Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Farm Open House - June 17

New date for our Farm Open House --- 
Saturday June 17 from 11-4. 
This is what you can look forward to:

Our junior farmers, Hazel and Georgia will show you how to pet the baby lambs. We'll have coffee, tea, and cold drinks available, but feel free to bring a picnic lunch. Stop by anytime and stay as long as you like, from 11-4.

 * Meet the sheep & lambs, cows, pigs, 
hens, and brand new baby ducklings

* See samples of wool in various stages - raw, carded & yarns

* Take a walk in the woods 

* Marvel at the miracle that transforms Sun + Soil into Grass into Meat & Milk & Fibre

*Learn about our farm and how we grow food and fibre for you.

Get in touch by email, phone, or FB for our address and directions.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

We're hiring this summer!

Thanks to all who applied for our farm assistant position - we have found somebody to work with us this summer. If the group of candidates that applied are any indication, the future of ecological agriculture is very bright indeed!

We are looking for somebody who is honest, committed and reliable, a dedicated worker, a keen observer, willing to learn new skills, and interested in organic agriculture to come and work with us this summer! Previous experience working on a farm is an asset, but not required.

About the position:

We require a commitment from May 15 – August 30 but will give preference to somebody who can continue to work until mid-October. Time off within this period is possible but must be negotiated to fit outside of key work periods. There will be a minimum of 8-12 hours per week that will be paid at the rate of $11.25 - $13.50 per hour depending on your skills and previous experience. Additional income will be created for the right person through profit-share and/or enterprise opportunities and/or trading labour for farm products (including meat, dairy, wool, eggs, garden produce/fruits, or livestock) for personal use or transformation & sale. Somebody who is self-motivated and hard-working can expect to generate a full-time income. We will provide full training for all of the tasks that we expect of you and can provide mentoring and off-farm learning opportunities for aspiring farmers.

Your main tasks will include:
·      Grazing assistance (rotational grazing)
·      Livestock care
·      Composting
·      Haying
·      General farm maintenance including fence and outbuilding construction and repair

Depending on your interest and motivation we will also involve you in the following:
·      Wool transformation, fibre arts workshops, fibre festivals
·      Machinery maintenance/repair/operation
·      Fence and farm outbuilding construction/repair
·      Sheep care including lamb care, hoof trimming, boluses, ear tagging, shearing, etc.
·      Family cow care including AI, milking & udder care, nutrition, grazing, and transforming dairy products
·      Raising poultry from day-olds up to and including on-farm butcher for personal consumption
·      Pigs feeder to finish, including pasturing and calculating rations
·      Marketing and direct sales of farm products
·      Vegetable cultivation, harvest, storage, and transformation (canning, etc)

About our Farm:
On our 40 acre certified organic farm we raise registered Icelandic sheep for their wool and meat, heritage breed turkeys and heritage breed pastured pork. We also keep a Jersey cow and her calves, a flock of laying hens, large vegetable gardens, and ample fruit for our own consumption with some excess for sale from time to time. This is a family-scale farm but we need extra help this summer as our family grows. Our farm is located in Cantley, QC, just a 20-minute drive from downtown Ottawa or 30 min from Wakefield, 5 km from a bus stop and attached to an amazing network of cross-country ski/hiking trails. On-farm accommodation in a cabin or camper/trailer is a possibility, as is ride-sharing into Ottawa for those who would like to combine this opportunity with other work in town. 

If this interests you, please get in touch. Let us know about your previous relevant experiences including any experience you may have with: farming, livestock, machinery, construction, physical labour, outdoor labour. Let us know what in particular interests you about this position and what you’d like to get out of it.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Workshop Roundup

Thanks to all who participated in our fibre arts workshop series this fall, we had a great time learning from some amazing fibre artists!

We started out on September 24 with a Natural Dyeing workshop with Amanda Carrigan, we used 5 different natural dyebaths to generate some amazing plant- and insect-based colours. We dyed with cochineal (pink), indigo (blue), goldenrod leaves and stems (green), sumac (grey) and tickseed (yellow). In these pictures you see our yarn samples in the mordant bath, and  rinsing the samples and hanging them to dry. The natural colours looked amazing! Thank you Amanda for this fantastic workshop.

On September 25 we had a workshop on wet-felting. We learned to make a Wet-Felted Bird Pod with fibre artist extraordinaire Diane Lemire. Diane is truly a felting genius and we were so lucky to be able to learn from her. Felting is fun, and it's also hard physical work! Here is Diane with 2 participants and their finished bird pods. I wonder if there are feathered residents in the pods yet? Thank you Diane!

