Grow A Farmer Blog

This section is dedicated to the reflections of the many aspiring and beginner farmers currently working in Atlantic Canada, to share their diverse and transformative experiences with one another.

Got something to contribute? Just get in touch.

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September 1st, 2016 – Cody Joudry, Bay Breeze Farms

Our next Grow A Farmer feature is provided by Cody Joudry, a second-career farmer, based in Nova Scotia, operating a new enterprise, Bay Breeze Farms, with the support of his loving family. Even during an intensive first season of farming, Cody still has the creative energy to envision and detail his farming venture in his own unique form of storytelling. Read on below…..

Prologue: An up-and-coming civil servant finds himself disenfranchised by a new and cunning bureaucratic overlord. The respect he earned garnered him a graceful but abrupt exit from the government. To the surprise of many, the eternal optimist with zero farming experience decides that his future lay in two of the few commodities people will always need: vegetables and chicken.

Scene: Screen goes dark, sound of 2001: Space Odyssey begins, camera slowly moves upScreen Shot 2016-08-30 at 9.39.34 PM revealing a man in rubber boots holding a shovel and wearing a broad hat looking out over the Annapolis Basin from the hills of Bear River, Nova Scotia.

“Small-Scale Farming… the new (again) frontier. These are the tales of Cody Joudry. His continuing mission: to explore new farming methods, to seek out new ways and new approaches, to boldly go where few have gone before.”

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Captain Farmer Cody’s Log: Today we were delighted to find out we’ll have enough broccoli and cauliflower ready to be harvested for this week’s vegetable basket. This will make a nice addition to the potatoes and cabbages that are also ready. Admiral Nadine Ma’Wifey feels we’re making good progress and was very impressed when she made her nightly inspection of the crops. This week we’ll finish our harvest and prepare for the transportation of our second batch of free-range chickens to Starbase Slaughterhouse next week.

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[Lieutenant Commander Righthand is at the controls USS BCS-Tractor flying through a dustcloud.]

Lt. Cmd Righthand: Captain, what do you feel are the key resources that have contributed to your growth?

Captain: People. People, people, people, people, people. People are the greatest resource I’ve had along the way. From my wife who said with love, “follow your dream”; to my cheerleader and friend Brenda Orchard; to my farming spirit guide Av Singh; to my coach and teacher David Greenberg. My mind is sharp, my body is strong, my willingness to succeed is great – but without the people that shoved me, nudged me, and embraced me I would not have succeeded in this endeavour.

Just than Captain Farmer Cody was thrown into an alternative universe! He found himself disoriented trying to figure out why he was standing in the middle of a field. Just then, as if he had been there the whole time memories started to come back to him. He remembered the struggles with the transplants in the Spring; how the seed-plan fell apart because it was too perfect and precise; how direct-seeds need more water to germinate than he thought; how a really hot greenhouse can create a whole new set of problems; how he started a farm in a drought with a well that kept going dry; how the deer and bugs can devastate crops overnight; how books he read, webpages he read, and youtubes he watched were great but he started from scratch and his farm wasn’t setup and so only so much can be done at once.

With all these memories in his head he looked around again, reorienting himself. He looked to the south and saw his free-range chickens and to the west his greenhouse and to the east his fields. His plans to expand his chicken and vegetable operation are already underway for next year. Memories of captaining a spaceship began to fade away and he remembered his power of optimism. He remembered he actually might pull this off!

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Cody Joudry with his wife Nadine and their kids.

On Next Week’s Episode: Don’t miss next week’s episode when Farmer Cody is thrown back in time to key points in his life including: when he was 6 years old and made a killing selling over-ripe vegetables to his father’s fellow military officers and when he was 14 and learned from his great-grand- father some of the basics of farming.

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August 2, 2016 – Dakota Varen

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Dakota Varen

Summer is in full swing. Waking up to the birds singing and it being a whopping 22 degrees already is not what I expected moving from the “always-sunny” British Columbia to “casually-warm” Nova Scotia. My name is Dakota Varen, I’m a grubby farm worker who has spent the last five years traveling around getting my hands in as many different patches of land as possible. Born and raised in Nova Scotia, I attended Saint Mary’s University studying International Development (IDS) with an agriculture undertone and was in the process of transferring to Guelph University to study a core agricultural degree when an opportunity came up to do an internship in Sorrento, British Columbia. Well, to make a long story short, I was soon into my first season as a farm worker. I quickly dropped out of university, got my cell phone run over by a tractor and began my career as a traveling, urban foraging, hitch hiking, farm worker.

Since my first year in BC, I have spent most of my years following the growing season, spending my summers interning in BC, spending almost three seasons in the dry heat of the Okanogan dessert, soaking up the constant rain in the Fraser valley for one year, spent one Canadian winter woofing from Sydney to Canberra Australia, and two winters ago, farm-sat a permaculture food forest in tropical Costa Rica. When I first began researching North America’s food system I had no idea that growing food would take such a strong hold in my life, but, here I am, five years on and still as in love with farming as I was in my first season.

gai lonHow did I get into farming you might ask? Ah, great question! Studying IDS gives you a very broad learning scope; touching on so many different areas of stress and needs of assistance. Like a lot of privileged kids growing up in North America, I wanted to try to find some way to minimize my hindrance on my community and the world so, in doing so, sought to help those who might be in dire need. Through introductory classes, I found my way into studying International Rural Agricultural Development, but, after diving deeper into what was causing environmental destruction in developing nations, I quickly discovered that North America was more often than not the fault of these devastation. So, why not start at one of the core problems, our food system. Canada’s food system. My community’s food system.

11145192_874527922613437_6449245396672479300_nThroughout the years I have been able to experience so many different methods and models of growing great food;  small-scale to large-scale, organic to certified naturally grown, grass-fed, free range and biodynamic. Though they all have different guidelines and follow different practices, they do all have a few things in common. They are all on the search for a better way to grow food. A less destructive, more holistic method to provide food to their communities without hidden costs of environmental, human and animal exploitation. The amount of independence offered by growing food immediately struck a chord with me as well. No longer having to constantly depend on food sourced from across the globe; which is often void of nutritional value, it having been bred out in exchange for higher yields, I was finally able to provide myself, and those around me, with food I felt good about not just eating but growing.

I must admit though there is another reason that I love farming, one that isn`t tied into environmentalism or politics; the truth is, I just really love working outside! There is something so refreshing after years and years of sitting in a classroom to finally be able to step out of my door and be at work. My office is almost five acres of wind, sunshine (on the nice days) and fresh air.

And where is that windy, sunny piece of land I speak of? Hants County, of course! After
img_20160621_134940366four years my travels have brought me back to my homeland of Nova Scotia, to a small town called Centre Burlington. You could easily drive right through it without even noticing. Abundant Acres is a fairly new farm, this being its fifth year and first full year being certified organic. I met Jen and David Greenberg at the ACORN conference last November and through, a couple of tips from local apprentices, knew pretty quickly that these two were who I would hope to work for. Their drive and passion to pass on knowledge and provide the best learning experience to their interns is inspiring to say the least. As an Intern, one of three I might add, I was given my own field with my own responsibilities. David and Jen have set it up in a way that their interns feel empowered to make decisions and give instructions on how their particular field is to be cared for. One of the many reasons they do this is to help interns feel as though they were taking care of their own farm and be able to see the fruits (literally) of their labor and know that it was their hard work and due diligence that brought it all to fruition.

As for the future, with five years under my belt at the end of this season, I have started avidly scouring the various realty sites in search of a possible opportunity to start my own farming venture in the following year.  I’m still trying to work out that niche market that will somehow set my farm apart, but, the sooner I can get my hands on a piece of property the sooner I can get those perennials in the ground and start working the land, creating a space that I can learn from and hopefully share with other aspiring farmers.

If you’re looking to get into farming, I would highly suggest doing your research of available farm worker / internships/ apprenticeships offered in your area. Every season is precious. I know that sounds lame, but it’s true. As farmers, we only have a limited time per year to work on our skills, so make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck, especially if you would be taking on an apprentice position.  Ask around!! Talk to past interns and other farmers in the area to see what kind of experiences other people have had. Not every apprenticeship is built the same; some offer time for learning, some are strictly learning through working. So take some time in the winter to try to put together a picture of what you would like your season to look like. Maybe write goals that you would love to meet throughout the season; learn to identify pests, animal husbandry etc. and vocalize that to your possible future employer and try to work out a way together that these goals could be met. An apprenticeship can only be as good as the amount of effort YOU put in, so jump at every chance to learn and grow as an aspiring farmer.  Oh, and apply for positions early! I can’t stress this enough! The good ones get filled up first!

Great websites to check out for apprenticeships are; SOIL, ACORN/Grow A Farmer, GOODFOOD, FAWN and Young Agrarians. But if you have the time I would highly suggest attending as many events and workshops as possible–getting involved with the growing community will open so many doors you didn’t even know were there to open! I’m always looking to meet anyone interested in talking farming so feel free to drop me a line at dakotavaren@gmail.com

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June 20 – Summer Solstice, 2016 – Jocelyn Durston, Seven Acres Farm

Ten years ago, if someone had told me that I was going to end up being a vegetable and flower farmer, I would have been really excited by the idea, but totally clueless about the path that would get me there. The path certainly hasn’t been typical, but here I am – a 37 year old from British Columbia, running my very own farm business in Nova Scotia. It still feels kind of crazy to say those words out loud.

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Chris Kasza & Jocelyn Durston, Seven Acres Farm

My name is Jocelyn Durston, and, together with my partner Chris Kasza, I own and run Seven Acres Farm, a small market garden farm located just outside of Canning, in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley.

