The Eastern Alternative

Warren Robertson

Last month, an awesome guy named Warren came out to the farm to interview us and take shots for this really cool TV show he makes called The Eastern Alternative.

The show is all about people living in Atlantic Canada and why they stay here rather than leave. In Warren’s own words,

“Every other day you hear or read another depressing article about the Atlantic Provinces and the out migration of people in search of economic opportunity. Well, this show’s purpose is to tell the stories of the people that are here, why they’re here and what they are doing to make it work.

It is my belief that the people that are here, are here for good reason. These shows are my efforts to try and change the conversation and celebrate what these great provinces have to offer.”

Well, the episode is now out and Warren did a great job making our farm look good and editing out any stammers or stumbles as we rambled on about our farm.

I always love seeing shots from above and Warren took some great ones with the drone he brought along. You can also see me herding our ducks!

Check it out by clicking here. And then watch all the other great shows he’s made!

And here is a beautiful shot of our greenhouse that Warren took and posted on The Eastern Alternative facebook page, which I highly recommend you follow to keep up to date on each new episode as it comes out.

greenhouse

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A Farmer’s Manifesto

spider web

When I wake up in the morning, the very first thought in my mind is whether I’ll be planting, weeding or harvesting today (or all three!).Though if it’s a market day, I’ll be up at 3:30 am and am unlikely to have formulated any thoughts yet.

And after that – I wonder what kind of breakfast I’ll find on the farm at that time of year…farm-fresh eggs, wild blackberries, August apples, or a sweet and creamy winter squash.

My heart glows when I pull a perfect, long, straight carrot out of the ground. My heart breaks when an entire bed of sweet Hakurei salad turnips are unsaleable due to insect damage (insects need to eat too, I guess).

carrot harvest

My customers are my seasonal-eating inspiration. More than anything else, I care about sharing with them the most delicious, nutritious, and delightful vegetables I can grow so they can prepare and relish their own local, organic gourmet meals (with a beautiful flower bouquet cut from our farm as their centrepiece!).

In my world of small-scale organic farming, tired muscles, dirty fingernails, and abundant earthworms are an absolute necessity.

garden hoe

Pausing in the midst of a hot day to consume a fresh watermelon is always a fabulous idea.

Moncton watermelon

Growing bigger is overrated and mono-cropping is a definite NO.

Fantasizing about lounging in front of our wood-stove in the winter with a pile of seed catalogues is totally reasonable.

Striving to improve our soil’s health each year is a must.

River Hebert, NS

But at the end of the day, watching the sun set with my partner and co-farmer, listening to the sounds of the birds and the bees who happily co-exist on our farm and knowing we did our best for our community of eaters is all that really matters.

When I die, I want to be remembered as a person who left her farm better than she found it. And who inspired others to nourish themselves with beautiful, unique vegetables too.

female farmer

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The Future of Organic Farming

IFOAM

Organics isn’t just a farming sector or a marketing option…Organic is a movement! And, like any other movement, it needs to change over time as it grows and people demand more from their movement. Organic farmers, leaders, processors, and eaters around the world recognize this and have been trying to work together to envision what they want the future of the organic movement to look like.

I saw a presentation on this topic (called Organic 3.0) at last year’s ACORN (Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network) conference, given by Dr. Andy Hammermeister and I was really inspired!

So, I googled Organic 3.0 and found a discussion document written about it on the IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) website.

And I read it and I liked it but it was kind of long and I wasn’t sure how many people in general would be geeky enough to read it.

So, when I attended the National Farmers Union youth retreat this spring and was supposed to think up a topic I would want to speak on, I chose this one.

The pictures in this blog post come from that presentation I gave (and some come from Andy Hammermeister’s presentation).

Rudolph Steiner

So, if we’re looking at Organic 3.0 as the future, what was Organic 1.0?

Organic 1.0 is the reason organic farming started at all. People from all over the world were concerned with the direction agriculture seemed to be moving in and wanted an alternative that could support people as well as the Planet.

Some of these individuals became well known because they did research, wrote books and articles, gave speaking tours and they became known as the pioneers of organic farming. The picture above shows Rudolph Steiner, Sir Albert Howard, Lady Eve Balfour, and J.I. Rodale, but there were many more from every country in the world.

