Q&A with A Still, Small Farm
We recently started working with a small farm located near Brussels, Ontario called 'A Still, Small Farm'. Besides their beautiful bunches of carrots and kale, we love Andrew and Becky's growing philosophy and approach to farming. Read more about their family farm below and check out their blog here to follow their journey.
When and why did you and Becky become farmers?
Becky and I started into gardening at around the same time, at separate farms in 2008. We both grew up surrounded by farmland, but never were involved in any lasting or meaningful way. We started with a simple desire to work with our hands in the soil and do meaningful, productive work.
How long have you been growing on your farm?
This is our first year living at our current address, 4 km north of the village of Brussels. We have been living here since May, beginning field work shortly after moving here.
How do you grow your food?
As of right now, our landlord cultivates as well as spreads some nicely broken down manure on our acreage. He runs a certified organic jersey cow dairy, supplying milk for Harmony Organic. Currently we do use tillage, having a 40 horse power tractor with a 6 foot rototiller that forms our planting beds. We also use a small 9 horse power tractor to make hills for our carrots and to do some weeding. We also use a wheel hoe with a stirrup blade attached to it as well as a couple types of hand hoes. I would like to implement more and more no-till and strip-till practices as well as understand more about cover crops and green manures and starting a long term crop rotation.
What are you growing on the farm?
This past year we grew carrots, beets, turnips, winter radish, green onions, leeks, kale, swiss chard, green beans, snap peas, peppers and tomatoes. We also grew smaller amounts of spinach, mixed mustards and salad greens, celery leaf, celariac and cilantro.
What are your goals with the farm, and how do you see yourselves growing down the road?
Our goals with the farm are to eventually be able to garden full-time with minimal extra-curricular work needed to supplement our needs. I would like to focus on vegetable crops that do well in our climate, growing a garden than runs from mid-august into February or March. Basically be coming into full swing at the same time that many traditional market gardens are winding down. Some other goals would be to learn about and invest in aquaponics, root storage, growing vegetables for the winter using passive solar hoop houses (aka living refrigerators). We would also like to grow locally, have people get to know us, trust us and enjoy what we grow.
Why the name 'A Still, Small Farm'?
I think the name, however simple it sounds, aptly describes the memories we have had working the land throughout a few full seasons, how all the bustle and hustle are but brief moments, mostly filled in by a consistent, almost tangible stillness. The name also reflects the vision we have for our family and our priorities, we want the size of what we do to be limited to what we need to do, so as to know our place in this world, as stewards of the land and stewards of our family, each other, ourselves. To know that what we do is significant in scale yet at the same time small enough to be seen as a treasure worth rediscovering each day we are blessed with.
What have been some of your most rewarding moments as a farmer?
The quiet moments of being on your own or with a small group of people among you in an open space, the earth beneath you and the realization of what you are doing.. sowing, weeding or reaping. Especially sowing. I see those ordinary, raw moments as being the most rewarding. Hearing positive feedback from someone who has enjoyed the fruit of our labours, especially if they let you know how it is that they prepared it for a meal.
What have been some of your biggest learnings (positive or negative)?
We have learned the importance of having a layout for your garden before beginning the season. Still getting used to writing a journal and keeping notes as a physical record of what we accomplish day in and day out. We found out the hard way that having gardens in multiple locations with a couple kilometers between them (ie satellite gardening) is borderline insanity. Keep it all together! We learned that a front wheel drive Volvo wagon is NOT a field car!!
Why did you get involved with Fresh City?
We got involved with Fresh City for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I had grown over an acre and a half of produce with no idea of who would purchase it. We had done a Community Supported Agriculture share program through our garden the previous three years, gradually increasing in size, so we already knew what CSA was and agreed with this method of getting food from the field to the kitchen or pantry. We grew large quantities of certain crops, so the possibility that large, weekly orders could be made and fulfilled was intriguing.
Can you share any tips or words of advice for anyone thinking of getting into farming?
Gardening and Farming vegetables is labour intensive, seasonal work. It is not an occupation that promises the so-called benefits which many other lines of work do. As popularity for gardening and farming as an occupation continues to rise, it is still a vocation that most will not be able to relate to, even on a practical or physical level. Especially small-scale market gardens. Do not let this discourage you. Get networked with other growers, whether organic or conventional. We all need mentors and teachers! There are many farmers that have a wealth of knowledge and experience and would enjoy sharing it. Farming and story-telling go hand-in-hand. I would suggest interning or volunteering at different farms. Don`t be alarmed when callouses appear on your hands and dirt shows up under your nails!