I didn’t grow up on a farm, and I didn’t grow up hearing farming stories. It wasn’t until I was a university student that I first started becoming interested in farming. At the time I was studying politics and economics and became really fascinated by the intersection of politics, food security issues, and environmental degradation. Once I realized that modern industrial agriculture lay at the heart of this intersection, I streamlined my research to focus solely on agricultural practices that could alleviate both food security issues and environmental damage. I really loved researching this topic, but the more I read, the more I wanted to try things out for myself. Exploring the academic side of things wasn’t satisfying enough for me. I wanted to get my hands into some soil and experiment with different farming styles directly.

However, unlike many new, first-generation farmers, I didn’t start out by apprenticing for

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Chris Kasza & Jocelyn Durston, Seven Acres Farm

other farmers. I wanted to do this, but my debt load from six years of university prohibited me from doing things that wouldn’t bring in the income I needed to cover my living and debt costs. And so I daydreamed about gardening and homesteading while working desk jobs, until one day I accepted a contract job that would allow me to work flexible hours from home – something that I knew that would also let me also experiment with food growing if the right opportunity presented itself. With this in mind, I approached some friends who lived on a rural piece of property and proposed that I move onto their land and pay minimal rent in exchange for developing a food growing garden for them. They said yes, and there began what turned into a three-year gardening journey that truly changed the trajectory of my life.

sevenacresI am very much a self-taught farmer. When I began growing food on my friends’ property, I eagerly read books, watched videos, and attended inexpensive community workshops to get tips and ideas about how to do what I wanted to do. I also asked a lot of questions whenever I met a farmer or an experienced gardener. I was like a sponge – I couldn’t get enough! And then I just dove right in and started experimenting. I didn’t feel nervous or uncertain – I was really excited and felt very much in control of my new adventure. I knew that I didn’t want to hold back now that I was finally in a situation where I could play around in some soil.

After one year of growing food for myself and my friends, I met Chris, and we partnered up together to expand the food growing side of the project so that we could grow enough to try making some income through our local farmers’ market. Taking that step from personal gardener to market gardener was very impactful. By marketing ourselves as farmers in the community, we quickly got to know other farmers from the area who we could learn from and be mentored by. The suggestions and encouragement we received during this time were really beneficial and helped us feel like this was something that we could – and wanted – to continue to pursue.

After two years of market gardening in B.C., our rental agreement on our friends’ land was up, and so we began discussing where we should go next. At this point, we realized that we wanted the next piece of land that we worked on to be our own. Since land in B.C. was priced way beyond our budget, we discussed other parts of Canada that could be options for us. Nova Scotia kept coming up in conversation as a part of Canada that we felt drawn to, and as a place that had accessible land, and so, out we came. And now here we are, creating our own little garden paradise on seven of our very own acres!

As we enter our second year of market gardening in Nova Scotia (and our fourth year of13415492_1039681779413207_177331916345504149_o market gardening in total), there are some clear lessons learned that I can reflect on. The first is to grow food for ourselves first, and for market second. For small farmers like ourselves who grow a little bit of everything, it can be tempting to prioritize produce for market in order to provide more options for shoppers and to present a bigger, more impressive display of food, but at the end of the day, we want to feed ourselves well from our gardens, and so we’ve learned that being selfish with some of the fruit of our labours is important. Another big lesson has been finding that balance between taking the advice of other farmers while also being confident in our own way of doing things. We’re not experts and we’re still really new to farming, so we welcome advice and we seek it out. On the other hand, we take our inspiration from non-conventional practices, such as permaculture, and sometimes our way of experimenting with farming can draw raised eyebrows. I’ve definitely felt insecure about these reactions, but I’m realizing that worrying about what others think, as well as comparing the progress of our farm to that of others, doesn’t do anyone any good. The third lesson learned that I’ll mention is that there’s no point in doing this if it makes us so tired and stressed that we don’t enjoy it. Farming can be really stressful. Not only do a lot of elements have to come together at the right time to support the growth of healthy vegetables, but you also have to find avenues to sell your food that aren’t already saturated with the same products from other farms. Throw in some unexpected pest problems, and some really long days, and farming can seem like way more of a burden than a blessing. We’ve definitely experienced those feelings, so this year in particular, I’m focusing on having fun with it, and if things start getting too stressful, I back away rather than get caught up in it.

13259031_256802131346712_1050073936_nAnd so, with those lessons learned under my belt, I’m excited about this season. It’s a good thing too, since this season marks the first one that I’m dedicating myself full-time to our farm business, rather than working a desk job at the same time! I’m really thrilled about this and so far so good – I’m loving everything about this season: the weather has been lovely, the mosquitoes have been minimal, and we’ve added fermented products to our market booth this year which is something we’ve been wanting to do since our B.C. days. In addition to this, our farm landscape is really evolving and becoming our ‘working farm with small garden charm’ that we envisioned it to be when we first laid eyes on our land. Life feels really good right now, and I feel that every day I pursue this adventure, I come to understand more deeply this well-loved quote by Wendell Berry, “The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.

This season, Jocelyn can be found at the Tantallon Village Farmers’ Market on Tuesdays and the Wolfville Farmers’ Market on Saturdays with fresh produce, cut flowers, and fermented products from her farm, Seven Acres Farm.

May 31, 2016 – Adam MacLean

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Adam MacLean

G’day, I’m Adam MacLean, and I’m a farm worker and land manager from PEI. I’ve been asked to write this blog to share a bit of my farming journey, highlight my current and future work in agriculture, and share a few key lessons learned.

It’s late May, and I’m once again working full time out on the land. My days are spent caring for chickens, turkeys, pigs, sheep and beef, observing and managing pastures, fixing fences and water lines, collecting eggs, moving animals, and attending to whatever else needs my attention (and there is plenty!). For the second year, I’m working at Holdanca Farms (www.holdanca.ca), where I provide labour and management support to John Duynisveld (the owner/farmer). The days are long, and the work is fulfilling. I’ll get to my current situation in more detail after sharing some of my past history in farming and gardening.

Prior to working at Holdanca Farms, I’d been exploring a wide range of farm and garden enterprises. Apart fromanimals_2 working the potato harvest for my uncle, I got started in agriculture in the tropics; designing, planting and managing tropical food gardens in Northern Thailand and the Northern Fijian Islands. My first experience of larger scale land management was in Australia, at the Mullion Creek Natural Farms, a 6000 acre ranch and research institute, focused on regenerating the landscape by managing through managed grazing of beef and sheep. We planted thousands of trees, did creek and woodland restoration work, and produced pastured biodynamic eggs (35,000 a week!). In 2013, I worked at Olde MacKenzie Farm, a market garden in Rose Valley, PEI and started working with the PEI Farm Centre to start a new community garden and food security project at the Charlottetown Experimental Farm. The Legacy Garden now hosts over 150 individual community garden plots, a young orchard, and a large goodwill garden growing food for volunteers and the food insecure.

animals_3Throughout these diverse experiences, I’ve been refining my focus as an agricultural entrepreneur. How exactly would I contribute to improving our food system? What’s my role? I’m now refocused on becoming a farmer. It’s a big dream, and a helluva struggle. Why farming? I’m drawn to this work because it allows me to build a business and livelihood that is aligned with my ethics and worldview. If well designed and executed, this business *can* provide a reasonable livelihood while addressing many of our current ‘Really Big Challenges’: food security, climate change, and declining water, energy and soil resources. Through farming, I intend to build a set of enterprises and productive, resilient landscapes to serve generations well into the future.

I’m particularly drawn to working with livestock to manage land. When well managed, ruminants (beef and sheep) can be used to amplify pasture growth and diversification, while building soil and sequestering carbon. Pastured poultry and pigs fertilize/manure the pastures and pigs can also provide the occasional ‘deep disturbance’ / tillage that benefit certain landscapes. I aim to regenerate landscapes and sequester carbon through livestock management. I’m also drawn to animal husbandry and meat production, because our livestock deserve the highest quality of life possible (something they’re not typically afforded in conventional livestock operations). These animals are offering a sacrifice for our nourishment, and I feel it is our responsibility to provide them with a good life, a clean death, and considerate, thoughtful processing and cooking that uses the whole animal.

pigs_1This brings us back to Holdanca Farms. I searched out John in February 2015, because his farm is unique in the Maritimes in the amount of attention paid to grazing management, and the diversity and scale of the pastured livestock enterprise (broiler chickens, laying hens, pork, lamb and grass-finished beef). There was plenty for me to learn here. So, I met with him and pestered him with countless questions about his business. By the end of our conversation, he offered me a job, and I accepted it. We now enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship. I have employment, mentorship, and the opportunity to become more deeply familiar with the hands-on reality of running this sort of enterprise. He gets an enthusiast employee, keen to take on as much responsibility as possible. This year I’m working with John to increase Holdanca’s efficiency by identifying opportunities to save time and money. I’m also helping to update the cost of production on pastured broilers and refine our pasture monitoring and management processes. I’m doing everything possible to reduce John’s workload and increase my management experience.

This is an excellent foundation from which I plan the next stages of my farming journey, which is to transition my farming career back onto PEI. I intend to secure a land lease on PEI or (ideally) partner with an existing farm to share land and resources (in exchange for labour and animal fertility). I’ve limited financial capital and am adverse to taking on much debt. So, I’m bootstrapping this farm enterprise, and partnering with landowners and other farmers to minimize the investment required to launch. Relationships are key. These days, I’m scouting for land, talking with landowners and other collaborators, and refining my business plan. I’ve also been conducting market research into the local demand for ethical meats by circulating a survey, and I’ve been sharing my intentions with future customers and collaborators.

I’ve been asked to share a few key lessons that I’ve learned to date. I’m still new to this, and I’ve a lot to learn yet. I’ll keep these lessons general enough to be relevant to most new farmers.