Agroecology

The organic movement is based on the principles written in the photo above. I love these principles….they inspire me so much…these are the principles that make me grateful to live in this world and to always work to make it a better place! I know many people believe in these very same principles whether they support organic farming or not. And these principles are right at the front of the 2015 Canadian Organic Standards…this is what it’s all about.

Organic Regulation

Organic 2.0 is where we are right now in the organic movement and have been since the 1970/80s. This is when we moved towards having an understanding of just what organic farming meant. Creating definitions (which is what the Organic Standards really are). And regulating the term so that people who wanted to eat organic food knew what they were buying when they saw the word or logo.

This has not been a perfect system and has created many challenges, including very small-scale or subsistence farmers around the world feeling left out, organic farming becoming market-driven rather than principles-driven in some cases, the Standards becoming really a minimum standard where it’s hard to certify or enforce the “heart” or true commitment of the farmer.

However, Organic 2.0 has really allowed many farmers to start getting the respect and fair wages for the work they do. And has allowed more people to access organic food while increasing the amount of acreage around the world devoted to organic agriculture.

Food insecurity

But, we still have so many of the global issues that got many of us into organic agriculture in the first place. It’s hard to overcome these just using Organic Standards and Regulations.

And so Organic leaders the world over, want to figure out ways to strive for more, to always do better, and to really work to overcome these huge global issues.

Canadian Organic Growers

 

There is no set plan….we are all in this together and all of our input and actions will be needed. But there has been a collaborative effort to try to think up some strategies. And these are listed in the Organic 3.0 discussion document in more detail. But I thought I’d outline them for you and I would love to hear your thoughts.

Vision for Organics

These “key features” will likely be interpreted differently by every person who reads them and I think that’s important. That’s how great things happens!

I know I think of specific ways I can implement these on our farm, and Bryan will have different ideas.

Innovative farmers

I love this one! Innovation is definitely a good word on our farm.

I think sometimes people think that organic farming is “farming like our grandparents” or “going back in time.” From my perspective, nothing could be further from the truth. Just look at the picture above. I don’t often see old-fashioned, black-and-white photos of high tunnels on farms and row cover protecting crops from cold weather and pests.

We are constantly trying new things, they just happen to be things that respect the principles of organic agriculture.

To me, the idea of war is old-fashioned and out-dated but that is still the mindset used in much of our “modern” agriculture: waging war against every other living being who we share this planet with, in an attempt to offer benefit to our own kind, while inadvertently harming ourselves as well.

6-row seeder

This is a good one too. I know our farm isn’t perfect and I’m happy for the opportunity to spend my life trying to do better and better every year. Our farm is a life’s work of improvements to be made. That is what makes it so intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually challenging and fulfilling.

And there is no one “recipe for success” for a farm. What works super well on one farm may be a flop on another. Learning from other farmers around the world is exciting and important but so is learning from the people around you. On a regional level, Bryan and I find it so important to visit other farms (both organic and non-organic farms) throughout Atlantic Canada and have been so grateful for the mentorship and sharing offered by this community. The Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN) has been the most useful resource in this regard, offering us tons of opportunities to connect with other farmers.

farmer to farmer

This one really recognizes that the current way organic farms become certified and recognized as organic farms is an imperfect system. It doesn’t work well for everyone and there are other ways to offer eaters transparency in their food system, especially as farmers who sell directly to those eaters.

While we are committed to organic certification for our farm, if we ever stopped certifying our farm as organic, we would still farm in the same way (while of course constantly improving).

Even if I couldn’t call my produce organic in that situation, I would still be an organic farmer in my soul. Nobody can take away my place in the Organic Movement!

sustainability

Organic farmers and eaters are not the only ones who live by those principles that were listed before. There are so many groups of people, calling themselves something different, who believe in those principles and are trying to move the world in a similar direction!

We need to band together and we will likely find ourselves in the majority of the earth’s people. Together, we are so much stronger!

fair food

Historically, and in the present day, farmers have had the least amount of power in the food system. Our voices are the smallest, what we provide has been valued the least, we are told that our knowledge is less important than the “experts,” that we must purchase fertility, seeds, and other inputs from those who know how to do it better, and then sell our produce for low prices to people who can distribute and sell it better.

Farmers need to become an equal member along the “value chain” from field to table.

And, in general, other types of food workers are similarly dis-empowered, whether through being paid non-living wages or treated disrespectfully.

hidden costs of agriculture

 

The price of food is all out of whack. Farmers cannot make a living (over 80% of farmers in Canada require off-farm income to survive) even though they are providing citizens with one of the most essential needs (after air and water).