Next up, on October 15, was Weaving on a Peg Loom with Susan Berlin. It is truly amazing the versatility of this simple tabletop loom! We learned the basics of creating different shapes with the peg loom, making simple woven rectangles, triangles, and circles. My work resulted in a series of teddybear-accessories for my daughter, and other participants later went on to create gorgeous baskets and tote bags using the peg loom techniques they learned. Thank you Susan for this fantastic workshop, and thank you as well to Kirsten of Corvus Wood Creations for the gorgeous hand-made hardwood peg looms!

Susan Berlin again joined us on October 16 for a workshop on Preparing a Raw Fleece. Using samples from various breeds of sheep, we learned how to assess, sort, wash, card, and comb raw fleece. If you want to shop from a local farmer, this is the kind of information you need to know to turn your bag of wool into something that's ready to spin or felt with. It was amazing to try out the different fibres and see how they responded differently to varying techniques. 

We finished up the workshop series with 2 amazing workshops by the talented fibre artist Anna Beaudet, who taught us how to make Traditional Padraig Slippers on October 29 and finally a Learn-to-Knit from Sheep to Cowl workshop on November 13. Both of these workshops utilized materials from our farm - yarn from our flock of Icelandic sheep hand-dyed with plant materials by Anna and myself, and sheepskin soles for the slippers. In each workshop participants went home with a well-started project and some new skills as well. Here you will see the sheepskin soles and skeins of hand-dyed yarn, ready to go and a picture of the newborn slippers that I made...now all they need is some newborn feet to keep cozy and warm.  Thank you Anna for these amazing workshops!
During each workshop we also took some time to go on a farm tour, learning about rotational grazing, Icelandic sheep, and how we raise organic food and fibre. We spent some time looking at some fibre samples from different local farms - an amazing array of gorgeous fibres are grown right here in the Ottawa-Gatineau region and the more we support our local fibre farmers, the more they will be able to grow. And, we kept our bellies and minds full sharing food, too much coffee and tea, and a lot of laughs. Thanks to all of the facilitators and all of the participants, and also thank you to Achillea Endeavours for providing a grant that really helped to ensure these workshops were a success.

We will book some more workshops for 2017 - let me know what you'd be interested in learning and stay tuned for dates!

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Workshop Series: Our Ecological Fibreshed

We are now offering an on-farm workshop series on our ecological fibreshed!

You will learn how we raise organic Icelandic wool on our farm and learn about our fibreshed and how you can support it. We are partnering with a team of master fibre artisans - in each workshop you will learn a new skill and take home something beautiful made by your own hands. Plus, enjoy delicious local food and new friendships.

Thanks to a grant from Achillea Endeavours, you will only pay for your materials and food cost! Each workshop has a minimum of 4 participants and a maximum of 8-12 so register early to guarantee your spot.

Learning to Knit: From Sheep to Cowl
with Anna Beaudet
1:00 - 5:00 pm
$ 55
This workshop offers an introductory lesson in the ancestral art of knitting, right here where your wool was raised! You will go home with an understanding of the craft and the foundations of a beautiful Infinity Cowl.

Natural Dyeing
with Amanda Carrigan
Saturday, September 24
9:00 am - 4:00 pm
$ 35
Learn to transform fibres into gorgeous colours from the materials all around you. You will work with natural dye materials such as walnut, loosestrife, blackberry, sumac, nettle, rudbeckia, goldenrod, coreopsis and indigo and go home with samples of wool that you have dyed.

How to Create a Wet-Felted Bird Pod
with Diane Lemire
Sunday, September 25
10:00 am - 4:00 pm
$ 40

A great simple hand-crafted project for the fun of it! Perhaps a little 'feathered friend' will take shelter there in the spring. Great as a gift for friends who love gardening. Wet felting offers countless possibilities.

Peg Loom Weaving: Bewildering to look at, simple to use!
with Susan Berlin
Saturday, October 15
9:00 am - 4:00 pm
$ 50
This workshop will introduce you to weaving on a peg loom. How can a simple row of pegs possibly produce gorgeous triangular patterns and round shapes? Once you see it demonstrated, you discover that it's about as simple to use as anything else in the fibre world. You will leave with an understanding of this traditional craft, your own new weaving, and your very own peg loom to use at home!

I have a raw fleece -- now what do I do? Preparing a Raw Fleece.
with Susan Berlin
Sunday, October 16
9:00 am - 4:00 pm
$ 30
If you are interested in working with local fibres but have never worked from a raw fleece before, this workshop is for you! There are hundreds of breeds of sheep -- each producing a particular type of fleece. How do you choose one? How do you assess it? Once you have it home, how do you skirt, sort, wash, and prepare it? And, what's the best use yarn to make from that particular fleece? We will also talk about where you can find different types of fibre in our region. If you spin, bring your wheel or spindle to try out your new fibre!

