We figured an introduction was overdue, since I've been lurking around these parts since last fall! Here is a warm hello, and a bit about who I am.
I grew up on a farm near a small community in northern Alberta and had the privilege of watching my Mom and Dad build a straw-bale home on an off-grid farm at a time when it wasn’t a sexy, green thing to do. In fact, I’m fairly sure they were deflecting small-town rumours of their own insanity in between futile attempts at insuring their new home. ‘’No, we are not living under a mound of straw with the three little pigs... sigh.’’ My relationship with farms and farming has evolved from being a dirt-covered farm kid, farm slave (just kidding Mom and Dad, I now understand those tireless hours of picking field rocks were building “character”), and now, a farmer.
Like so many other born-and-raised farm kids, I felt the pervasive cultural push to leave the farm in search of those mystical greener pastures that were bound to appear with continuing education and life in a city. For some, they do appear. For me, while I was out globe trotting, attending university, and desperately trying to answer the daunting question of what I wanted to be when I grew up, my greener pastures were cleverly disguised as actual green pastures just outside my door, and they patiently waited for me to come back to them.
With the guidance of many kind and thoughtful people, I was able to reframe that consuming question, instead asking, How do I want to be? How do I want my life energy to contribute to the creative revolutions and solutions needed to address the mounting pile of global atrocities, simply but profoundly caused by our collective sense of disconnectedness?
I believe farmers everywhere are being called to engage our communities on a much deeper level; to lead the way in establishing local and regional food security and resilience; to restore and regenerate our landscapes; and to revolutionize our relationship with the Earth and how we tell our own human story. We are not silent as farmers; our choices in how we manage our landscapes, how we grow and sustain life on our farms, and how we engage our communities are all deeply political, social, economic, and ecological acts.
My hope, and commitment, is to offer a kinder, slower, and more connected way of living and to bring great love to the small acts of growing and tending life on the farm. In a nutshell, that is why I am here! Plus, I fell in love with a really handsome farmer ;)
Here's to a happy and healthy season,
Hi Grass Roots Family Farm,
This is Kerri, Jean-Francois's wife, the 25-year long vegetarian, well, now an omnivore.
I started experimenting with Vegetarianism at the age of 18, I had times of crossing over again here and there in the interest of making a decision that was well rounded and was pretty sure I'd stay "Veggie" for the rest of my days.
When JF and I started working on farms and doing Market Gardens I started to question my choices, (which were made for a number of reasons, but the primary ones were in the interest of the animals, the people that work with them and for the planet's resources) but did not have any convincing examples to change my ways for certain.
When we visited your family farm I was so moved by the care and the respect given to your animals.
Photo's credit above: Jens Gerbitz and Slow Food Edmonton
Last fall on October 4th, we had the privilege of co-hosting a celebration on our farm with Slow Food Edmonton that was nothing short of incredible! We started the day off with guided tours of the farm, a honey tasting workshop led by Patty Milligan and an informative session about native pollinators by ecologist Mark Wonneck. Then, the team of chefs from Get Cooking Edmonton topped off the evening with an unbelievable feast made from local sourced ingredients.
It was our first experience working with Slow Foods Edmonton and we were amazed and inspired by their commitment to preserving and promoting a food culture that values diversity, sustainability and flavour. Not only did a group of 20 plus Slow Food volunteers help coordinate the entire event, but they also raised $1100 dollars which they graciously donated to our farm to be used for some much needed infrastructure.
Since we moved to our new yard site in 2008, we have been without an automatic watering system during the winter. With the money that Slow Food Edmonton raised we were able to purchase and install an automatic frost free watering system which can be used in our integrated cattle and hog wintering site (more on this system later!). This simple piece of energy efficient technology has greatly reduced our work load during the harsh winter months and improved our livestocks quality of life, as now they have free choice of fresh water even when it is -40˙C! Our previous method of winter watering was to give them as much water as they could drink twice a day. Something which took a great deal of time!
So from all of us here on the farm (especially the pigs and cows!), we want to say a BIG thank you to Slow Food Edmonton, Get Cooking Edmonton, all of the wonderful volunteers and of course our guests that day! You all made our first Fall Celebration a day to remember and we just can't wait to see what happens next year!
We just recently had the opportunity to share our vision for our Forest Garden CSA at a presentation at Augustana in Camrose, AB. If you were unable to make it to the presentation or you would like to find out more about what it all means feel free to check out the videos below to view the presentation in its entirety. These video focus on the overall design of our Forest Garden as well as our reasons for using the Community Supported Agriculture model to make this concept a reality. We feel that the second video not only explains our vision for the Forest Garden but our overall intent.
A big thanks to Craig Wentland, Hans Asfeldt, Ryan Lindsay, Erin Specht and the rest of the Augustan Chaplaincy for all your help!