And so many costs have not been factored in. Environmental costs, social costs, health costs that taxpayers must pay for now and that our future citizens will have to pay even more for.

How can we change this? This is a huge question but definitely one that many people are starting to think about.

Check out this recent article, Organic Isn’t Too Expensive, Non-organic is Too Cheap, from the EU about a campaign to teach people about the true costs of “regular” food and comparing it to organic food. I would love to see something like this in Canada!

Organic 3.0

So, this chart above gives you a bit of an idea of some of the pathways we can take from where we are now  to where we might go in the future.

What do you think? Do you have any ideas of how these ideas might be implemented? I think this is a conversation worth continuing.

 

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What’s New in 2016?

Khaki Campbell Ducks

We’re always excited about trying new things on our farm. Sometimes our attempts are successful and sometimes they really aren’t. But we still like to try.

New things sometimes come up because it’s something we personally want. Like lots of lemon balm tea to help support our bodies during stressful times while being super delicious. We want that for ourselves and we think our customers would also like fresh, local, organic lemon balm that they can use for tea. So, we decided to go for it this year and plant a good-sized patch of lemon balm.

Or melons. We LOVE eating melons. Especially specialty melons that aren’t easy to find anywhere else. They take a long time to grow but the wait is always worth it for us. We’ve tried a lot of different melons and are always fine-tuning the plan around our favourite varieties (though the list is still long). One new variety of melon we’re growing this year is called Dove. It’s an Ananas-type melon. We can’t wait to try it!

Sometimes we grow new things based on customers asking for or casually mentioning them. During the winter, as we’re selecting the crops and varieties we’re going to grow, those asks and casual comments always come up. We don’t always decide to go-ahead with these crops (there can be lots of reasons why not to grow something), but that is why we’re still growing Charentais melons. A couple passing by our stand asked us if we grew Charentais melons, like they’d eaten in France. We didn’t. But the following year, we did. And we were not successful. But we tried again the next year (last season) with different varieties of Charentais melons and only grew them under a field tunnel. And they were spectacular! This year, we’re growing even more and a new variety (in addition to our favourite variety from last year).

This year, we’re growing a pepper called Jimmy Nardello’s. This was a request for restaurant sales. Jimmy Nardello’s are a 2-bite sized horn-shaped pepper with a touch of heat and loads of flavour. It’s pretty trendy with cutting-edge chefs and we’re pretty excited ourselves for these peppers to ripen!

Sometimes we read about something in a book and think it would be cool to try. Last year, we got a book called The Resilient Farm and Homestead by Ben Falk. In it there are a few mentions of Sea Buckthorn as a really nutritious, super-food. We’d heard about sea buckthorn before but the book really inspired us to try it. So, this year, we’ve started some sea buckthorn from seed. Who knows how it will do or whether we’ll like eating it, but the other benefits of this crop for wildlife are important to us too.

Sometimes we learn about new crops through other farmers. At last year’s ACORN conference, Amanda Muis Brown from Humble Burdock Farm spoke about a plant she uses on her cut flower farm called “Hairy Balls” Gomphocarpus. I’d seen it in the catalogues but her enthusiasm for it (and the name!) made me add it to my crop plan. And I’m excited to see how I like using it in bouquets.

Also, we sorta add new crops by accident. Last winter, I attended an Organic Seed Growers Conference in Oregon (read my blog post about it here). While there, I was given seed for Yellow Doe Hill Peppers and Nash’s Rhumba Carrot. So, we’re growing them both for seed (though we’ll definitely get to eat some of them…..in particular the “rejects” for seed production).

And of course, sometimes, the seed catalogues’ pictures and descriptions move us. That’s what happened with 2 new flowers in our cut flower lineup this year: Purple Kisses Daucus carota and Lacy Blue Didiscus. They are both thriving in the field right now and I’m looking forward to seeing them bloom.

Besides crops, we’re always trying new things in our “whole farm system.” This year, we’ve added Khaki Campbell Ducks to our farm. We think having animals on a farm can really help manage the ecosystem regeneratively. Our ducks are great eaters of greens not perfect enough to sell, really enjoy the grass we love to see on our farm (we both hate seeing bare soil!), as well as fertility recyclers, slug control, entertainment, and, by the end of this year, nutritious egg providers. This hasn’t been a perfect new experience and we’ve had some losses from raccoon predators, but we’re learning and getting better at co-living with and caring for ducks.