Relationships are key. Not only with customers, but with other farmers. I feel strongly that a collaborative approach will always yield better results than competition. Rather that worry about dividing up a limited market, let’s work together to grow the market. Also, first generation farmers might consider partnering with more established farmers: the young farmer brings fresh energy and sweat equity, while the older farmer has access to land, resources and experience.

Aim to develop a mutually beneficial relationship.

Especially in the enterprise startup phase, aim to limit your capital investment. Lease/rent land, rather than purchase. Instead of buying a tractor, haymaking gear, etc., see if you can contract the work to a neighbour. By limiting investment, you increase your flexibility.

Look to natural ecosystem processes for guidance. Don’t fight nature. You’ll lose.

In closing, I invite you to contact me (adam.maclean.pei@gmail.com) if you’ve any questions or comments. In particular, I want to hear from you if you’re an Islander looking for quality pastured meats, or if you’re a landowner/farmer interested in discussing a potential collaboration.

March 7, 2016 – Robin Johnston

It’s early March and so far this season couldn’t look more different from last season. Rain instead of snow is pouring down on the field where I will, in the near future, be planting my first crops. My seed order just arrived and I am itching to get out into the field and pull up that pesky chickweed but there are other things in store for today: crop planning. An aspect of farming which I am quickly discovering is, for me at least, filled with moments of confusion and a feeling that reminds me distinctly of how I felt doing homework as a child. But let’s take a step back and I’ll tell you how I got here.

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Robin Johnston

My name is Robin Johnston. I’m originally from the Ottawa Valley in Ontario and other than eating vegetables out of my mom’s garden I had little interest in growing food. Just ask my mom about the utter failure that was her attempt to get me involved in a gardening club. After moving from rural Ontario to the big city of Toronto and pursuing a degree in international development, I set out to begin my career in that field. After a couple experiences working aboard I became disillusioned with the concept of “development” and realized my efforts could be better spent in a country where I could speak the language and understand the cultural context. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly but I had had this idea for a while previous that I wanted to work on a farm. Little did I know where this notion would lead me…

My first farming experience was an intern at Four Seasons Farm in Maitland, NS in 2013. Early on during this season farming clicked for me. While learning the basics of small-scale organic vegetable farming, I also began to consider that farming might be something I wanted to do for longer than one season. I’m fortunate to be able to visit Four Seasons regularly since that first season and every time I go back I get to visit human, plant and animal friends and learn something new.

After that season I was eager to farm more but was unsure where to go next (both literally and figuratively) so after a brief move back to Ontario, then Quebec and finally to Halifax I spent the 2015 season apprenticing at Waldegrave Farm in Tatamagouche.

I chose to go to Waldegrave Farm for several reasons, but the one that stands out is that I had been a regular customer of their farm stand while living in Halifax and was completely blown away by the beautiful quality of the vegetables every week. I wanted to learn exactly how those vegetables got to market every week. Hint: it involves meticulous post-harvest handling and lots of time spent in the packing shed! I found a second season of experience apprenticing valuable because I was able to focus on learning more about specific aspects of vegetable production that I felt I had missed in my first season. For example I intentionally started the season at earlier Waldegrave because I didn’t arrive at Four Seasons until June and had therefore missed all the spring plantings.

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Planting garlic at Waldegrave Farm.

One skill I feel that I really built this past season was my observational skills. It sounds obvious but you can’t know that there is something wrong with your crops unless you know what healthy crops look like. Being aware of how each crop was doing as I walked around the fields really helped me feel like I had a picture of what was happening on the whole farm rather than just focusing on whatever the task was.

If you’re new to farming one thing I definitely recommend is to go to as many workshops, farm tours and farming related events as you can. I learn something new at every event and always leave feeling more energized and inspired. This past season I had the opportunity to attend many farming workshops and tours over the season. Some of the highlights were seeing Jean-Martin Fortier speak at Abundant Acres in Upper Burlington, NS, a work party at Open Sky Co-operative in Sackville, NB and of course the annual ACORN conference in Charlottetown, PEI. Attending these sorts of events are great learning opportunities but they are also a way to make invaluable connections to the awesome farming community we have in the Maritimes

One definite challenge to being a beginning farmer, or a farmer in general for that matter, is the seasonal nature of the work. As each season ends the question looms of where to go next. While many farmers will generously put you up in their home during the season, they look forward to having peace and quiet in the winter. For me Halifax has been a winter refuge of short-term rentals and temporary employment. I’m fortunate to be able to make this lifestyle work for the time being but being seasonally nomadic certainly isn’t ideal.

After two seasons of apprenticing I am ready for an opportunity to put what I’ve learned to work and make some of my own mistakes. And this all leads me back to that crop planning I’m currently doing. This season I am farming at Windhorse Farm near Bridgewater, NS, I’m renting an off-grid cabin and will be farming in the gardens that have been cultivated in different forms for many years. Windhorse Farm is a multifaceted place, featuring a large events venue which holds many different gatherings from weddings to meditation retreats. I will be selling vegetables to the different people who provide catering for these events, enabling what I grow to be eaten as close to the source as possible. Additionally I plan on selling at a local market but I am still figuring out the details. Every spring is full of possibility but this spring feels like a significant step forward for me in my journey as a beginning farmer.

April 10, 2015 – Welcome (More) New Organic Farmers!

Continuing on with our celebration of newly certified organic operations (see March 31st post), here is one more farm to introduce to the organic community – welcome!

Good Thyme Farm – Amherst, NS

MarketTell me about your farm. What are you producing? Where are you situated?

Good Thyme Farm is a market garden, growing almost an acre of a wide variety of vegetables (greens, root crops, winter and summer squash, cucumbers, onions, garlic, beans, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) We have a greenhouse and a caterpillar tunnel, which we use for seedling production, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. You can find our produce at the farmers market in Pugwash, at our roadside stand (on Rt. 6 between Amherst and Pugwash) and at a couple local stores. For the past 2 years, and this season, we have been farming on Nick’s father’s land (his father has a beef farm), but starting next season (2016), we will be farming on our own 12-acre property in Northport, NS.

What attracted you to farming?

Nick grew up on a farm, so he was naturally drawn to the lifestyle. Becca had no farming background, but was drawn to a lifestyle of hands-on, meaningful work. As part of our traveling adventures across Canada, we spent some time WWOOFing, which helped guide us into a career of farming. We crave the connection to the land and our community and think it’s super-important to provide our community with fresh, and healthy food. We believe the work that we do makes a direct positive impact on our community and food security in Cumberland County.

What made you choose to certify? Why is it an important part of your business?

Our choice to certify was more than just a way to set us apart from our competitors. We chose to certify because we truly believe in organics. Being “organic” often starts a conversation with our customers, and that is our chance to educate people about organics and encourage them to ask their producers – not just us, but also other local producers and bigger corporations – what they are eating, and how it was produced. It is then up to the consumer to decide if they are happy with that, and whether or not they want to support it.

What are you most looking forward to in the season ahead?

This is year 3 for us, so we feel more confident going into the season because we are more set up with infrastructure than we were in previous years (greenhouse for starting seeds, walk-in cooler, equipment, etc). While it is still a huge learning curve, we feel that we have a much better understanding of what we should be growing and how we should be growing things to be more efficient and profitable. We are looking forward to being officially certified, as last year was our transition year!

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March 31, 2015 – Welcome New Organic Farmers!

Before the growing season gets into full swing, we thought it was a good time to showcase some farms that have recently (within the past two years) entered organic certification. Community is important to the organic sector, so this is also a way for these newly organic farms to introduce themselves to the organic community – welcome!

Cochrane Family Farm – Upper Stewiacke, NS

DSC_0062Tell me about your farm. What are you producing? Where are you situated?

Cochrane Family Farm is a small, natural farm with a country store on farm, raising and selling local, hand-raised and made organic products aimed at offering a wide variety of high-quality, moderately-priced, nutrient-dense vegetables; as well as pasture-raised pork following a permaculture methodology. We view ourselves as partners with our customers, our employees, our community, and most importantly, our environment. We aim to become a destination providing our customers with not only high quality food, but also to educate and empower our clients to have the desire and the abilities to make better, healthier food choices. We are located on the banks of the Stewiacke River in Upper Stewiacke, NS.

What attracted you to farming?

We decided we wanted to make a change to our health and food security, allowing us to have control over what goes into our bodies, not big corporations.

What made you choose to certify? Why is it an important part of your business?

We will be fully certified this summer 2015, we felt it was important for our customers to see how committed we are to providing them with healthy, sustainable food.

What are you most looking forward to in the season ahead?

As we enter into the 2015 season, we are looking forward to some exciting change and expansion here on the farm that will hopefully allow us continue to offer our customers, even more great products, as well as continuing to teach others the passion we feel for the land and how we can work with it, not use it.

Soleil’s Farm – Bonshaw, PE

Tell me about your farm. What are you producing? Where are you situated? CameraDump2011 316_1

Our 10-acre certified organic vegetable farm is nuzzled on a 100-acre lot composed of rolling pastures, an old-growth forest, and a beautiful freshwater creek. Our farm is currently in its third year of transition and will be receiving its organic certification in 2015. We are committed to growing quality local vegetables using organic, no-spray farming methods that enrich the health of our soils. We grow a wide variety of vegetables, but more specifically specialize in the production of mixed greens, sprouts, and micros. Currently, our products are uniquely sold through Plate It, a local produce delivery service that connects farmers and foragers, and the local restaurant market.

What made you choose to certify? Why is it an important part of your business? 

Our number one commitment is building good tilth and growing top quality vegetables. Organic certification allows us to work more collaboratively with other farmers.

Big Spruce Brewing / Breton Fields – Nyanza, NS2012-09-03+15

Tell me about your farm/processing operation. What are you producing? Where are you situated?

11 varietals of hops, a small orchard, and a modest market garden.

What attracted you to farming/processing?

The opportunity to create ingredients for brewing, and to turn them into top quality beer.