Traditional Padraig Slippers 
with Anna Beaudet
Saturday, October 29
1:00pm - 5:00 pm
$ 55
Create a pair of beautiful crocheted slippers with a fresh sheepskin sole using wool and skins from the farm. This workshop will cover a basic understanding of the art of crochet, and you will go home with the foundations of a pair of beautiful slippers to keep you or a loved one warm and cozy this winter!

What is a fibreshed? This term refers to all of the fibre products grown and produced within a geographic region. 

What can we find in our fibreshed? Alpaca, llama, several types of wool, kid mohair, angora rabbit and more!

What is meant by an 'ecological' fibreshed? This term refers to the fibreshed products produced through ecological agriculture. Just as people are becoming more concerned with how their food was produced, so too must we concern ourselves with how our fibres are produced. Ecological agriculture means healthy soils, better water quality, maintaining habitat for pollinators, birds, and wildlife, and a significant reduction in chemical agricultural inputs in the soil and in the animals. As a fibre enthusiast, you can help to support farmers in our region that are shifting towards more sustainable, ecological practices.

Monday, 2 May 2016

How do you set your prices?

 I get asked a lot about prices for farm-direct products – what is a “good” price for x,y,z? Why do some farmers charge more than others? How do you set your prices?

First of all, if you’re reading this, you’re probably interested or actively supporting local and ecological agriculture. So suffice it to say that the whole concept of setting prices is totally different at the scale of a small-to-medium sized farm directly selling to consumers than it is for, say, Loblaws trying to decide how to price a pineapple.

I think it’s fair to say that most local, ecological farmers are working extremely hard and trying to be as efficient as they can. They are earning enough for them to justify keeping on – whatever that means for that farm. Some earn more than others, but by and large the prices that they charge are their best attempt to bring a quality product to market at the best price they can. If you’re curious, ask! Don’t be shy – a good way of asking is to say, “How do you set your prices?” If asked with respect and curiosity it will not be an offensive question.

Why is local, organic food so much more expensive than grocery store prices?

So here are some things that you already know about supporting local, organic agriculture, but I’m going to remind you:

There are so many reasons to pay for local, sustainable agricultural products: food quality, variety, biodiversity, pollinators, agricultural heritage, water quality, soil quality, nutrient density, animal welfare, local economic benefits, community resilience…the list can go on, and on.

Yes, locally produced, ecologically produced food costs MORE than what you can get at the grocery store. But when you buy from local, sustainable farms, you are bearing the true cost of the food produced. When you see a price at the grocery store think about what you are NOT paying for – because rest assured somebody else is paying it. Somebody is paying for those fossil fuel subsidies to ship the product across an ocean; somebody is bearing the burden for exploitative wages to bring the harvest in; somebody is paying for soil depletion and water pollution when agriculture strips the soil and fills watersheds with pesticide, fertilizer and manure runoffs.

When you support local, ecological agriculture the price you are paying for grassfed beef or lamb, for example, is also sequestering significant amounts of carbon back into the soil, fighting climate change. The price for organic local broccoli is also paying for a habitat for pollinators, birds, and wildlife and protecting biodiversity. When you buy locally produced pastured pork you are paying for those pigs to enjoy a quality of life that is such a far cry from what they would endure in a confinement based system. When you buy locally grown wool you are paying for local people to have good jobs raising and producing beautiful fibres, supporting our local economy. This is a pricing regime that builds in a lot of these environmental, social, and animal welfare protections.

I believe that in the future, local, ecological agriculture will only become more mainstream. Either ecological farmers will be compensated for their environmental services in addition to what they can earn through sales and their prices will be able to drop somewhat. Or, industrial agriculture will be made to pay the true cost of production and their prices will become more expensive. Factoring in all of these externalities is simply an inevitability – we simply can’t be sustained on unsustainable food production. By buying local, ecological food and fibre you are ahead of the curve, already living more in balance.

So, instead of asking, “is this the best price I can get?”, maybe ask “is this a price I can afford?” If you can afford the price, and the farm is doing work that you want to support and producing food that you want to eat – then the differences in price are really inconsequential.

What gets factored in when setting a price?

There are different ways of setting prices, I don’t think any two farms do it exactly the same way. For the most part, prices are typically based on how much it costs to produce.