And new things can also be about how we sell and new opportunities. This year, we’re growing acorn squash for a local food box fundraiser program with local schools. It’s called the Nourish Your Roots box program and you can read more about it here.

Here’s a quick list of a few other new things for us this year:

  • Goji berries. We’re excited to be planting some goji berry plants. They should do really well here and we think they’re pretty tasty dry and want to eat some fresh. Apparently, the leaves are also highly nutritious and can be used in various recipes.
  • Elderberries: We have a lone elderberry shrub behind our barn. And we have harvested from it in the past and made elderberry syrup with honey. But it’s in a super awkward spot for harvesting and we’d like to have more.
  • Sweet “hot” peppers: We’re not huge hot pepper eaters and now that we’ve found our new favourite hot pepper Korean hot pepper (last year was our first year growing it), we’re pretty much set for now. But there are some varieties of sweet peppers that are basically hot peppers with the heat removed. And this year we’re growing two of them. One is called Habanada. It’s basically a Habanero pepper but not hot. So just the flavour without the crazy spiciness. The other is called Aji Dulce. The interesting thing about both of them so far is that the plants grow noticeably slower than sweet peppers. Which is a typical trait of hot peppers. I hope when we take our first bite of each of them, that we don’t need to run for milk to cool our tongue!
  • Mountain Mint: The 1st farm Shannon ever apprenticed at was the Algonquin Tea Company. Every morning while there, she drank their Awakening Tea which really tastes strongly of Mountain Mint. Even just transplanting the mountain mint into our fields brought Shannon back to being there and all the great memories and lessons learned. We’re so happy to now have this herb living on our farm with us.

 

Every year on the farm is a new adventure and trying new things keeps it all fresh and interesting. And, we’re so grateful to have customers who enjoy taking this adventure with us and being really open and excited to try new things themselves!

William Dam

 

 

 

 

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What is Safe Food?

Super Sugar Snap Peas

We have been dismayed by the frequent news of frozen organic produce recalls at Costco over the past few months. For us, it started with some organic frozen berries from Costco that were recalled due to potential contamination of Hepatitis A.

In the news at the same time, Costco apparently really wanted to increase their organic product offerings. In particular, to start stocking organic fresh fruit and vegetables.

But it seems they were finding organic fresh produce hard to find (maybe hard to find at crazy cheap prices because organic farmers want to be paid a fair wage?). So they’re helping to fund farmers to grow organic produce for them.

As an organic farmer and organic eater, I’m happy to see more acreage (in any part of the world) move to organic.

But the Hepatitis A frozen berries really got to me.

Yes, these berries were organic and that’s something I care about. But I don’t know anyone who thinks it’s ok to contract Hepatitis A (or any other illness) while consuming their morning smoothie. I know I don’t. And the contamination isn’t just a problem with that one company whose label is on the package. Or the company (Costco) who is selling the product.

The problem is with our entire food system. We buy food, that precious thing that makes up our physical bodies, from people we don’t know, processing systems we don’t know, production practices we don’t know, distribution chains we don’t know.

The current policies and practices that govern our food safety rules allow recalls to happen. They set it up so that it’s known which “lots” may be contaminated. What stores got those lots. Even, which customers bought those lots (in particular at membership-based stores like Costco but also with credit card info).

But, for me, I’d rather know where and who my food came from.

I’d like to know who the person was who may have infected those berries with Hepatitis A and make sure they’re ok. Make sure they were able to access treatment, make sure they were able to take some time off to recover and their family would still be able to eat and pay the bills during that time.

For a long time, farmers have been told “bigger is better” and “get big or get out.”

This is one of those cases that show the benefits of small.

On our farm, there are 2 people who grow the produce. 2 people who wash the produce. 2 people who package the produce, transport the produce, and sell the produce. Those 2 people are the same all the way down the chain and those 2 people also own and live on this farm. Our names are Shannon and Bryan. We have a strong self-interest in producing safe food: so we don’t lose our reputation, we don’t lose our farm (which is also our home) and because we are also eaters of the food we produce.

Yes, we are a small farm. We can’t claim millions of dollars in revenue or big export markets. But we are leaders in real food safety. The kind that isn’t only able to efficiently advertise recall information. But where people know our names and faces, can visit our farm or see us at the market, can call us up on the phone.