What made you choose to certify? Why is it an important part of your business?

Mostly due to personal philosophy. It is a very fundamental part of our brewing (processing) side of the business.

What are you most looking forward to in the season ahead?

Growing better and more hops than ever before!

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August 10, 2014 – Symposium Speaker Profile: Amy Smith of Heart Beet Organics

Amy Smith of Heart Beet Organics in Darlington, PE. Amy will be presenting “Investing in Farmland: Key Considerations for Beginner Farmers” at the 3rd Beginner Farmer Symposium/ le 3e Symposium annuel pour les fermiers débutants & soirée d’accueil on August 18th, 2014 in Sackville, NB.

Amy Smith of Heart Beet Organics in Darlington, PE. Amy will be presenting “Investing in Farmland: Key Considerations for Beginner Farmers” Panel at the 3rd Beginner Farmer Symposium/ le 3e Symposium annuel pour les fermiers débutants & soirée d’accueil on August 18th, 2014 in Sackville, NB.

Heart Beet Organics is nestled in the rolling hills of Prince Edward Island, a 1.5-acre certified organic market garden, owned and operated by Amy Smith and partner Verena Varga. A well-experienced grower, Amy Smith is one of our highly anticipated speakers for ACORN’s 3rd annual Beginner Farmer Symposium. Also a committed member of the Atlantic organic community, Amy is also Vice-President of ACORN’s Board of Directors.

When it comes to farming, Amy is no longer considered a “beginner”. Before establishing Heart Beet Organics in 2010, Amy accumulated over fifteen years of extensive farming and gardening experience. Her experiences were drawn from time spent either working on or managing diverse agricultural operations, including a large CSA farm in Western Massachusetts – where she’s originally from–and an organic market garden in Quebec. Through these experiences, Amy gained a rich education in organic agriculture, and plenty of guidance in determining whether or not farming was the career for her!

It was. Upon deciding to start a farm, Amy and Verena, found their Island-base in September 2010. The land had only been partially used as a home garden by its previous owners, and had no history of being conventionally farmed. It was ripe and ready to be put into production. After setting up their first greenhouse with five raised beds, Amy and Verena planted some seeds and “Heart Beet Organics” was born.

Now entering their third year of production, Heart Beet Organics is now a thriving source of certified organic vegetables, fruits, pink oyster mushrooms, and ginger. They direct market their produce every week at the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market, and also manage Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to twenty (lucky!) members in Charlottetown.

Working outside isn’t the only thing that Amy loves about farming. She finds deep pleasure from simply watching the farmland evolve: “I love the view of the rolling fields behind our field,” she says, “I love to watch the colours change over the seasons, from red when the field are tilled, to green as the crops start to grow, to golden in the fall as the grain crops ripen and dry. Each field is a different colour, and combined they create a beautiful patchwork quilt.”

Furthermore, Amy finds satisfaction in providing her customers with organically grown, healthy, nutritious, and most importantly, delicious produce. A task that she holds to be the most rewarding job she’s held thus far.

For her farming career to continue moving forward, and for her farm to continue growing, Amy notes that her biggest personal challenge is to maintain a healthy balance between work and play–which both require lots of effort!

“I love what I do, but in order for us to continue farming, the farm has to be financially sustainable, and our farming methods need to be physically and environmentally sustainable – and we (Verena and I) need to continue to insert as much joy into our work as possible in order for it to remain fun and enjoyable.”

When asked for her key advice for aspiring farmers, Amy had some particularly strong encouragement: “APPRENTICESHIPS!” she exclaims, “I cannot stress this point enough. I wouldn’t be farming today if I hadn’t found some wonderful farming mentors who were willing to take me under their wing and show me not only how to grow vegetables, but were also willing to open their financial records and teach me about the business side of running a successful, financially viable farm. You’ll never get this kind of education out of a book!”

It’s worth noting that Amy and Verena also happen to be farmer-educators, acting as both Hosts and Mentors in ACORN’s Grow A Farmer Apprenticeship and Mentorship Programs. If you are interested in learning about these programs, please visit www.growafarmer.ca.

Thanks so much to Amy for all of her contributions to the new and aspiring farmers and best wishes for the future success of Heart Beet Organics! Amy will be participating alongside Shannon Jones (Broadfork Farm) and Jean-Martin Fortier (Les Jardins de la Grelinette) during the Investing in Farmland Panel Discussion at the 3rd Beginner Farmer Symposium on August 18, 2014. REGISTER NOW!  Learn more about Heart Beet Organics at http://heartbeetorganics.ca/.

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July 29, 2014 – Symposium Speaker Profile: Shannon Jones of Broadfork Farm 

Shannon Jones of Broadfork Farm in River Hebert, NS. Shannon will be presenting "Investing in Farmland: Key Considerations for Beginner Farmers" at the 3rd Beginner Farmer Symposium/ le 3e Symposium annuel pour les fermiers débutants & soirée d’accueil on August 18th, 2014 in Sackville, NB.

Shannon Jones of Broadfork Farm in River Hebert, NS. Shannon will be presenting on the panel,”Investing in Farmland: Key Considerations for Beginner Farmers” at the 3rd Beginner Farmer Symposium/ le 3e Symposium annuel pour les fermiers débutants & soirée d’accueil on August 18th, 2014 in Sackville, NB. Register now!

Every farmer finds a different path to a career in agriculture. For Shannon Jones, it began with her studies in holistic nutrition, where she decided that the best way she could help people be healthier and more food-conscious was by growing the food herself. Since that decision, she has been volunteering, apprenticing, or working on farms for over ten years- and for the last three and a half years, she and her partner Bryan Dyck have been running their own 15.6 acre operation, Broadfork Farm, in River Hebert, NS.

Shannon is undoubtedly pleased with their choice to open Broadfork Farm. She loves “how fulfilling and challenging it is intellectually and physically and emotionally and spiritually. I love that I don’t have to always look “presentable” for work (besides the market).” At the farm, Shannon loves “…how quiet it is. I love how it’s located in the middle of the Maritimes provinces. I love our neighbours. And the forest. And the tidal river.”

Shannon’s passion for organic farming extends beyond her own farm, however. She is also an ACORN Board Member, contributes to the National Farmers Union Youth (NFU) and Young Agrarians blogs, and also sits on the Grow a Farmer Steering Committee where she provides thought and guidance supporting the future of farmers in Atlantic Canada. Her commitment to the organic sector is admirable and encourages the importance of community engagement–a vital ingredient for any aspiring grower!

She will admit that it can be challenging to work with just her partner (in both life and in business) all day, every-day – however, she adds that working with Bryan also makes her job easier and even more fulfilling as they gain a deeper understanding of each other while they also evolve as farmers. Shannon encourages new farmers to “place value on your professional development. It’s not a waste of money! Conferences (like ACORN’s), farm tours, books, magazines (like Growing for Market) are valuable. I’ve been getting into farm podcasts. I like Farm Marketing Solutions and Permaculture Voices.”

Thanks to Shannon for sharing her words of wisdom with us! You can learn more about Shannon and Bryan’s farming adventures on the Broadfork Farm website at http://broadforkfarm.com. We look forward to hearing her input during the Investing in Farmland Panel at the 3rd Beginner Farmer Symposium on August 18, 2014. REGISTER NOW! 

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July 18, 2014 – Symposium Speaker Profile: Sally Bernard of Barnyard Organics

Sally Bernard of Barnyard Organics in Freetown, PE. Sally will be presenting "Adventures in Pastured Poultry: Getting Started with Organic Chickens" at the 3rd Beginner Farmer Symposium/le 3e Symposium annuel pour les fermiers débutants & soirée d’accueil on August 18th, 2014 in Sackville, NB.

Sally Bernard of Barnyard Organics in Freetown, PE. Sally will be presenting “Adventures in Pastured Poultry: Getting Started with Organic Chickens” at the 3rd Beginner Farmer Symposium/le 3e Symposium annuel pour les fermiers débutants & soirée d’accueil on August 18th, 2014 in Sackville, NB.

Located right in the buckle of the potato belt in Freetown, Prince Edward Island, Sally Bernard of Barnyard Organics is ACORN’s new President of the Board of Directors, and a champion of organics. In anticipation of Sally’s participation in next month’s 3rd Beginner Farmer Symposium, ACORN took the opportunity to ask her a few questions.

Farming runs in Sally’s blood, as she spent her childhood growing up on a mixed farm in New Brunswick. However, her future in farming was sealed after meeting partner Mark Bernard at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College (now the Dalhousie Faculty of Agriculture), and Sally declares that “marrying a man with 550 acres and an open mind was the best thing I ever did for my farming dreams!” After graduation they returned to Barnyard Organics, the four-generation operation run by Mark’s family. Over time, the pair converted the 550-acre farm into an organic grain and livestock operation, and additionally they manage 100 acres of rented land in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. They also share the farm with their four children, Lucy, Wilson, Thayne and Sol.

She states that “being your own boss is pretty sweet”, but insists that “the overall lifestyle of producing food, experiencing life and death, feeling your work in your heart and going to bed with the satisfaction of a days work well done” are the main reasons she loves farming. When addressing the perks of growing organically, Sally loves “seeing the benefits of organic management showing themselves more and more each year. The biodiversity that I can see on the farm now, compared to when we started is amazing.” On the farm, her favourite activities are watching animals being born and taking their first steps, and taking their children for rides on their 4-wheeler so that they can all observe the day-to-day changes on the farm and ensure that everything is doing well.

Sally admits that one of the biggest challenges of farming can be “finding a healthy work/life balance. Because farmers love their work, it can be hard to remember to make time to do things not necessarily farm-related. It’s especially difficult with direct-marketing and CSAs because I think farmers tend to put so much pressure on themselves and can spend way too much time worrying about the details and forgetting about the other things in life.”