Keep in mind that each individual farm is different so the costs that each farmer has to factor in to the selling price also is individual. These prices include everything from whether animal feeds are purchased or home-grown, organic certification costs, whether the animals are kept year-round or just as feeders in the summer, prices for transport and slaughter/butcher, whether additional labour is hired or not, etc. Then add in all of the unforeseen things – your hay got rained on and you had to buy some in, or your best cow needed a vet visit that cost a small fortune – these things are unpredictable and may cause prices to fluctuate from farm to farm or from year to year. This is just a broad sketch of some of the cost factors.

On top of that are all of the very personal factors that, at the end of the day, are reflected in the price. Because the price that I charge has a very direct effect on my salary at the end of the year, my family situation also plays a bit of a role – the farm salary that a single person earns may not be considered sufficient for supporting a family, for example. Whether the farmer is in year one of their enterprise and has some hefty startup costs to cover, or has decades of equipment and experience behind them will determine a little bit how flexible they can be in pricing. I don’t think any farmers are out there saying, “I need to pay my daughter’s college tuition. Beef prices are going to have to triple this year”. But, to a certain extent, family situation and personal factors do factor in to how prices are set.

But as I become more connected to my fellow farmers, those in our local area farming ecologically and selling directly to consumers, one thing is pretty consistent: each farmer I have met is striving to provide an exceptional quality product for the best price they can.

So, how do we set OUR prices?

On our farm, we set the price based on what we need to charge in order to hit our target revenue for the year. I calculate how much I can expect to earn with each type of production – this year it’s lamb, wool, pork, turkeys, beef, and workshops – I calculate how much I HAVE to spend to produce, and then I try to trim all of my other costs and find creative ways to earn a little bit more, until I hit my target goal. This year I was really helped by looking at some Holistic Management financial planning tools online. It has really changed the way I look at my farms’ finances but I won’t be able to tell you how well it works for awhile – it is very promising so far, though.

I also take a look around at what other farms that have somewhat similar practices are charging. If my price is too high or too low, I try to figure out why. Are my estimates off? Is there a cost I haven’t factored in? Am I under- or over-estimating my yield? I know that my fellow farmers are pretty smart, and great farmers – so if my price isn’t at least in the ballpark with their prices averaged out, there’s something I’m missing. There isn’t a “best” farm out there – there is a mix of good and great farms with a variety of different practices, so, each price that you encounter when shopping for local products reflects the particular work that is happening on that farm.

Hanging Weight vs. Cuts Weight: What are you paying for?

I don’t know how local, ecological farmers price their cheese, fruit, vegetables, or other products, that’s not what we produce. But, when buying meat, don’t forget to consider whether you are paying for the hanging weight, or the take-home cuts weight. Both are common ways of pricing meat for local farms and both ways of pricing have advantages for the farmer and the customer.

On our farm, we base all of our prices on the final, take home weight of your cuts of meat. So, if you order 10 lbs of pork, and 10 lbs of beef, I will pack you an order that includes as close as possible to 10 lbs of pork and 10 lbs of beef – it won’t be exact, but it will be +/- one pound or less, and I will charge you for the exact weight in your box of meat.

Many other local farms charge based on the hanging weight. This is the weight of the carcass, without the digestive tract, head, and hide, but before it is butchered into individual cuts of meat. Final cuts weight is typically 65-75% of weight of the hanging weight and the price will be reflective of this - lower range for lamb, higher range for pork, and beef somewhere in between. The final weight can vary quite a bit between beef, pork, lamb, and based on other factors such as whether boneless or bone-in cuts are favoured, the length of aging, the amount of fat that is trimmed, and the characteristics of each individual carcass and the butcher’s practices. So, for example, if you order 100 lbs of beef hanging weight, you will probably end up with somewhere between 70-75 lbs of beef for your freezer. This is an estimate – ask the farm you are buying from as they will know what their average is at their farm. For lamb on our farm, our average hanging weight of a whole lamb is 43.5lbs, with average weight of cuts being 28 lbs (~64% of the hanging weight). 

This doesn’t really apply to turkeys, since they are sold whole. For us, we find it is better to charge based on your final, cuts weight – the exact weight you go home with. But, it does make our prices “look” more expensive. 

Our Price per pound (final cuts weight)
Equivalent hanging weight per pound 
$8.45 (65%)
$6.56 (75%)
$8.40 (70%)

There are lots of online articles about hanging weight, final weight, and liveweight, and how all of these figures correspond.

Wow, that’s a lot about pricing. 
Congratulations if you’ve made it to the end
Happy shopping, and happy eating, and thanks for supporting local, ecological agriculture!!