Even though we’re just a 2-person farm, and we don’t have a “food safety specialist” on staff, we make sure to always update our knowledge around food safety. We think about each new infrastructure project and how it will impact food safety. We research food safety trends that may be coming into regulation in the future (because we’re still young farmers….we’ve got many years in the future we need to look towards). We created our own food safety manual (from a great free online template!). And, as certified organic farmers, there are some inborn food safety practices in the organic standards (like the required record-keeping, the monitoring or testing of any compost used, the regular water testing for washing and irrigating crops).  We do these things without anyone telling us we have to. We do them because this farm is our life’s work and we’re passionate about it and don’t want anything to risk it.

And that organic frozen berry-Hepatitis A recall has further deepened our commitment to buy the food we don’t produce ourselves from other small-scale farmers with a face and name that we know.

I know our governments have their own food safety plans…..but what’s your own personal food safety plan?

 

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Visit to Twisted Brook Farm

Certified Naturally Grown

Who: Me- Shannon of Broadfork Farm and Del from Side by Each Farm in Amherst, NS

What: a road trip and farm field trip

Where: Twisted Brook Farm, a Certified Naturally Grown farm in Lawrencetown, NS (close to Middleton)

When: Monday, April 25th (just over a month ago now…)

Why: Steph, the farmer at Twisted Brook Farm is a highly skilled seed grower and has become my official Seed Mentor (and Del’s too) through ACORN (the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network) and the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security.

Through the Seed Mentorship program, we get to connect with Steph in person at our farm or hers, call or email her throughout the season to ask questions that relate to our own seed production, and have our very own seed cheerleader, encouraging us along the way! Plus, we got an awesome binder from the program with resources and learning outcomes.

learning to grow seeds

Twisted Brook Farm is very different from many farms I’ve visited. Primarily, because seed production is such a major focus. Steph grows seed crops and sells them through Hope Seeds, Annapolis Seeds, Seedy Saturdays, and her Annapolis Royal farmers’ market stand.

propagation

Steph grows a lot of seedlings, in particular tomatoes, to sell at farmers’ markets and she also contract grows them for other farmers.

In addition to all the annual plants that Steph grows, there’s a lot of perennials growing too….including nut and fruit trees. A lot of them are fairly unusual crops too like hazelnuts, elderberries, currants, and Sea Buckthorn.

Sweet Potato Slips

Steph is growing sweet potatoes by taking cuttings from a variety she found at a local Seedy Saturday.

wooden raised beds

She uses raised beds in wooden boxes to grow some of her annual and biennial crops but also perennial crops like raspberries, strawberries (she cuts off the runners and pots them up for sale), asparagus, and herbs.  It looked nice and tidy and really helps her manage the weeds.

kale flowers

Her greenhouse was abundant and diverse, despite being so early in the season, with crops she had overwintered (like chard and kale), spring-planted crops (lettuce, spinach, Hakurei turnips), as well as perennials like French Tarragon (yummm).

Steph Warr

Steph is an amazingly generous person, offering us a delicious lunch of greens from her greenhouse, baked beans from the vast collection of dried beans she’s passionate about growing, and homemade buckwheat bread with only 2 ingredients: buckwheat and salt.

She sent us off with seeds and plants from her farm to contribute to the diversity of our farms (I brought home some elderberry cuttings, hazelnut seedlings, sea buckthorn seeds, and black locust seeds. And the most valuable: her hard-earned knowledge and her precious time. She has been an inspiring and great mentor so far this season and I know that our farm will benefit so much from her presence in our lives.

THANK YOU STEPH!

If any of you readers are lucky enough to be able to purchase the regionally-adapted, Certified Naturally Grown seeds, seedlings or vegetables that Steph grows for the Annapolis Royal farmers’ market, don’t miss the opportunity!

I’m super stoked about the Seed Mentorship Program because growing vegetables, herbs, or flowers to seed is not just about waiting around and picking the seeds before they drop. Seed producers need to be on top of things the whole season! You need to know what that crop might cross with and how far it needs to be away from anything it could cross with (really far in some cases!). You need to know how your crop is pollinated. How long it will take to produce a good seed yield (not the same as harvesting for fresh eating in many cases). How many plants (or population size) you need in order to have a good representation of genetics. At every stage of development, you need to be removing any plants that are different from what you want (so that you can keep the variety consistent for the long-term).