Despite these challenges, Sally still hopes that in the future, her children “will continue to love the [agricultural] life and want it for themselves.”   She also advises that new farmers turn to older, seasoned farmers as important resources, and also cites the “Storey Guides” (available at the Beginner Farmer Symposium!) as “absolutely invaluable” tools for new farmers.

Sally is an accomplished and valuable part of the Atlantic organic community (with an amazing sense of humour to boot!), and we are so pleased to have her present at this year’s 3rd Beginner’s Farmer Symposium on August 18th! Register now to secure your place watching Sally speak about her adventures in pastured poultry! You can also find more insight from her always-engaging blog, http://barnyardorganics.blogspot.ca.

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July 4, 2014 – New Farmer Profile: Hampton Hollow Farm 

Christine Clothier and Erin Marshall of Hampton Hollow Farm, with their son Mason.

Hello!  My name is Chrissy Clothier and my fiance is Erin Marshall. We are new farmers, and we own Hampton Hollow Farm located on the North Mountain, overlooking the Bay of Fundy in Hampton, Nova Scotia. In our quest for farmland, we took advantage of an opportunity to revive the old Marshall family farm that hadn’t been farmed in over forty years. Prior to this endeavour, I worked as an account manager for the past ten years, and Erin still works in the Geospatial industry. Erin had been interested in bringing back the old family farm while still living in NL five years ago, and the dream became reality when he moved back to NS in 2010.  He started work on improving the soil structure and quality, while beginning to grow different crops on the land.  We had a baby boy on the last day of 2012 and I decided not to go back to my previous job.  At that point, we began planning to start the farm as our family business in January 2014, and we opened in June. We both grew up in the Annapolis Valley and always had family gardens, but neither of us had any experience in farming. From a compilation of accumulating agricultural and market research; getting to know other farmers; attending workshops, conferences, and meeting with specialists in our area, we have slowly and steadily been farming the land for the past three years, and building up our knowledge and skills.

We decided to get into farming because we wanted to grow our own food, and help benefit our rural community, while creating a happy living for our family. It’s necessary for us to know what we’re eating and what we’re feeding our child, and to teach him how to grow his own food as he gets older. Food security and the availability of good, quality, organic, tasty food is important to us. Our goals for this season are to start selling our vegetables to restaurants and from our farm stand.  We have recently constructed our first greenhouse, which was quite an achievement! Our next projects are building a wash/packing station, and converting an old stone cellar to a root vegetable cellar.  We are starting small and slow, learning as we go. We also hope to meet other farmers in our area, and become more engaged in our community. Our close proximity to the Bay Of Fundy allows us to collect storm cast seaweed for our fields–a great source of soil fertility! Based from insights from our own research and consultation, we are actively monitoring the benefits of composted seaweed on growing nutrient dense crops.  We are also learning about haskap berry orchard development.  We are exploring many options of irrigation and water storage.  There is always something to learn on the farm! We are excited to be part of ACORN’s Grow A Farmer Mentorship Program, as it provides us with a great opportunity to learn from others in our region who can share their wisdom and experience. Our mentors are David and Cindy Blanchard of Pleasant Hill Farm in Queens County, NS.  From our first conversation with them, we felt very comfortable.  They answer our questions thoroughly, and let us know what works best for them, but never tell us what we should be doing–as it’s different for everyone! We’ve had one visit to their beautiful farm and were totally impressed with their greenhouses, especially their tomato set up!  It’s something that we will strive for, and we are excited to learn about the techniques they use.  They also use insects as a bio-control management strategy for pests in their greenhouses, which we learned a little about, and can’t wait to hear more.  We feel lucky to have such knowledgeable mentors, and overall, such a supportive community. All the best for a great growing season!  Check us out on our website:  www.hamptonhollowfarm.com, where you can connect with us on twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Erin, Chrissy and Mason
Hampton Hollow Farm

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MEET THE 2014 GROW A FARMER APPRENTICES! 

5) CALEB ADAMS 

Caleb Adams, 2014 Grow a Farmer Apprentice at Heart Beet Organics, Darlington, PE.

Caleb Adams, 2014 Grow a Farmer Apprentice at Heart Beet Organics, Darlington, PE.

Born on a small scale mixed farm, I grew up in Summerside, Prince Edward Island. I have always had an interest in nature & the outdoors, which is where I prefer to spend my time. Even as young as grade four, I participated in a green gardening group, where we learned to plant trees.

More recently, I’ve been involved with founding and running “Helping Hands” a community garden project in Summerside, PE. Now, through involvement in this year’s Grow A Farmer Program, I am learning how to become more sustainable & self-sufficient by learning how to grow and preserve organic vegetables at Heart Beet Organics, in North Darlington, PE. Amy Smith and Verena Varga are my Mentors and we’ve been having a great time. In particular, one of my newfound interests since coming to the farm is how to become a keeper of the bees, because they are amazing and beneficial creatures! While I don’t know specifically what I will do in the future, I am fully confident that agriculture will be involved in some way. This skills are incredibly useful for anyone to have.

4) MITCHELL GALLANT

Mitchell Gallant, 2014 Grow A Farmer Apprentice at Red Soil Organics, Brookfield, PE.

Mitchell Gallant, 2014 Grow A Farmer Apprentice at Red Soil Organics, Brookfield, PE.

Hello everybody! I’m Mitchell Gallant. I used to be a scientist but now I steward the land. Why? Because I believe in organic!

I joined the ACORN program after being introduced to it by my farming mentor, Matt Dykerman, who manages Red Soil Organics in Brookfield, PEI. This is where I’ll be working and learning this season! Thus far, I couldn’t be happier; the knowledge I’ve been taking in has been great, but even more so are the inspiring people I’ve met and have had the chance to learn from.

I can’t imagine how much will happen once the plants start growing. This is my first time taking part in a full growing season and already each day brings new things to learn and do. It’s gonna be a good year ahead!
Mitchell Gallant, left, with Matt Dykerman, his host/mentor farmer at Red Soil Organics in Brookfield, PE.

Mitchell Gallant, left, with Matt Dykerman, his host/mentor farmer at Red Soil Organics in Brookfield, PE.

3) SUZANA HERCEG

Suzana Herceg, 2014 Grow A Farmer Seed Apprentice, Hope Seeds, Granville Ferry, NS.

Suzana Herceg, 2014 Grow A Farmer Seed Apprentice, Hope Seeds, Granville Ferry, NS.

I have always been an enthusiastic gardener and have enjoyed working with plants since my early childhood. I learned basic garden skills from helping my parents  maintaining a large vegetable garden, and went from there!

I started my first vegetable garden on the west coast (BC) when I was in my early thirties. I enjoyed discovering heirloom vegetables and never used any chemicals. When my husband and I decided to move to Nova Scotia and buy land/establish a homestead or a small farm in 2011, we chose to first stop and visit various organic farms accross the country and spend some time as volunteer workers learning about organic farming/gardening methods and to gain insight and experience the challenges of farm life. We started our own homestead in 2012 by establishing a 45×90 vegetable garden and a 28×18 greenhouse.

I worked a full season with Andrea Berry at Hope Seeds during 2013, and now into 2014 with the Grow A Farmer Program participating in a unique collaboration with the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security. This apprenticeship is focused on teaching others about commercial organic/heritage seed production. As I’ve gained more insight into seed work, I have realized that growing out seed crops would be a perfect opportunity for me to help Andrea even more with her mission and also to practice what I have learned from her.

This season, I am looking forward to learn more about seed crops and seed saving practices.

2) ANTHONY SPARROW

Anthony Sparrow, 2014 Grow A Farmer Apprentice at Dunn Creek Farm, Murray Harbour, PE.

Anthony Sparrow, 2014 Grow A Farmer Apprentice at Dunn Creek Farm, Murray Harbour, PE.

Hello, my name is Anthony Sparrow and I’m from Dunville, Newfoundland. I’m apprenticing this year at Dunn Creek Farm, a small-scale certified organic, mixed vegetable and livestock farm in Murray Harbour North, PEI.

I was drawn to the Grow-A-Farmer program by a desire to get back to basics. My study of beer, wine, and spirits with my previous employer always led me back to agricultural questions like soil, climate, and varietal selection. What better way to explore my desire to learn and to address my longstanding concerns about the sustainability of conventional farming than to work and study on an organic farm? My biggest agricultural interest is small-scale livestock production via rotational grazing and I get to exercise that interest here on the farm with chickens, sheep, and horses on intensively managed pasture. I am particularly excited about making hay this season. It will be hard work but I really look forward to experiencing the process firsthand and helping to supply winter feed for the animals. If forced to choose one favourite vegetable, my choice is the humble potato. Potatoes get a bad rap these days, but they can be both nutritious and delicious. I look forward to trying our own crop when it is harvested in the fall. 1) ASHLEA HEGEDUS-VIOLA

ashleaviola

Ashlea Hegedus-Viola, 2014 Grow A Farmer Apprentice at Hope Seeds, Granville Ferry, NS.

Hi! I’m Ashlea Hegedus-Viola. This season I’ll be working with Hope Seeds in Belleilse, Nova Scotia, as well as Wild Rose Farm in Digby County, as part of the apprentice placement through a unique partnership with ACORN’s Grow A Farmer Program and the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security. This apprenticeship is focused on teaching others about commercial organic/heritage seed production, and this season, I’m looking forward to learning more about the nutrients, critters, and conditions that make it possible to grow and produce healthy food and quality seed.

I grew up in Southern Ontario where I was lucky to be surrounded by people who allowed me to see food as something social, cultural, medicinal and powerful — both personally and politically. I was drawn to Nova Scotia a few years ago and now call this place home. While I have yet to find a vegetable that I don’t like, you really can’t beat fresh herb iced tea during the summer months (especially here in the “banana-belt” of the province–the Annapolis Valley). Looking forward to the months ahead.