It has long been obvious that things don't "add up" when looking at the cost of "cheap food". Well, here is an article that proves it.
This is the epilogue from Sandor Katz latest book,The Art of Fermentation. His words resonate strongly with us and I just want to spread his wisdom.
A Cultural Revivalist Manifesto
Here in Central Alberta Canada we live in the Aspen Parkland Biome. This means that our natural ecosystem consists of groves of poplars and spruce trees with a variety of understory perennial shrubs, vines and ground cover species. These clusters of trees would be interspersed with areas of prairie grasslands that were historically home to massive herds of grazing bison. This biome is extremely resilient, very productive and perfect for our climate. Seeing as this is what our landscape naturally wants to become; why not work with it to achieve its true potential instead of fighting natural succession, expending huge amounts of time and resources in the process! Why not set up a farm that mimics our native biome?
By using the Aspen Parkland Biome as our template we can create a farm that is beyond organic and beyond sustainable. A farm that is regenerative and resilient because it functions as nature intended. What if we swap poplar, birch and box elder for apples, pears, cherries, plums and apricots? Change our native conifers for Korean Pine and we've got pine nuts as big as pistachios! Throw in some walnuts, chestnuts and oaks from the Oak Savannah Biome just south of us and we have our canopy species! The mid story and understory is a little easier as hazelnuts, raspberries, cherries, saskatoons, cranberries, gooseberries and currants are already native here. However, we could add a few extras like mulberries, haskaps/honeyberries and hardy kiwis just to mix things up a bit. As for the ground layer, well we can just stick to strawberries and an incredible variety of medicinal plants that already call this place home! That covers our wooded areas, now what about the interspersed areas of grasslands? We can simply plant some native grasses and some legumes in between our groves of fruit and nut trees and we are almost done! The last step is integrating animals into our farm system to manage the grassland and contribute to the fertility cycle. Seeing as bison are a little hard to manage and the fact we already have cattle, pigs and some chickens why not let them roam around keeping the trees and lush grass in check! Now add in all the native birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects and mammals that are desperately looking for a place to call their own, and there you have it! A farm cleverly disguised as a thriving ecosystem.
But how do we harvest these 25 plus edible trees, shrubs and perennials along with the hundreds of other culinary and medicinal herbs that would undoubtedly love to call this place home? Well by dividing our summer growing season, from about June to October, into 3 harvest periods per month we would get a total of 15 harvest times. Then, by simply grouping all of our desired edible crops into one or possibly two of these harvest periods our harvesting suddenly becomes less daunting and incredibly efficient. Now, if we dig a shallow swale that follows the natural contour or Keyline of the land we can plant our trees, shrubs and perennials on the lower side of these swales. This will allow any and all water that falls on the landscape to be be spread out evenly and absorbed into the ground above the plant's roots. Then, as the subsurface water plumes towards the awaiting roots it will be safe from the evaporative effects of the Sun! Plant these rows in pairs at regular intervals across the land, fence them off and bring in the animals! This farm is ready to roll!
So there you have it, a farm that can create and manage its own fertility, build soil, passively manage water and sequester carbon all while provide carbohydrates, proteins and oils for human or animal consumption, fruits that contain hundreds of nutraceutical properties, trees for timber, fuel and forage among many, many other things! We already have two small examples of this systems on our farm near Ferintosh, Alberta. With over 80 fruit and nut trees and 200 plus support plants in the ground, it covers just over one acre. In the summer of 2014 we have plans to expand this to a larger 25 acre parcel. This expansion is going to be in partnership with our local community in the form of Community Supported Agriculture Forest Garden Shares. By working with our community we are adding a whole other level of diversity and resilience to our plan that we feel will get people back on the land to actually see where there food comes from. For more information about our farm and to see a video we made about our vision. Just visit our website GrassRootsFamilyFarm.ca, it should help you get a better picture of how it will all come together.
There is a Greek Proverb that reads “societies become great when old men and women plant trees who's shade they know they will never enjoy”. I believe this adage is extremely relevant given our current state of affairs on our planet. Our current Agricultural system is largely responsible for the degradation of our Air, Soil, Water and diversity. We are literally eating our planet to death, but this doesn't have to be the case! By paying attention to our local biomes around the world we can tailor our farming practices to flow with the natural patterns that best suit the land were we live. Many people all around the world have been practicing this new kind of farming for years now! People like Martin Crawford, Mark Shepard, Sepp Holzer, Geoff Lawton, Bill Molison, Stefan Sobkowiak and many other greats! They all saw that Mother nature is here ready to help, and they all reached out and took her hand!
These kinds of natural farms will take years to establish but once in production it will provide nourishment for decades and with a little care even longer! Now is the time to start implementing farms like this en mass. Just think, some day our children's children will have a place to sit in the shade and marvel at this wondrous world we call home.
Takota Coen is a farmer, carpenter, educator and ecological consultant.