Bryan and I aren’t interested in doing a half-assed job at seed saving. We want the time (ours as well as the time in the field) and effort we spend on seeds to grow really high quality seeds that are more resilient and adapted to the qualities our farmland and our customers want. We’ve seen such wonderful success this spring with the arugula we’ve been harvesting for market. Two generations of that seed has been saved on our farm and it’s amazing to see the difference (most organic arugula seed in the market is grown in Israel – very different conditions to us here!).

We’ve also noticed that learning more about seed production has helped us be better farmers overall. Thinking about the whole life cycle of a plant, noticing qualities we like or don’t like and thinking about how those could change over generations, knowing which plant diseases can be stored in the seed and how to manage for that….these things all really interest us!

For all these reasons and more, it’s so great to have someone more experienced in seed growing than us, who we can call on anytime for advice!

 

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La Bikery hosts: an Organic Plant Sale with Broadfork Farm

plant sale

On Sunday, June 5th, between 10 am and 2 pm, ride on over and find the perfect plants for your garden. We’ve got vegetables, flowers, and herb plants to go straight into your garden.

Everybody knows there’s nothing like biting into a fresh homegrown tomato! And organic seeds too!

Need to build up your soil fertility? We’ll have green manure/cover crop seed, compost, and organic soil amendments available.

Bonus: you can ask these organic farmers any gardening questions you have.

Bike on over and pick up what you need for the best garden season ever!

Where: Cooperative La Bikery Co-operative, 120 boulevard Assomption, Moncton, NB

What: Seedlings from Broadfork Farm: Lots of varieties of tomatoes (different colours, different sizes, bush and vining types), basils, peppers, flowers for cutting your own bouquet, pollinator/butterfly packs, Swamp milkweed (a non-invasive type of milkweed great for Monarch butterflies!), Lemon Balm, Mountain Mint, Love Lies Bleeding Amaranth, Grindelia herb, Sacred (or Holy) Basil.

There will also be organic seedlings from Ruhe Farm which will include lots of vegetables and herbs such as kale and cucumbers.

purple basil

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Fermenting the New Farm Culture

Atlantic Canadian New Farmers

On a Sunday at the end of March, around 50 new farmers from Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick got together to learn from each other, share with each other, and enjoy good food together!

The first ever (hopefully not last) New Farmers of the Maritimes event (click on the link to the event to see more photos) was held at the Dieppe Market in Dieppe, NB. It was organized by a group of new farmers from all 3 provinces, with the help of Amanda, the executive director of the National Farmers Union in New Brunswick and Av Singh, the farm director of the Just Us! Centre for Small Farms in Nova Scotia.

I was one of the new farmer organizers and I can tell you, it was really cool to organize an event with other new farmers and farm supporters and see it happen…and happen successfully!

We set it up to have many short presentations, mostly panels, with time for discussion and questions afterwards. We left a fairly lengthy time for a potluck lunch for socializing and networking.

These were the topics we discussed with brief descriptions of each:

New Farmers. I was on this panel and I spoke about the results of the New Farmer survey (read my blog post about that here) as well as our personal access-to-capital story. Byron, PEI farmer from Thistle Dew Farm also spoke on this panel about his experience learning to farm, having not grown up on a farm.

access to capital for new farmers

The next session was on Land Access, given by Adam McLean who is farming at Holdanca Farm in NS but planning his own future farm business in PEI. Adam is passionate about pastured livestock and is going about planning his future farm in all the right ways. He has done a lot of research on different land access scenarios and is methodically seeking the right piece of land to meet his personal goals (as well as the goals of the current landowners).

After lunch, we had a Women’s Panel. Considering that close to 60% of new farmers are women, it was important to discuss issues that personally affect women farmers.

women farmers

Cammie Harbottle of Waldegrave Farm spoke from the perspective of a woman who is also the sole owner of her business. A few years ago, when Cammie had her first child, she needed to figure out how to manage her farm during her pregnancy and after her baby was born. This season, she is pregnant with her second child and, with the experience and wisdom gained from her first pregnancy, has decided to have a slower farming season, mostly focused on selling wholesale. She’s basically creating her own kind of maternity leave, since those are not provided to the owners of farm businesses. Cammie spoke very frankly about the challenges and blessings of farming while pregnant and with a young child.