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Grow A Farmer Blog Entry – May 21, 2014

 Meet STEPHANIE DEWAR, Production Garden Co-Manager of the Prince Edward Island Farm Centre’s Legacy Garden 

pumpkin

Stephanie Dewar, former apprentice of Heart Beet Organics and current Production Garden co-manager of the PEI Farm Centre Legacy Garden.

My foray into agriculture was a little unconventional: I don’t come from a long line of farmers, nor did it factor into my university studies. But like many other young, slightly confused graduates, I took off traveling and ended up volunteering on organic farms along the way. My interest in sustainable agriculture and its role in the food system furthered studies in food security and urban agriculture. But when it came down to it, what I really wanted was to be out in the field, learning how to grow the food myself.

From left, Stephanie Dewar, Verena Varga (Heart Beet Organics), Erin Levine, Apprentice

From left, Stephanie Dewar, Verena Varga (Heart Beet Organics), Erin Levine, Apprentice

Enter Heart Beet Organics, a small-scale organic, biodynamic, diversified vegetable farm owned and operated by Amy Smith and Verena Varga, two of the most inspiring, hard-working women out there. Not only did they share their knowledge and experience with my co-apprentice and I, but they also invited us into every aspect of the operation, providing ample insight into the challenges, risks, and, ultimately, rewards inherent in establishing an agricultural business on PEI. We were warmly welcomed into their community of entrepreneurial farmers, enthusiastic CSA members, and loyal customers at the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market, further solidifying in my mind the important role of organic farmers in society. I spent five months on the farm in Darlington, but thanks to the Grow A Farmer program my apprenticeship extended far beyond. I had the opportunity to visit a number of farms in the Maritimes, meet other aspiring farmers, participate in helpful webinars and attend the Beginner Farmer Symposium. My apprenticeship also led to my current role with the PEI Farm Centre’s Legacy Garden project where I am working alongside a fantastic group of community gardeners and volunteers as I manage a one-acre demonstration production garden.

Experimental Farm

The early stages of the PEI Farm Centre Legacy Garden, 2014

This collaborative project is creating a functional and productive garden landscape in the heart of the city by developing a small part of the Charlottetown Experimental Farm into a community garden and orchard. It will become a place where people can come learn about food, gardening and the island’s agriculture heritage. I’m really excited to be involved in a project with such great potential for impact and sustainability; with demonstration and research activities, workshops, community garden plots and orchards, art installations and performances, and spaces for gatherings and celebrations, the Legacy Garden will no doubt attract a diverse group of people will all levels of exposure to agriculture.

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Having fun on the farm – Summer, 2013

In my opinion, it’s the perfect way to get people more aware of–and involved in–their food system. And for me, it’s a unique kind of on-the-job training where I get to apply what I’ve learned in my apprenticeship by planning and establishing a production garden from the ground up, with the incredible benefit of the resources and know-how of the Farm Centre’s team and partners, as well as the endless support of my Grow a Farmer mentors just outside the city in Darlington. I know this season will bring its challenges, many of which are unpredictable, unavoidable, and will likely be classified under “lessons learned,” when all is said and done. But I also know there is no better place to learn to farm than out in the field. So I guess the most I can hope for is to grow (an abundance of) fresh, nutritious food to share with the community, and help others learn how to do the same.   =========================================================================================================================

MEET THE 2013 GROW A FARMER APPRENTICES!!

We have a wonderful team of folks participating in ACORN’s first Grow A Farmer Apprenticeship Program, and here they are to introduce themselves!

AARON BOLEYNaaronboleyn_small

Hey there, my name is Aaron Boleyn and I am an apprentice at Bantry Bay Farm located near Saint-Andrews, NB. I’m from Saint Andre-Leblanc with plans to start my own farm in the area. So far my time here is going great! We’ve repaired a greenhouse, planted countless seeds, got a lot of transplants in the soil, did a great deal of soil blocking and so many other things, I can’t remember them all! I have been learning so much from all the host farmers, from flame weeding to tractor operation and a whole bunch of cool tasks involved with simply understanding the daily routine of being an organic farmer. I’m looking forward to learning about harvesting all the different crops we’ve been growing. I suppose I can work on patience while I’m here, as many are still on their way! I hope all the other apprentices on the other organic farms are having as much fun in the ACORN Grow A Farmer program as I am.

CHRIS LEFORTchrislefort 2

 My name is Chris LeFort, I come from a small rural area in Nova Scotia and am enrolled in ACORN’s Grow a Farmer program to learn how to farm, or at least get a good idea of what farming organically is all about, from my time based at TapRoot Farms this season. I studied biology at Dalhousie University where I found I had an interest in plants from volunteering in a lab where I tissue-cultured aquatic lace plants. I enjoyed the sense of satisfaction of propagating these plants in a sterile environment. Later on I became fascinated by the life cycle of mushrooms and began learning how to cultivate them. Mushrooms seemed to be an interesting model for organic farming because of the potential of using agricultural and forest waste for cultivation, and made me seriously become interested in organic farming as a profession. My main goal is to have a sustainable farm specializing in gourmet and medicinal mushrooms. This year I plan to have a side project of trying to grow some Oyster mushrooms or King Stropharia for TapRoot.

GÉMAËL MELANSONgemael

My name is Gémaël Melanson and I have been a wannabe farmer for the past five years. I’m from southeastern New Brunswick – a village called Cocagne – but was living and working in the province’s capital city (all the while trying to make my way back home) prior to discovering the Grow A Farmer program. This program seemed like a great opportunity to actively work towards achieving my goal of eventually running a smaller scale organic farm. Furthermore, I believe in living sustainably and it seems obvious that farming on a local scale is part of the equation. And so for the next several months, I will continue to plant, weed, cover, grow, weed some more, harvest and bunch veggies at Windy Hill Farm in McKees Mills, NB – which is conveniently located right next to Cocagne! I am hoping this experience will provide me with sufficient knowledge and skills to effectively start my farming project. Already, it is sparking new ideas and giving me confidence towards this type of work – all of which I need to put my plan and beliefs into motion.

GRETA LANDISgreta

 My name is Greta Landis, and I’m working at TapRoot Farms in Port Williams, Nova Scotia this season (along with the charming and talented Chris LeFort). I grew up in Maine, and have been a student in Halifax at the University of King’s College for the past four years. My interest in sustainable agriculture and environmental practice is a long-standing one, cultivated through summer research jobs and blossoming during two seasons of apprenticeships in organic vegetables, at Peacemeal Farm in Maine. I joined ACORN’s apprenticeship program to continue my education about health and philosophy of good food systems, and am learning lots this season about the education and outreach that goes along with organics and sustainability, not to mention the ins and outs of managing an organic farm. I am thrilled to be surrounded by excellent people and delicious food, and am particularly excited to get into growing flowers.

JIM YORKEOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 My name is Jim Yorke. I currently share my time between Greenhill, Nova Scotia and Tyngsboro, Massachusetts. This summer I am apprenticing at Broadfork Farm which is located in River Hébert, Nova Scotia and owned and operated by Shannon Jones and Bryan Dyck. I am participating in this program because I hope to acquire the skills and knowledge to be able to start my own organic farm in Greenhill, NS, where I own and live on farmland that has yet to be developed! I would love to start growing high quality organic herbs and vegetables and then possibly expand to include goats for cheese, chickens for eggs and sheep for wool. I also would like to raise honey bees to help pollinate my crop as well as to produce honey.

SARA BURGESSsaraburgess_small

Hi, my name is Sara Burgess. I’m originally from Halifax, and after over ten years in Toronto I came back east last summer to apprentice on LocalMotive Farm, at that time located in Stewiacke, NS. Coming from an office job that left me disconnected from the land, my body and community, I knew I’d love the physical work of farming, and I knew I believed in the environmental principles of small scale organic farming wholeheartedly, but the moment that made me say, ‘This is it, I want to be a farmer,’ was during our first CSA harvest. At that moment, all of the pieces connected and I realized that we were doing one of the most important things in the world – feeding people.

Now paired with Waldegrave Farm, I am currently maintaining Atlantic Canada’s first urban farm initiative: Common Roots Urban Farm in Halifax, NS, an amazing project run by Capital Health in downtown Halifax that, in its second season, boasts 121 individual and community plots, edible landscaping and a growing orchard/food forest, and my baby, a small farm where I, along with the many volunteers that pass through day to day, will be growing as much food as possible for the Parker Street Food Bank. I must say, I feel a bit like the luckiest soul alive to be part of this project, growing food alongside a whole community. With so much to manage and maintain, I am extremely fortunate to have Cammie Harbottle, of Waldegrave Farm as my long distance mentor, to help building my skills and knowledge as an organic grower, answering all of my ‘how do I do this’s and ‘should I have done that’s’  as well to regularly review the Grow a Farmer Curriculum Guide to provide me with some much needed support resources.

