One of the greatest things about running this company is the opportunity to meet people who share my passion for sustainable food. I’ve met people who are shopping for better options, people who are marketing differently and of course people who are growing food. Farmers are always fun. They are usual independent and solitary by nature, but always generous with their knowledge and hospitality.
This past summer, I visited the farm of a small Tamworth pork herd. The pigs share their space with some goats, various poultry and Ed (the resident farmer.) I showed up mid morning, just in time to interrupt coffee break around the kitchen table. After chatting with Ed for a while, I asked if he would show me around?’
Eds face lite up. “Come on ,” he says. “I’ll introduce you to the girls.”
‘The girls’ are his sows. Each of them is 500 lbs of excitement when they see him coming. We visit them in their outdoor pens. He talks about their personalities and how long he has had them. I give them a bristly rub behind the ears and a good pat. Taking a look over the treed pasture, specked with goats who won’t respect the fence boundaries, I have to ask. “Where are the piglets?”
Ed looks around. “I’ll call Momma,” he says.
He calls her by name and out of the long grass comes a very vocal, large, red-brown sow. Her loud demeanor makes me wonder if she is happy to see us, but she comes right up, greets Ed and stands while he gives her a good rub hello. The sound she is still making is something like a rough bark and soon enough I see who she is talking to. A group of 9, three week old piglets emerge from the undergrowth, where they were probably curled up together in their nest. They move quickly, staying together, a little like a flock of birds. Weaving in and out of the shelters, they make their way to Momma. She gives them a look over. Once she is satisfied that everyone is well she quiets down and slowly wanders off with her tiny bundles following along beside her.
The piglets are cute and the sow is impressive. Ed has chosen this breed because they are well adapted to pasture life. The Tamworth pig is a very old English breed, dating back hundreds of years. They were first introduced to North America 1877. Traits like good mothering skill, disease resistance and the ability to utilize lower energy feed inputs have been selected for over many generations. You will never see this breed in a large scale operation because they do poorly in confinement and their growth rate is too slow for today’s pork industry. It also means you have never tasted pork like this in the grocery store. The Tamworth is especially known for producing superior bacon.
Farms like Eds would have been common place when your grandmother was young. The last 2 generation have seen a drastic change in the way we farm. From the 1920’s to today the number of hogs grown in Canada has risen from 3.3 million to 12.6 million. In the same time period, the number of farms has dropped from 400 thousand to 7 thousand. (Statistics Canada 2015) This change has been primary powered by the bottom line. Now, I appreciate that affordable food is important to us all, but we are becoming increasingly aware of the true cost of food. It is time we start taking a more inclusive look at the price we are paying. If you are interested in learning more about the changes to the pork industry, the Modern Farmer magazine has a interesting summary. There is a video from the 1960 that is pretty amusing, as well.
Small scale farmers like Ed face different challenges then the industrial hog producer. There are different expenses and responsibilities. Cost of producing each pound of meat is higher for the small heritage pig farmer, because these animals take more time to grow and space requirements are larger. To help keep the cost to consumers lower these farmers often do all their own marketing, packaging and customer service. Time spent at a farmers market or on the phone taking orders is time that is not spent on the farm. Industrial farms have marketing boards in place to help educate, advertise and get product onto supermarket shelves.
The small farmer does his job because he loves what he does and he cares for each individual animal. He believes he is producing a superior product, with a deeper flavor and healthier origins. He is a steward of our land. It has been so wonderful for me to have the opportunity to see all the passion at work by the small farmers in our area.
There are more people out there then you know who are thinking about what a food system might look like that makes ecological food affordable, but still pays the farmer equitably. That is what we are working towards here at D&H Newman. We want to connect you to the farms in your back yard without you getting your boots dirty. At the same time we work hard to keep prices as low as possible and keep you informed about where your food comes from and how it is grown. We are a micro, local option. A one woman operation. We deal with a few products, right now, with new ones being added regularly.
There are a couple of other broader reaching options for purchasing local food coming on the scene. Some of you may have heard about Freshspoke and Eat local Grey Bruce. Both of these organizations allow you to shop directly from specific farms and have delivery options. It is wonderful to see how technology is facilitating alternatives to the traditional grocery chain. I would encourage you to check them out. Each is a little different in the services and products they offer. Both are young groups so I expect to see them become easier to use with a broader list of products as they grow.
It is an exciting time for local food in Bruce and Grey County. Technology is changing our ability to connect with each other and where our food comes from.
For me nothing will every beat a visit to the farm to see ‘the girls!’
You can try some Tamworth pastured pork from us in a 10 lb sample pack or place your custom bulk order now for January pick up.
Living on the shore of Lake Huron means that we all understand the polarity of the seasons, long hard winters and beautiful summers, with a beach on our doorstep that is the envy of every tourist. This year the polarity of the weather was tangible all through the summer. We experienced many beautiful, sunny, hot days that allowed us to enjoy all that Bruce County has to offer; camping, the beach and all the time outside that we wait all winter for. Yet we were all aware of how the drought affected our local farmer and food producers. For those who make their living with Mother Natures as a business partner, the weather provides a different challenge every year.
To be honest I did not always appreciate the happy beach pictures on Facebook. During the dry times I selfishly dreamed of seeing some of those beach days rained out just to get a little moisture. Like the Grinch at Christmas, I know nobody likes a Grumpy Gardener in the summer time.