Eva Rehak, from Ferme Alva in NB spoke (in French…we had translation services available for English and French) about raising her 3 children on the farm. When she and her partner Alain started their farm their first daughter was a baby. Eva spoke about being a mom and a farmer and a partner. While there are many cool things for children on a farm, being available for your children all the time while farming is a challenge. And it’s not easy to find childcare in a rural area and pay the high hourly wage on a lower hourly wage as a farmer. I know how much our farm feels like a big child, I’m amazed at farmers like Eva and Alain who are also raising 3 young human children!

I also sat on this panel. I spoke about my experiences with some people who have assumed Bryan is “the farmer” and me “the farmer’s wife.” I spoke about going to apply for a loan or purchasing a tractor or attending a farm organization meeting and people (men) talking to and facing Bryan….until I would be the one to respond (I’m chattier than Bryan) and having them realize they’d need to face both of us. I spoke about telling another young farmer about how reliable our tractor is but how it wouldn’t adjust far enough forward for me to safely reach the pedals and him saying that so many tractors are designed in such sexist ways. I spoke about the challenge in finding good quality work wear. And as I spoke, I looked around the room and saw female heads nodding. I had Bryan stand up and stand next to me so people could see how different our body types were and that even on our farm, we needed to be always making sure that infrastructure was built with both of us in mind. This panel sparked later conversations, including the idea of a Winter Women Farmers Retreat. It was very clear to me how much this conversation needed to happen and needs to continue happening.

After that, we had a panel on Agroecology and Food Sovereignty. (The booklet pictured below was one of the handouts from this session, click here to read it online. The other handout was on Food Sovereignty, click here to read that one online).

food sovereignty

Jordan MacPhee, from Maple Bloom Farm in PEI gave us the definitions of both terms then spoke on trade deals (the TPP and CETA specifically) and how they were basically creating policy that works against the principles of Food Sovereignty. In addition to being a new farmer, Jordan is also a student studying Political Science. He has used his time in academia for good, learning more about things that affect food, farming, and the environment. He is great at explaining complex (and often boring) topics like trade deals.

The majority of new farmers sell to (and want to continue selling to) local markets. Trade Deals can hurt local sales, in particular sales to local institutions like schools, because they require contracts to be opened up to any of the trading countries. So, if a province in Canada decides that local food procurement is important for their school system, Canada as a country can be sued by another country for “preferring” local food. This really limits the potential markets for farmers, especially considering how much people are starting to realize the benefits of local food.

Josh Oulton of Taproot Farms in Nova Scotia was also one of the speakers on this panel. He spoke about the challenge their farm had in sourcing non-gmo (genetically modified) grain for their meat CSA. They asked a bunch of different farmers to grow non-gmo grains for them and they all said it couldn’t be done. Mind you, they weren’t asking these farmers to grow organic grain, just non-gmo. Josh and his partner Patricia were finally able to convince a young farmer to grow non-GMO grain by promising to buy all the grain at the price he needed to make it work (which wasn’t cheap). That young farmer has been amazed at the higher yields and lower input costs (non-GMO seed is about half the price of GMO seed) which he never expected. Since Taproot Farms grows a lot of organic vegetables and has been transitioning more and more of their farm to organic every year, they have set a goal to certify their livestock as organic by 2020. And so, they’ve told that goal to the young, non-GMO grain farmer and he has agreed to grow organic grain by that target date as well! This is such a great story. Bryan and I are inspired by Josh and Patricia every time we talk to them. They are so great at making cool things like this happen!

After this, Rebeka Frazier-Chiasson from Ferme Terre Partagee spoke on Farming for Change. This was an empowering session, really about the idea that farming (and eating!) is a Political Act and that farmers have done a lot of innovative things over time so that their voices would not be lost in society’s move away from rural communities and away from farms. I know, for too many farmers, this aspect of farming, the speaking up and advocating for a fairer food system, is intimidating at best, and at worst, feels like a waste of time. But the fight for change has also inspired many to farm and to keep farming. Rebeka’s farmer is a farmer who has devoted much of his life to improving the food and farming systems. She shared stories she had heard from him and pictures from farmer political action across the Maritimes.

And, in order to share a concrete skill for making change, Carina Phillips, farmer and artist at Thistle Dew Farm in PEI, led a lesson in zine making. A zine is a homemade, inexpensive booklet or magazine. We collectively made one at the end of the day with participants making one or 2 pages each (about anything…their personal farming story, pictures, comics, jokes, collages, thoughts from the day) that Carina will put together and send out to each participant. It seems like such a great idea for the end of the day in any workshop or conference…imagine a session on carrot-growing with each farmer making a small page with their own tips, tricks, favourite varieties, recipes….on how they grow carrots. What a priceless collection of zines we could create to share our collective knowledge!

