be filled. One thing is certain. There will be more newness than ever before. All the world over men and women are facing changed values, an altered lay-out of life.

-Phyllis Nicholson (1947)


Photo Credit: All of the pictures in this blog post were taken by Len Wagg for a project by ThinkFarm through Communications Nova Scotia.

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Fall Harvest

Shannon harvesting kohlrabi

Well, the countdown is on, we’ll only be bringing our produce to the Dieppe Market for 4 more weeks (Nov.1st is the last day)!

Deadon cabbage

In previous years, we’ve tried to continue a bit longer, but it gets REALLY cold outside at the market! One year, we brought the most beautiful Easter Egg radishes to market in mid-November and they froze on our stand! We had to compost them. It was really sad.

We decided to focus more on coming back to market earlier rather than continuing on later. Which I think suits our personalities better anyway.

Purple and White Daikon Radishes

Luckily, many of our fall vegetables also store really well at home. If you’ve got any extra space in a basement, gararge, mudroom (see my last year’s blog post about storage conditions), you can store many of our vegetables yourselves.

Pink fingerling potatoes

The picture above shows some of the pink fingerling potatoes we grew for ourselves this year. We don’t grow potatoes in general, but we are into fingerlings and they’re hard to find. They are so cool and delicious though that we will be bringing some to market this week for the pre-Thanksgiving market. This week only! Though, we may start growing more in the future (especially when our dream root cellar project happens).

Broadfork Farm apples

Today, we finally starting making some apple sauce to store in the freezer over the winter (to add to winter breakfast oatmeal!). Our apples aren’t “grocery store” perfect but we think they’re more perfect – because they’re organic, completely unsprayed (no organic sprays even), heritage (the trees are OLD!), and unique to our farm (they’re seedling apple trees…we had them tested at the Kentville Agricultural lab and they told us we could name them!). It’s not easy to find local and organic apples in our region in general and I don’t mind the cosmetic imperfections. We only bring them to market for a VERY LIMITED TIME because it’s a lot of work to harvest and sort them.

The apple sauce we make is only apples (no sweetener at all) and we leave the skins on. So, it’s super easy if any one wants to make their own. Just cut up into pieces and put in a large pot on the stove until they become sauce-y.

Bryan harvesting Jerusalem Artichoke

Here’s Bryan harvesting Jerusalem artichoke. This year, we grew 4 varieties, including one from a chef we worked with who said it was his favourite.

Carrot bunching


And the rainbow carrots! We lay out the different colours on tables in order to ensure that each bunch has a nice rainbow.

Rainbow carrots


The carrot varieties we grow for fall are different then the varieties we grow for the summer so you can expect some new colours (like the red and the dark purple).

Oh, how I love how Brussels sprouts look on the stalk! They also store longer on the stalk. AND you can eat the stalk (see more about that here.)

Brussels sprouts on the stalk




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Mission to Quebec: Grower’s Tour

Robin Fortin speaking to our group

Last week, I (Shannon) spent 4 days either on farms in Quebec or sitting in a van with other farmers on the way to and from Quebec. It was awesome! I went because I love growing as a farmer and one of the best ways to do that is to go and visit other farms (though THE BEST way, I think, is to work while on other farms…but our schedule was too tight for that).

One of the other benefits was to spend time with other farmers from our area. There were 18 of us who went on the “mission.” Most were farmers but there were also farm-support professionals (not sure if that is the right term…but it sounds good) from ACORN and the New Brunswick Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture, and Fisheries who planned the entire thing! They did a great job: we saw a great diversity of farms, the schedule was jam-packed and well scheduled, we slept comfortably, and ate plenty. And, we met other cool farm-support professionals along the way. Quebec agriculture extension folks and researchers, a greenhouse supplier, and staff from Ecocert (an Organic certification body…who we happen to be certified with) all joined and left our trip at different moments along the way, sharing and adding to our experience in a great way!

So, here’s a bit of a recap from my perspective (it’s longer than my usual blog posts but much shorter than all the notes I took!):

Ferme Horticole Jean Yves Gamelin

Our first stop was to Ferme Jean-Yves Gamelin, a 37 hectare fruit and mixed vegetable farm. From this farm, I learned about the popularity of Le Tomate Rose (pink tomatoes). We grow pink tomatoes too and people do love the flavour and the colour but, in Quebec, pink tomatoes seem to be a MUCH BIGGER DEAL. Well, pink tomatoes are some of our personal favourites at the farm, so a takeaway for me was to build that obsession among our customers here too.

I really appreciated hearing about the amount of research and talking to other farmers (ones who were happy and unhappy with their own experiences) the farmer did before selecting the type and brand of high tunnel to put up. It can be easy to buy the cheapest or most convenient items but I think time spent talking to others about a purchase is never wasted.