I have relaxed a little now that we have had some moisture in the soil. I feel safe to look back and assess the affects of this extreme season on the garden. Some of the crops at our place have been a complete write off, while others are coming back nicely. I missed the steady supply of fresh greens from the garden this year, but I am confident that our hot pepper are going to be smoken’ hot. (I am excited that I may finally be able to produce a hot sauce to make my heat loving brother take notice!) I try to remember that when it comes to gardening you have to take the good with the bad and try to learn something new. One good thing about the extreme conditions of the season allowed me to make some interesting observations about the varieties that we grow.
If you are interested in heritage varieties, you will already know that one of the most valuable reasons for preserving them is the genetic diversity they carry. ‘Grumpy Gardeners,’ like myself, will grow different varieties just for the experience of eating a purple carrot, a striped tomato or a pink spotted bean, but the traits that should concern all of us are the genes that may provide resistance to disease or weather conditions that we haven’t experience before.
Climate change is predicted to cause more extreme weather like the summer we have just had. One of the benefits to years like this one is that they provide a testing ground for varieties and allow us to see which ones might be able to still thrive in a dry year.
There was a clear example of this in our bean patch this year. Due to the cool spring, quickly followed by the dry summer, germinating beans was a challenge. Beans like the soil to be a little warmer for germination, but there was only a brief period this year where the soil was warm enough and there was still enough moisture in the ground to begin and sustain growth. I grew seven different types of beans this year. The main part of my crop was composed of Royal Burgundy, Golden Wax and Green Slenderettes. These varieties are cheap to source the seed for and are usually reliable producers for me. I grew four other heritage varieties this year, Black Coca Bean, Tongues of Fire, Hutterite Soup Bean and Valentine, two for dry beans and two for green beans.
It was fascinating to see how all these varieties, planted at the same time, dealt with the pressures applied. Each one produced at least a moderate crop, but two varieties out shone the rest with high germination rates and good production. These varieties may not be suitable for commercial growers, but this year was a clear example of what we have to loose if those genetics were to disappear. Needless to say I will be taking notes and saving seeds from those plants.
Growing a range of varieties of any crop, gives my garden some buffer from Mother Natures mood swings. The benefit would stop there if it was not for other people and organizations doing the same type of thing on a larger scale. There are organizations in Canada who focus their efforts on preserving genetic diversity and even making some of these varieties available to mid size growers. If you are interested in more information you should check out Seeds of Diversity and Bauta Initiative on Canadian Seed Security. Right here in our own backyard we have the Bruce Botanical Food Gardens in Ripley. The BBFG is ripe with heritage varieties and is working to help preserve them and share the bounty with the community.
If all this talk of beans is making you bored or better yet, hungry you should know that there are entertaining and filling ways to help support people who are working hard to help keep our food system secure, that doesn’t require you to grow your own array of colourful beans!
The Bruce Botanical Food Garden’s annual harvest dinner and auction is a night of local food and entertainment that raises money for the BBFG. Ticket for this wonderful event can be purchased through firstname.lastname@example.org or better yet you could win them. My focus on heritage varieties in not actually in beans, but garlic. This year we expanded the number of varieties that we grow from 6 to 23. I have made notes on how they all preformed, but I need your help tasting them all. To say thank you to those who help we are giving away two tickets to the BBFG dinner. To have a chance to win purchase our taster pack this week, taste our garlic, share your thoughts though our survey and enjoy the last beautiful days of the growing season knowing you are helping all those ‘Grumpy Gardeners’ out there!
There is a third choice for shopping locally that is in some ways even more convenient. Community supported agriculture or C.S.A. allows you to own a share of what is produced by a farm for the whole season. The CSA philosophy is most often applied to vegetable production, but can be used for eggs and meat also. It began as a way to mitigate some of the risks involved in growing food. There are two farms that provide CSA delivery to Kincardine, Albrecht’s Family Farm and Ruetz’s Farm. As a costumer, you purchase a share at the beginning of the season and receive a generous portion of fresh produce each week, that you pick up at a designated location. In some cases your share can be delivered right to your door. Purchasing produce through a CSA is more cost effective then purchasing the same products separately and there are some wonderful benefits for both you and the farmer.
As a share holder you do share some of the risks of farming. Mother nature provides no guarantees. If it is a difficult year for tomatoes you my not receive many. If there is a bumper crop of beans you may end up with enough to put some away for the winter. In this way it is much like growing your own garden. Every year is a little different and what did well in a hot dry season will be a poor crop when we get a cool wet summer, but with proper planning every year provides something tasty to enjoy. Unlike your own garden you don’t get to dictate exactly what is grown. Most farms will request feed back from year to year to ensure that everyone has plenty they enjoy each week. It’s a good opportunity to try some food that you may not choose on your own. Many CSA will even provide recipe ideas with their weekly deliveries. Being a CSA member is a great way to learn about the farm you are invested in. Often you have the chance to hear about the trials and joys that are experienced throughout the season. If you are with the same farm from one year to the next you may get the opportunity to see them grow and improve based on the feed back you offer. The best part is making one stop to get produce that you know exactly where it came from and how it was grown.
As we enjoy all that the summer season has to offer, it’s great to have choices for sharing in the bounty of this area. Find one that works for you. You can explore the area’s road side produce stands, chat with vendors at the markets or consider a CSA share. CSA are cost effective and convenient. They allow you a one stop shopping for your weeks worth of healthy local produce and a real connection with the farm that produces it. It sure is a lot less weeding then growing your own!