Monday, September 3, 2012

Grower Visit: Feral Fields Farm

Dan and I recently visited one of our growers – Bethany and Sebastian from Feral Fields Farm. We met Beth and Seb when they were students in Fleming College's Sustainable Agriculture Program, in which we are adjunct faculty teaching seed-saving. They caught the seed-saving bug and contacted us after they graduated to explore grower opportunities with us. 
Heading to the barn

Bethany and Seb are currently growing lettuce seed for us and we recently took a day trip to take a look
at their crops. Since they don't have land of their own yet, they have a unique arrangement with Green Being Farm, outside Neustadt, Ontario – they work half the week for the farm in exchange for a section of land to farm for themselves the other half of the week. Since access to land is one of the biggest challenges for young farmers, I think we need to encourage more innovative arrangements such as this one. They have named their operation “Feral Fields Farm”. Currently, they are focused on market gardening with a small CSA, bee-keeping, chicken and duck raising and seed crops. They are also starting a small orchard of native nut trees (a long, long range plan!).

I love visiting our growers: we get to see first-hand how they are growing our seed crops, we discuss tips and techniques for getting a good seed harvest and it gives us an idea of the size of harvest we can expect. We believe in building our relationships with our growers – it enriches us all. We also always come away with a few ideas ourselves that we tuck away for future reference. In Seb and Beth's case, we found them using a neat type of electrified netting to protect their flocks and their crops. The whole netting is electrified and it has smaller holes at the bottom to prevent chickens from sticking their heads through it. Its chief attraction, though, is its portability. It's very light and can be moved easily by just pulling up the stakes. It's also expandable so it's perfect for pastured flocks that need to be regularly moved. 

Portable electric netting in the background

They also use the netting around their market garden, as it's a fair distance from the farmhouse. We're thinking of trying it around our corn, powered by solar, to protect it from raccoons since nothing else has worked!

Examining the lettuce seed crop. This is Brune d'hiver, a rare French heirloom. We originally obtained the seeds from France & have been growing it out to get a sufficient  seed crop. This year we were able to hand it over to a grower for larger scale production. You can see the protective garden netting in the background. 

Bethany & Seb are also growing some seed crops for themselves. This is dill gone to seed, which they'll harvest for planting next year. By the way, Dan really was there, too – but someone has to take the pictures!

Green Being Farm, which is “hosting” Feral Fields this year, is an interesting farm unto itself. The owners, Tarrah Young and Nathan Carey, specialize in pastured livestock and a winter CSA. This combination allows them to focus on their animals in the spring and early summer and their market garden in late summer/fall. Running a winter CSA means growing a lot of crops that can be stored during the winter, such as turnips, carrots, beets, onions and squash. This means you need a fairly large cold cellar for crop storage. Tarrah and Nathan came up with a brilliant idea – they used the old in-ground pool on the property! Covering it with a roof gave them an instant HUGE cold cellar that has worked beautifully.

The in-ground pool cold cellar. My favourite part: the stairs!

Dan and I have an old above-ground pool that years ago we turned into an above-ground pond. The kids had grown up and left home and we had no further use for the pool. So we stopped adding pool chemicals and just let nature take its course. Within a short time, frogs had taken up residence. Dan put objects into the pool that allowed the frogs to get out and sunbathe and, lo and behold, we had a little ecosystem. Now there's a whole frog community in our “pond” and on spring nights, the cacophony of mating calls is enough to make me wonder why the neighbours don't complain of noise violations! I love it – there's nothing better than falling asleep to the myriad sounds of frogs “ribbeting” (and our mosquito population has declined significantly!).

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