One lovely autumn afternoon in 2014 while I was enjoying the change of season, splitting firewood at my home near Wakefield. I asked myself, why does life need to be more complicated than this? I was working as a self employed graphic designer at the time. My partner, Marisa, worked at a city of Ottawa nursing home. Her commute took her two hours round trip each day, much of it spent idling in a car waiting to cross a bridge. My days were spent sitting at a computer, worrying about the declining prospects of my profession. We were both ready for something new. In hindsight we had been for some time.
Thinking back, my happiest times were the hours and weekends that slipped by when I was puttering in my city garden. Marisa, the daughter of Italian immigrants grew up with a large vegetable garden that provided most of her families vegetables, one that she maintained for her mother until very recently. As I was stacking the wood I’d finished splitting I began to daydream. It was the dream of a simpler life. A life where we were more self sufficient, grew healthy food for our community, and spent our days out of doors, living in synch with the seasons. We were both excited. And so began the search for land upon which to build our dream.
We searched high and low all that fall and into the winter for suitable land. Most of what we looked at in the beginning had Canadian shield a few inches down, or gravel that passed for topsoil. In April of 2015 we finally found land suitable for an orchard and market garden, rich silt loam bottom-land on the shores of the Indian Creek in Mississippi Mills. Our first years were not easy. We made mistakes. We got flooded. Our pear trees died. We learned a lot. We are still learning. I like to think our worst mistakes are behind us now. Although the consequences of some remain.
Fast forward a few years. We grow more and better every year. We’ve settled into a comfortable rhythm. We are embedded in a lovely community that supports the work we do. The orchard has begun to produce fruit on a commercial scale. We feel validated in our decision to take this project on. There is no place we would rather be. There is nothing we would rather be doing.
We’ve become involved. With some experience under our belts , we have begun share our successes and failures with new farmers. Last season we donated 830 pounds of vegetables to the Lanark County Food Bank. We belong to the National Farmers Union (NFU). We are members of the Canadian Organic Growers (COG). We actively lobby all levels of government, advocating for tighter pesticide regulations and more robust environmental protections. I also have a seat on the Mississippi Mills Agricultural Advisory Committee.I was selected to share the perspective of organic farmers, who had previously been unrepresented on the committee.
In 2019, the municipality of Mississippi Mills asked us to accept oversight and management of it’s nascent Pollinator Plant Pilot Project. This is a project that restores roadside pollinator habitat and using experimental techniques seeks to control the spread of invasive species such as wild parsnip. Many of our neighbours and environmentally conscious community members have joined in to make this undertaking both a success as well as a fun community building project. We and our neighbours have adopted a 2km stretch of the Sugar Bush road to keep the spray trucks far away for our farm and homes.
We’ll be here for a while I think.