Bryan and I had a great time at this event. We feel a strong need to connect with other farmers and know the benefits of it especially when first starting out. Events like these help us to feel part of a community and re-invigorated by passionate people with similar dreams to ours. Oftentimes sharing our struggles and successes will help other farmers and can create lasting connections or solutions. I’m looking forward to attending more events like this in the future! If you’re interested in events like this, sign up to get the online newsletter of the NFU-NB. Even as a farmer in Nova Scotia, who is also a member of the NS Federation of Agriculture, I have found this newsletter to be a great resource.

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The Cutest Thing You’ll See All Day!

brooding ducklings

They’re here!

Forty-three of the cutest little beings imaginable.

These are a breed of ducklings called Khaki Campbells. We’re raising them (for the first time ever!) because we want organic, pastured duck eggs.

These little guys had big adventures on their first day alive! They left the incubation chamber they cracked themselves out into and got scooped up by an orange-bearded man (Bryan). Bryan then drove them 3 hours home (he picked them up at Wayne Oulton’s Farm – W.G Oulton & Sons – in Windsor, NS). Once he got them home, I (Shannon) ran from the field where I’d been transplanting and carried these puffballs into the porch where we’ve created a brooder for them to live for the first few weeks of their lives.

duckling starter mash

They all look alike so we have no hopes of remembering any names….though, at least for now, there’s one we’re calling Baldy…because there’s a little bald patch on her/his head where the fuzz hasn’t fully grown in. I expect it’ll grow in pretty quickly and we won’t be able to tell Baldy apart any longer.

Chick waterer

They’ve all been exploring the different areas of their new home.

They’ve got their 2 water dishes….I floated bits of weeds in one of them so they’d get a taste for them. They are obsessed with those floating bits!

They have 2 feed dishes which we’ve filled with organic starter mash from our friends Mark and Sally at Barnyard Organics in PEI.

And they have 2 heat lamps where they’ve been nestling under for their little naps.

Just like chicks, they have complete disregard when any of their siblings are napping….they just run right over them!

webbed feet

Their feet drive me wild! I love watching them pad around on them. And up close, they look dinosaur-like.

sleeping duck

This little baby is wiped out from his big adventures!

Check out the video we made of their first day in this world and hear their constant chatter. And see if you can spot Baldy!

Lil’ Kevin’s been keeping an eye on them through the window.

Cat and duck

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Nourish Your Roots Box

squash seeds

Here I am starting some acorn squash in the greenhouse. I’m planting these acorns for the Nourish Your Roots Box program. This program will see students from local schools fundraise by selling boxes of local, sustainably-grown produce (rather than the typical fundraisers of chocolate bars and tulip bulbs).

These local food boxes will be ready in time for Thanksgiving but the students will be working hard to sell these boxes far before then, just as the farmers will be working hard growing the produce far before then.

The farmers will sell the produce that goes into the boxes at a wholesale price. The students will sell the boxes of produce at a retail price. The difference will go to each student’s school. The money the students raise will go towards (and only towards) food and nutrition initiatives in their own schools. Pretty awesome!

Me and Bryan at Broadfork Farm are growing the squash for the box and some of our other farming friends are growing the other vegetables (delicious Thanksgiving-y things like carrots, potatoes, kohlrabi, etc.).

The idea behind the Nourish Your Roots Boxes comes from an organization called Nourish NS, an organization that supports nourishment and food literacy programs in schools.

I’ve decided to grow 2 varieties of acorn squash for the boxes. One has a green skin (like regular acorn squashes) and is called Table King; the other one has a cream-coloured skin with greenish stripes called Jester.

I start them all in the greenhouse in trays with 50 cells, one cell for each seed. They grow quickly in the warm, protected environment in the greenhouse which allows me to start them earlier than I could if I planted them directly in the soil. Squash can’t tolerate cold conditions and we’ve still been getting cold days and lots of cold nights.

In our area, we can plant these squash out into the field at the end of May. So, we’ll give you an update when that happens….so that all the students selling these Nourish Your Roots boxes and all the community members who will be buying them can keep up to date with how their acorn squash is growing!

squash seeds

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