In the coming months I’m really looking forward to all that this program has to offer, and to another season of feeding people!
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Grow A Farmer Testimonials – From the farmers themselves! – March 14, 2013
Karen and Brock Davidge, NB Organic Farmers and 2013 Grow A Farmer Apprentice Hosts

Karen and Brock Davidge, NB Organic Farmers and 2013 Grow A Farmer Apprentice Hosts

“Why we believe in Grow A Farmer” – Karen and Brock Davidge – Good Spring Farm, 2013 Grow A Farmer Host-Farm, NB Spring is officially arriving here at Good Spring Farm with spinach, leeks, onion and pepper seeds sprouting. Farm planning for where and how much of each crop will be planted, plus, starting the replacement of our breeding flock of chickens has us making every minute count. With a new farm year and new opportunities, we look forward to offering this along with our many years of organic farming experience to a special ACORN Grow A Farmer apprentice. We wonder who will be matched with us to experience from a full season of ” learning to do by doing”. This program is the perfect way to discover in a few months what took us 20 plus years to piece together, and, after 33 years we are still learning. The expanding Local food movement is exciting to see. However the reality is that here in New Brunswick if the population shifted it ‘s purchasing habits from less than 5 per cent local to even 50 per cent there are not enough farmers left to produce it. Farming is an economic driver in any economy. Here at our farm one learns how this province can add over  $1 billion to our economy yearly with out subsidization or extra taxes simply by keeping our food dollars home. Food equals community sustainability. Since we have such a diversified farm, an apprentice can soon discover and determine what area (s) of agricultural work they prefer. Apprentices and students in the past have finished their time here with newly found talents, skills, and abilities. These relationships often continue even today. We had no agricultural background, before starting Good Spring Farm. We all have to start somewhere. Why not find your “somewhere” by participating in the Grow A Farmer program!

Want to learn more about Karen and Brock’s farm and/or review the others offering Grow A Farmer Apprenticeships this season?

 APPLY NOW! 

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Grow A Farmer Testimonials – From the farmers themselves! – March 13, 2013
Will Pedersen and Alyson Chisholm, NB Organic Farmers and 2013 Grow A Farmer Apprentice Hosts

Will Pedersen and Alyson Chisholm, NB Organic Farmers and 2013 Grow A Farmer Apprentice Hosts

“Why we believe in Grow A Farmer” – Will Pedersen and Alyson Chisholm – Windy Hill Farm, 2013 Grow A Farmer Host-Farm, NB

We are excited to be hosting our first Grow a Farmer apprentice this year at Windy Hill Farm. We really enjoy teaching all the skills and thought processes that go into operating an organic vegetable farm. This is a great program that provide in-depth training for people who are serious about starting a farm of their own and combines hands-on experience with seminars and field trips to other farms. The demand in our area for local and organic food continues to grow and we would love for young people to consider farming as a viable career option. Our farm benefits from the program by having an extra pair of hands which enables us to pursue more of the many new projects in our farm plan such as starting a fruit tree orchard and keeping honey bees on the farm. We also find that teaching an apprentice enables us to look at things in a new way. When you have to explain what you are doing and why, it gives you a new perspective on your production methods and the benefit of a fresh point of view. The program is also a great networking opportunity for apprentices. There are such a variety of diverse farms participating in the program, participants will have opportunities to learn about everything from plant propagation to season extension to fruit production and more.

Hendie and Lyné Dijkman, NB Organic Farmers and 2013 Grow A Farmer Apprentice Hosts

Hendie and Lyné Dijkman, NB Organic Farmers and 2013 Grow A Farmer Apprentice Hosts

“Why we believe in Grow A Farmer” – Hendie and Lyné Dijkman – Ruhe Farms, 2013 Grow A Farmer Host-Farm, NB

Knowledge is power, and knowledge about how to produce food responsibly, sustainably, and locally is even more powerful. Our agricultural schools will teach you the theory and mechanics of farming, but they will not instil in you the love and respect for nature that you need in order to be a farmer for the next generation. The best place to establish and nurture such a love and respect is on a farm under the mentorship of a farmer with the same values. Here at Ruhe Farms we are honoured to be involved in ACORN’s Grow A Farmer program as farm hosts and mentors. We look forward to help prospective new farmers reconnect with nature, learn how not only to consume, but more importantly, produce healthy, organically and locally grown food, and simplify their lives for a happier and more fulfilling existence.

Want to learn more about these inspiring farms and/or review the others offering Grow A Farmer Apprenticeships this season?

 APPLY NOW! 

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Grow A Farmer Testimonials –  From the farmers themselves! – March 11, 2013
Shannon Jones and Bryan Dyck, 2013 Grow A Farmer Apprentice Hosts

Shannon Jones and Bryan Dyck, NS Organic Farmers (in-transition), 2013 Grow A Farmer Apprentice Hosts

“Why I believe in Grow A Farmer” – Shannon Jones – Broadfork Farm, 2013 Grow A Farmer Host-Farm, NS

When I was an ‘aspiring farmer’,  I wish there had been a program like this available! Unlike typical farm apprenticeships, ACORN’s Grow A Farmer Program presents a great opportunity for anyone curious about organic farming–and is the only program of it’s kind in Canada!  My enthusiasm is not coming from an uneducated, hopeful guess, either. I (Shannon) happen to be on the Grow a Farmer Steering Committee, which has worked hard over the past year to make this unique initiative an exciting new support-service for our next generation of farmers. With an amazing team of ACORN staff, farmers, provincial organic specialists, and other stakeholders supporting the future of agriculture, I believe we’ve created a great framework to inspire success and confidence in anyone committed to a career in organic farming.

The perspective I bring to this program is from my experiences apprenticing and working on several different farms before establishing Broadfork Farm– my first farm business with my partner Bryan. I firmly believe that this experience–completing several farm-apprenticeships in advance of starting our own farm– brought invaluable education, lessened my risks of failure and helped shape the farmer (and person!) I am today. Without this experience of working with other, long-standing farmers, and accumulating their wisdom and advice, I would have missed out on a wealth of knowledge that I so dearly treasure now as I begin my own journey. Thankfully, ACORN’s Grow A Farmer Program is the ideal (and advanced!) set-up for one who wants to know what being an organic farmer is really all about! With a strong curriculum in place, covering topics like soil-fertility to marketing and financial profitability, plus an organized schedule of workshops, field trips, work parties and more, by the end of the season I’m confident that Grow A Farmer apprentices will have received an incredible amount of knowledge, as well as strong new connections to the Maritime organic community.

“Why I believe in Grow A Farmer” – Josh Oulton – Taproot Farms, 2013 Grow A Farmer Host-Farm, NS

"We're excited to be involved with the Grow a Farmer Program here at TapRoot because we want to be a part of shaping and teaching the next generation of people who will feed the world." - Josh Oulton, Taproot Farms, NS, 2013 Grow A Farmer Apprentice Host and President of ACORN's Board of Directors.

Josh Oulton and Patricia Bishop, with kids Izaak, Frank and Lily – NS Organic Farmers and 2013 Grow A Farmer Apprentice Hosts.

“We’re excited to be involved with the Grow a Farmer Program here at TapRoot because we want to be a part of shaping and teaching the next generation of people who will feed the world.” – Josh Oulton, Taproot Farms, NS, 2013 Grow A Farmer Apprentice Host and President of ACORN’s Board of Directors.

Join as an apprentice with the Taproot Farm-Crew this summer!

Join as an apprentice with the Taproot Farm-Crew this summer!

Want to learn more about these farms and/or review the other dynamic hosts offering Grow A Farmer Apprenticeships this season?

APPLY NOW!

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Grow A Farmer Testimonials – From the farmers themselves! – March 6, 2013
John Quimby, PEI Organic Farmer and Grow A Farmer Apprentice Host

John Quimby, PEI Organic Farmer and Grow A Farmer Apprentice Host

“Why I believe in Grow A Farmer” – John Quimby – Dunn Creek Farm, 2013 Grow A Farmer Host-Farm, PEI This note is for those reviewing information about this new exciting program before making an important decision: do you want to farm? I’m sure you’re trying to imagine the experience of being an apprentice/student, living and working on a local organic farm.  And perhaps you’re looking even farther ahead to living and managing your own farm. These dreams are pleasant enough but you may be feeling hesitant about making a commitment to an intensive educational experience, and you’re concerned because….hey, there’s so much you just don’t know! That’s why I’m here to help you along your way as a host-farm–your farming guide–because when you say, “I don’t know,” you are creating an opportunity to learn. Many of us don’t have the natural experience of growing up on a farm or knowing of a mentor to guide us, but every successful farmer is mentored during his or her development be it via grandparents, parents, a wise friend, a learning course, or hard-earned experience–these are the guides that have brought every one of us to the hands-on skill-development of planting, growing and managing a farm. Susan (my wife) and I are no exception. That’s the reason for this program. That’s the reason we support it. ACORN’s Grow A Farmer Apprenticeship Program is the outfitter for what we call the “Farm Adventure”. Being properly outfitted will give you confidence and prepare you to go forward on your journey with a community of fellow students, farmers and experts. A lot of people imagine themselves on a farm.  Approximately, 80 million people play Farmville week after week. This is your chance to live there.

Want to learn more about John and Susan’s farm and/or review the other 9 farms offering Grow A Farmer Apprenticeships this season?

 APPLY NOW! 

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Grow A Farmer Blog Entry – October 25, 2012
“Search for Soil” – Del Seto & Steve Micklewright, Side by Each Farm, Brookdale, NS 

After 10 years of global travels and searching for a suitable farm across much of Canada, this summer led my husband Steve and I to happily find and purchase a place right here in the Cumberland County of Nova Scotia.  We are from the prairies (Saskatchewan), newly transplanted in the Maritimes, and loving it!  It’s a long road back to the drier and colder grassland conditions we’re used to, but looking back, we can see how each step got us closer and closer to finding our small farm.