Ferme des Ormes

We then moved on to Ferme des Ormes which was nearby. They grow between 30-40 hectares of fruit and mixed vegetables and four families (who are all related) live off their farm. They sell to small stores, at markets, and through their on-farm store. Their on-farm store was the coolest one I’ve ever been to! It was in a barn and had fruit and vegetables of course, but also cool products from other local people. They had hand-made rugs and blankets, pies and other baked goods, an assortment of bulk coffee beans, canned goods and other prepared foods, garlic braids……And they had a commercial kitchen inside!

While we were there, we heard about a pepper research project that was happening on 12 farms (including this one) and saw the trials in one of their tunnels. One of the researchers was there and spoke to us about the goals and some of their current findings (the paper will be published in the winter). One of the qualities they seemed to be looking for was blockiness (more square, without a pointy bottom).

Ferme de la Berceuse

The first organic farm of the trip came after lunch: Ferme de la Berceuse, which supplies 250 CSA baskets and sells at farmers’ markets. This year, the farm has 4.9 hectares in vegetables and 3.1 hectares in cover crops.

The farmer, Robin Fortin, placed a high value on employees. He wanted to train people well and pay them well so they would stay. He wanted all of his employees to be part of the decision-making process on the farm so they felt a part of the business. As an example, just that morning, they had had a staff meeting to discuss the upcoming heavy frost and figure out their plans to prepare for it.  Because of his employee philosophy, his labour costs are higher than recommended (he said his accountant freaks out about it!) but it’s something that is important to him and it seems to be a very successful strategy on this farm.

Robin had multi-bay tunnels (which you can see in the picture above) which he said was the best thing that ever happened to them. Putting them up was their biggest step forward in organic production, he said. However he expressed that the biggest challenge was figuring out which varieties to grow. What had worked well for them in the field didn’t necessarily do well in the tunnels.

Le Potager Mont-Rouge

The last stop of the day was also the largest farm on our trip: Le Potager Mont-Rouge, which has 120 hectares in fruit and mixed vegetables. One hundred of those hectares grow a mixture of winter squashes and you can see from one of the pictures above that they have a large washing and packing line for those squashes. One thing that really amazed me about this farm was that they were growing over 50 different varieties of tomatoes, many of which were heirlooms! Out in the field! We went on a nice tractor ride to check out all those tomatoes and just one of the fields of squash (Butternut). I have never before seen such a large farm growing so many of the specialty varieties that we are so into on our small farm.

I liked that they were growing annual rye between their tomato rows. Even though they weren’t an organic farm, they weren’t using any herbicides to kill weeds and the annual rye was to prevent weeds. On our farm, we don’t like weeding the pathways and have been experimenting with living pathways but haven’t used annual rye yet. I’m excited to try it! We were also told that they’ve found that growing rye for no-till planting afterwards works better than any fungicide.


One of the things that we noticed on all the farms we visited was the weed Galinsoga (in front of the butternut squash in the picture above), which so far, has not been an issue for us in most parts of Atlantic Canada (though I saw it in the Annapolis Valley last year). I’m afraid to get it so was glad I was wearing non-farming boots that I washed in very hot water in the Superstore bathroom before coming back home.  Apparently, galinsoga is an indicator of easily accessible nitrogen.

Les Jardins de la Grelinette

The next morning, bright and early, we were off to visit Les Jardins de la Grelinette, a small farm made famous since Jean-Martin wrote a book about their farming practices called The Market Gardener (you can read my review of his book in this blog post). I was super excited to see this farm and I was not disappointed. It was great to see the soil and produce quality, the compactness of the farm, and the toolroom. Les Jardins de la Grelinette is only a 1.5 acre farm, but it has been profitable and rewarding for the farm family. I also love how much the farmers have taken their professional development seriously, through focusing on a specific crop every year and learning how to do it better (with the help of agrologists). This was the farm on this trip that is most similar to our vision for our own farm and I was very happy it was included. Also, Richard from Les Serres Guy Tessier, a season-extension structure company that Bryan has been in touch with was there and it was nice to see their caterpillar tunnels in person.

I also really liked hearing about (and seeing) their use of ramial wood chips which we’ve been excited to try out too. These are woodchips from the small branches of hard wood and they are using them in the pathways between garden beds.

Les Jardins de Tessa

Not too far away, we stopped at Les Jardins de Tessa, a mixed vegetable farm with 400 CSA baskets from 5 hectares of vegetables (also with 5 hectares in green manure, mostly red clover). Frederic, co-owner of the farm with his wife has been a big fan of the Adabio AutoConstruction ideas and book (which includes open-source plans for making your own tractor implements to use on a permanent bed system) from France, something that I’ve read about and been interested in. The implement in the picture above (a “Vibroplanche”) was made in a workshop held in Quebec for growers which one of the staff members at Jardins de Tessa took part in and helped construct! (Etienne Goyer wrote a great article in the June 2014 issue of Growing for Market about this workshop, you have to be a subscriber to read it, but here’s the link anyway.)

