Last Monday, Lucia from ACORN organized a farm tour of two wonderful and inspiring (and very different) farms. Grow a Farmer apprentices from our farm, Windy Hill Farm, and Taproot Farms took part in the tour as well as other aspiring and new farmers. Bryan and I take our professional development as farmers very seriously and try to prioritize visits to other farms as well as attending farming conferences and workshops. Since this was a long day away from the farm only one of us could go. I (Shannon) went on this farm tour and Bryan will go on the next one. But I did take a whole lot of photos (200!) and notes so I could re-enact the whole day for Bryan. What follows is a small sampling of the photos and notes I took.
On the way down to Belmont, I had my first goose family sighting of the year!
Our first farm visit was to Highland Farm where Anna DeNicola runs a market garden and her father Alex DeNicola runs one as well! They each have some separate fields and some shared ones as well as their own separate greenhouse structures and one shared one. They keep draft horses which they use for some of the field cultivation.
First we talked and walked with Anna. Her vegetables looked awesome! She gave a small lesson on how she trellises and prunes her tomatoes. It was all very impressive especially considering she is currently working without full time help. She’s just finishing a really cute little cabin for future interns to live in. If you want to be the first one to live there, contact her…it’s not yet promised to anyone for this season. Anna sells her vegetables through a market stand outside Local Source in Halifax on Wednesdays and at the Historic Farmers’ Market on Saturdays (she alternates weeks with her dad). She also markets through her CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) which was in its 2nd week of the season when we visited.
We then moved on to talking to Alex DeNicola. In addition to his market garden, Alex runs MotherOak Permaculture, a season-long, experiential permaculture course. He spoke about the global issues that have inspired him to farm with a permacultural focus (what’s permaculture? Read more here.) including peak oil, climate change and the economy. The first changes he made to his site after studying permaculture were moving earth (called earthworks including building ponds, swales, berms, ditches), planting trees (he has an awesome food forest…what’s a food forest? Read more here.), and planning for disaster. Planning for disaster was something he recommended with the increasing weather extremes we’re having. He gave the example of building windbreak fences to protect their greenhouses…after a huge wind storm did a lot of damage. He suggested trying to work so that your land can provide you with more of your needs so you don’t need as much money, rather than trying to make as much money off your land as you can.
When people become interested in permaculture, they often take a 2 week intensive course. Alex decided to offer full-season permaculture apprenticeships instead so that people could learn through osmosis and through the daily rhythms of the work, as well as talking and reading.
He gave a few resources for us to explore more: Edible Forest Gardens, book 2, The Permaculture Handbook by Peter Bane (Alex’s permaculture teacher), Permaculture Principles by David Holmgren, The Permaculture Activist and Permies.com
After a delicious farm potluck, we drove on for 45 minutes to Taproot Farms. Taproot Farms is owned and managed by Josh Oulton and Patricia Bishop. They are helped by quite a few employees and two Grow a Farmer apprentices. They have the largest CSA in Atlantic Canada with 500 year-round (50 weeks) shares. Their full share is called the entrée and their half-share is called the app (appetizer). They pack and deliver shares to different places 5 days a week. In addition to their vegetable shares, they sell fruit and meat shares. This year, they are starting cut-flower shares.
Currently, they have 80 certified organic acres and 40 acres in transition to organic. They are also managing Noggins Corner, Patricia’s family farm which is not organic. They are using lots of Haygrove tunnels for season extension and to grow crops that like extra heat. Josh showed us his compost tea brewer which he is clearly passionate about. All their fields are sprayed twice a week with compost tea (organic and non-organic alike) and Josh said last year’s crops were his best ever! Other than produce, they keep a number of animals: pigs, laying hens, meat birds, ducks, and rabbits.They also do farmstays, where people can stay in a farmhouse or cabin. It’s a big operation (though as Josh said, a medium-sized operation in their area in the Valley where many (non-organic) farmers are doing quite a bit more vegetables and fruit).
On our way home, we made a quick stop to the Just Us! Café in Wolfville to see their Just Food! Farm (and pick up some treats like dark chocolate!). Amy Lounder is the farmer-in-residence and Av Singh is the Chair in Small Farm Sustainability . I wish I could have wondered around for much longer but we still had about 3.5 hours on our journey home (too bad there’s not a ferry, we’re not that far as the crow flies!).
Thanks to Lucia from ACORN for organizing such a great farm tour and for driving a bunch of us! The next farm tour organized by ACORN is happening this coming Wednesday (in 2 days) in New Brunswick. Bryan’s going on that tour since it’s only fair that we take turns. I’m expecting many pictures and notes for a full report from him! If you’re interested in attending these farm tours organized by ACORN, contact them.