Del Seto and Steve Micklewright of Side By Each Farm, NS

Our families always grew food in the backyard garden while growing up. It allowed us to grow the typical things: beans, peas, potatoes, carrots. And there were the not-so-typical but staple ingredients that were cultivated: garlic, garlic chives, poppies, amaranth, mustard greens, bok choy, gai lan, goji berries, chrysanthemum greens, and other asian leafy greens.  My family spent a lot of time in the kitchen cooking meals from scratch using ingredients that came from the backyard. If we weren’t cooking, we were talking about food and what we’d prepare for the next meal. Those early days in the garden left quite a permanent mark, guiding me to what I love to do: planting seeds, growing food, and cooking meals from scratch. Both Steve and I had experience gardening in small yard plots but we needed to know the finer points of food production in a farm setting before feeling comfortable to even start looking at buying our own farm.  So we took a chance and applied to be interns on an organic farm in Ontario that was part of the CRAFT network (at the time, there was no program like it in the Prairies). We spent 8 months living and working on the farm which had small livestock, grains, and vegetables. We experienced managing the fields that supplied farmers markets, on-farm market, CSA, and wholesale orders.  It was a season to remember and from there, our farm search began. It led us to farms from Saskatchewan to PEI.  Along the way, we worked, read a lot, and volunteered at farms to gain more knowledge about what farming was to each of those farmers in that climate and at the same time, we were narrowing our list of needs/wants for our own future farm.  Finding a farm within our financial means–in a warmer climate–was very important to us so that meant going east. Our “dream list” of needs often expanded instead of contracted but we were learning about ourselves and fine-tuning our goals and vision.  Each farmer we met had so much knowledge to share that it was difficult to capture and store for later reference but both of us taking notes and noting different things (like how they market, their favourite varieties, what their crop rotation is, etc) allowed us to see and remember each farm with varying levels of detail. We took special note of particularly efficient systems that saved time and more importantly their bodies from excess or needless labour.

The fields of Side By Each Farm

So for us, we knew we wanted to find land that was within our financial means, close to potential markets, good soil, has woods/forest, and good water source.  The number of acres, size and condition of the house, and location of the farm were more flexible in the end compared to what we initially wanted.  We looked at farms for sale in each province and found them in ads, online, word-of-mouth, classifieds, posters, and realtors. We saw MANY properties but didn’t jump into offers to purchase.  The camera was very valuable in recording features of each farm that we could review in private later.  There’s so much to see and ask about for each property that taking a bunch of snapshots really helps, especially if you want to record things like indicator plants or tree species. Plus, the flash gives you light when you want to see what’s hiding in unlit places.  Asking many questions about the farm history and management helps to give an overall picture of the property.  We’d ask questions of whomever knew about the farm: realtors, relatives, neighbours, local businesses, and of course the seller.  And while looking at farm properties, we’d be asking all the same questions at the farms where we were working or volunteering.

Delicious veggies from Side By Each Farm!

After moving to the Maritimes, we borrowed 1/2 acre of land near Sackville, New Brunswick to begin growing in order to make invaluable observations that would help guide us on our own future property.  We grew many things and all of it we love to eat. We created field plans, maps, planting schedules, harvest lists, inventory lists, and long “to-do” lists.  Many details to manage but these records will prove to be important resources for future planning.  We were busy with the field and of course, busy looking at farm properties. There were many times it felt so out of reach but the support from friends, family, local community and ACORN kept us on track. It has taken a long while but we achieved a major goal in purchasing a small farm just outside of Amherst, Nova Scotia.  It has woods, water, outbuildings, barn, and a small home. We see a lot of potential in it and are happily and busily planning our farm systems. Our transplanted roots now have room to grow! =========================================================================================================================

Grow A Farmer Blog Entry – October 10, 2012

“The Way It Should Be” – Danielle Roberts, Apprentice of Broadfork Farm, NS

Danielle Roberts, Apprentice of Broadfork Farm

Growing up, I did not give consideration to where my food came from or how it was grown or handled. I was raised in a fairly conventional family, although my mother did keep a small veggie garden for a few years. I remember helping her in the garden and flower beds. I loved digging in the dirt and watching things grow. I think as I grew up I lost touch with that. I worked with horses for most of my life. My first real job was as a horseback trail guide at the age of 12. I had dreams of owning my own horse barn and teaching lessons and boarding horses, but after going to college to get a diploma related to equine business and working in that industry for a year, I realized that it’s more of a hobby business than a real business. I lost my passion and decided to try something different. I went back to college and got a regular computer-related job. I thought that if I did something that was going to support my lifestyle financially, then I would be happy. I was so wrong. I hated my job, but I got laid off a few months ago due to a shortage of work. It was a blessing in disguise.

It’s brussels sprout time! From left, Shannon Jones, Xander Alkhoury and Danielle Roberts at Broadfork Farm, River Hebert, NS.

I feel I’ve been given a chance to re-evaluate my life. During the past couple years I’ve been growing increasingly concerned about my food and what exactly I was putting into my body. I started doing some research and decided that I wanted to start making better choices for my body and my environment. This led me to a new career choice. I want to help my community by providing food that is organic, fresh and within reach. This is the way it should be. Everybody should have access to farm-fresh food without the concern of chemical residues or antibiotic-resistant bacteria. I have no real background in vegetable farming, so I stopped into the ACORN office one day to see if they had any ideas of where I could start. I was immediately given a  list of farms in the area that might consider taking on an apprentice or volunteer. That is how I came to know Shannon Jones and Bryan Dyck from Broadfork Farm. I have been volunteering at Broadfork Farm for almost three months now, and I have learned so much in such a short time. Things like how to transplant lettuce, how to prep veggies for market, how to take care of the land so it can give back to us in the form of healthy, fresh food without sacrificing the surrounding environment. I volunteered here just to learn how to farm vegetables, but now my world has opened up immensely. There are so many other options I’ve never considered. Things like starting up an incubator farm, growing hops and other crops, or raising livestock. I’m proud of myself for being a part of the local organic movement, albeit a small part for now; I hope to contribute more as I grow and learn. It’s been an adjustment going from a desk job, to working on a farm again. But I love it. I feel like I’ve contributed to my community a little bit at the end of each workday. I can’t wait to someday be as passionate and knowledgeable about organic farming as Shannon and Bryan are. I am so grateful for my time with them. Here’s to the future!!!! ========================================================================================================================================

Grow A Farmer Blog Entry –  Summer 2012

‘’Embarking on the Organic path’’ – Sarah Smith – Windy Hill Farm, McKees Mills, NB

It is the end of July and a hint of fall breeze creeps into the early morning hours and again sometimes at the end of the day. Living on the farm for three months now, immersed in the daily routine and the demands of the progressing season, I feel attuned to shifts and changes in the natural world around me. The cycles of plants, insects, farm animals, even pets and humans are illuminated as I pour my energy into helping to sustain the farm world.

Meet Sarah Smith, 2012 Apprentice at Windy Hill Farm in McKees Mills, NB. For more information about Windy Hill, please visit http://www.windyhillfarm.ca

To choose an apprenticeship over another wwoofing or tree planting experience was part of a personal transition from transience toward a more settled lifestyle. Coming back to New-Brunswick after several years on the west coast has brought me closer to my family and into an environment where the organic market is just beginning to take shape. Communities are developing around local and organic food production and these are exciting times in this province. In the beginning, I just wanted to work and learn, adopt the necessary skills that would allow me to start seedlings, care for transplants, build infrastructure and preserve food for the winter. Over time, and along with the decision to commit to a six month apprenticeship, so much more opened up, as often happens when one takes the initial step onto a certain path.

I’m unsure how many ‘’back-to-the-land’’ movements have existed throughout history, but I know I am now moving along in the current of the present day interest in reclaiming the ability to live in harmony with the natural environment. A passion for working outdoors and the desire to work only for myself have driven me toward the pursuit of farming as a career. The fact remains that farming is also a business, must be a business in order to stay afloat in this world. Though I witness all sorts of alternative economies on the farm, from bartering and gleaning to skill-sharing and work-bees, to view farming as a career means thinking beyond loving the earth and considering the value of the produce and animal products that we grow and make.

And every farm works differently. For me, it is an asset to be able to compare my experiences working on horse farms, farms that specialize in one or two crops, farms that supply specific markets like restaurants or farmer’s markets and even agricultural operations that wouldn’t consider themselves a farm but are still responsible for food production; like the organic garden that supplied the Yasodhara Ashram, where I worked and lived for 7 months in British Columbia.

There are countless models. What is appealing about farming as a career is the opportunity to create a unique working and living style that is tailored to the interests of the farmer; that also responds to the demands of different markets. People will always need food, but in so many different ways. We recently invited two volunteers from House of Nazareth, a food bank in Moncton, to come out to glean what was left of our cut lettuce, turnip and pea crops. A customer from the farmer’s market is coming out this weekend to salvage some of the runners from our soon-to-be pruned strawberry plants so he can start a crop of his own. A well-run farm can grow to become so much more than initially planned, can bring so many people together that would have otherwise never been connected.

The farm to me is like a big arena for experimentation, an enormous resource from which food, creative projects and human relationships can be built. I am aware that I have been granted an exceptional example of what a farm can be. And this is how my experience has been different from the typical room and board in exchange for work model.  Alyson and Will are excellent teachers, not only because of their dedication to the farm, but also in how they create a rich and well-rounded life for themselves, fed by their farming business. Learning the organic method is not only about feeding the soil, encouraging biodiversity and eliminating the use of artificial inputs in order to produce marketable yields, it is also about harnessing human energy to refuel the system from which we take so much.

Hard work is demanded, continual observation and openness to change are also criteria in transforming a farming operation into a fulfilling lifestyle. This is why I have gravitated toward organic farming; along with the growth of the farm over the course of the season, I witness my own growth and maturation. This morning I am not in the barn helping with the 5:30am milking. I am picking up chicken feed in Moncton for my pilote business project, raising meat king chickens. Then back to the farm to walk the fields with Alyson and plan the harvest and tasks for the coming week. This week we get our load of hay in, I’m moving up the road to house and cat-sit for some neighbours and the Delicious Revolution slow food group are having a deck party. Within the constant change and demand for adaptability is a comforting routine of chores: feeding the animals, sweeping the barn and lunch-making duties. Today on the farm, Will is making lunch, and I always look forward to his delicious creations…

From left: Sarah Smith, Windy Hill Apprentice with Alyson Chisholm, host-farmer of Windy Hill Farm, McKee’s Mills, NB.

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