I was very impressed with the quality of the crops and the wash station. They have a great “hardening-off” area just outside their greenhouse which can be covered or rolled up completely, depending on the weather.

In addition to the vegetables they grow for their CSA, they grow a larger amount of potatoes and winter squash to sell to other farmers (for their CSAs) and to wholesalers.

Frederic talked about how his customers were crazy for Italian tomatoes (Romas and Plum tomatoes) and he was growing a number of different varieties of these.

Potager Andre Samson

Then we arrived at our very last farm tour of the mission: Potager Andre Samson, a 4 hectare mixed vegetable farm run by a young couple. They operate their organic operation on the family pig farm.

Sylviane talked about some of the crops they grow that differentiate them from other CSAs like strawberries and sweet corn (which many organic farmers don’t grow). They have also planted a mixed orchard and table grapes for this reason.

We learned that, in Quebec, one of the hardest parts of growing sweet corn organically is the Corn Borer and the Corn Earworm is a minimal pest for them. In the Maritimes, it’s the exact opposite, with the Corn Earworm being the major corn pest and the Corn Borer a minimal pest (apparently….I don’t grow sweet corn, and I’m not sure if it’s the same across all of Atlantic Canada).

Because of the big problems they have with the Seed Maggot, they transplant all large-seeded crops (peas, corn, spinach, beets). The only crops they direct-seed are carrots and radishes.

Their soils were rocky but quite fertile. You could really see it in the health of the plants!


Some of the strawberry growers in the group then went on to a strawberry farm, but the majority of us went to sample some local organic wine and then have THE BEST meal of the trip at a trendy spot in Drummondville called Le 200 Brock. I wish I’d taken pictures of our meal. We sat out on the patio where we were toasty under heat lamps (I felt like a young chick in a brooder!) despite the chill in the air.

This mission was a great opportunity for me and I’m so thankful to the organizers and all the farmers who took the time to share with us! I really hope that Bryan and I have the opportunity to go on more learning adventures like this one.

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Our 5 Favourite Market Gardening Tools


This post was inspired by seeing this post from Allsun Farm (in Australia)  and the Farm Start posts from other farmers we really respect and admire. I wanted to just share those links but then thought, what the heck, why don’t we just join in!

1)      Vermont Cart. We use this ALL THE TIME! We love the one we bought at Lee Valley so much. This year, we bought an extra one from Vesey’s (it’s bright red) and, while it’s still useful, it is just slightly less wide, which doesn’t allow us to have our harvest bins side by side in it, which is way less efficient. So, we don’t like using it as much (whichever one of us is slower to grab the Lee Valley one has to use it) and our next one will be another one of these for sure.

Vermont Cart with rhubarb

2)      Bio 360 biodegradable plastic mulch (made with non-GMO corn). We don’t love constantly weeding…and we don’t get paid to do it. We also hate seeing bare soil, especially in the spring when it can rain hard. So, we use Bio 360 for almost all of our transplanted crops. Especially, in year one, converting our hay fields to vegetable fields, it made all the difference in being able to work full-time on our farm (and not just weeding) without any other source of income and pay the bills. We buy it from Dubois.

Parsley on Bio 360

3)      Jang Seeder. Since we’ve gotten the Jang, we haven’t done any thinning of plants. Not to say it’s the perfect seeder (we still get frustrated with the results of seeding beets), but we’re very happy with it. The Earthway seeder still gets used for peas and beans because it does a great job with that but the Jang is responsible for the rest on our farm.

Jang seeder

4)      Winstrip trays. It is gross to us to have to throw out broken flimsy plastic seed trays and then just buy new ones that we know will have the same fate. We expect our Winstrip trays to last our lifetime and we’re very happy with the health of the resulting seedlings. To us, they’re a good replacement for soil blocks also (with their side slits and large bottom hole for air pruning as well as the nice layout for air circulation up top), since we found transplanting with soil blocks less enjoyable than with plugs. These are not easy to buy…you have to wait until the order is large enough to justify making a new batch….could be a few years even for the size plug trays you want.

Winstrip Trays

5)      CoolBot. What would we do without you, little CoolBot? We would spend a lot more money to get a good storage temperature for our crops. Also, I like the fact that it dries out the air. All of our bins of vegetables are kept covered with lids anyway and I think it’s better for my flower crops that the air is cold but not humid. We bought ours from Store It Cold.



If you want to share your Top 5 tools, I’d love to read them in the Comments below. We’re always on the look-out for new tools to increase efficiency and overall enjoyment!

Hand hoe

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