Monday, September 20, 2010

Progress on the farm

I live on a rural acreage, so does this make the land a farm? I grow crops commercially, so does this make me a farmer? I prefer to think of the land as mixed use rural and myself as a land steward and market grower rather than farmer. There are too many “conventional” (industrial) farmers for me to relate to this breed, although the resurgence in “traditional” (organic) farmers is very heartening, even if we are a tiny minority.

It is gratifying to see the progress we have made in the eleven years that we have been tending this lovely patch. There have never ever been chemicals spread here; Carman who owned then rented it for growing a variety of crops always farmed traditionally, even though engulfed in a sea of conventional farms. We began growing garlic and lavender, then echinacea angustifolia, before settling on market-fresh greens and herbs as our mainstay and setting up shop as Rolling Hills Organics, certified organic all the way.

We now sell twice weekly at organic farmers market in the city (Toronto), an hour and a half away. We also sell to a handful of upscale city restaurants and I make weekly deliveries to several local eateries (in Warkworth, Cobourg, Port Hope, on Rice Lake). I can genuinely promise all customers exclusively fresh organic produce of premium quality, picked that day or the day previous, washed in pure well water, spun, dried, weighed, bagged and cooled.

Having retired the beast of a BCS walking tractor which doubled as roto-tiller and sickle-bar mower, the grunt work is ably performed by our labour-saving New Holland tractor with its 72-inch roto-tiller, cultivator, plow, and bush-hog, not to mention the front-end loader with its lugging capacity.

Two one-thousand square-foot growhouses now supply mostly salad greens and fresh herbs from mid-April to mid-December, extending our growing and selling season from six months to nine. A third growhouse (next year?) will help us better keep up with demand.

Elsewhere, five acres of fields re-treed five years ago with white and red pine, spruce, and larch are coming along somewhat patchily. This year, beekeeper Ian Critchell placed ten beehives next to the upper fields and so the bees are back and busy (after previous owner Paul von Baich’s six hives and wonderful honey moved away).

In the coming months the first 100 x 300-foot array of solar panels is due to be installed in a pastured field up the hill, the first of an entire acre. We have leased this acre to a Canadian solar energy company and are thrilled to be on the cusp of generating both electricity to go straight into the local grid and supplementary income for, yes, OK, the farm.