The Boys are Back in Town

This is our third year keeping laying hens. Every year we select a different breed to add to our stock, partly because it’s fun to diversify, but also because it helps us to distinguish the new hens from the old. The original idea was that when it came time to cull the flock, we’d be able to easily identify the old girls. So far it’s year three, no-one has been culled, and we might as well get used to the fact that they never will be!

What started out as a purely production flock has become an unruly mob of 70 some feathered dames that rule the barn, the yard, the garden, the greenhouse, the veranda and my husband’s garage when he forgets to close the door. They appear to make decisions by majority vote. Why else would I all of a sudden find a series of  floor nests crafted handily from straw and filled to overflowing with eggs when only a couple of days ago the nesting boxes I provided were doing the job just fine. They also plan mass “anointing” parties, choosing some hapless piece of equipment left carelessly in the open and encasing it in cement-like guano practically overnight.

By and large they’re a peaceful population comprised of several smaller cliques that band together during the day and roost beak by jowl at night. Of course there is the occasional squabble when some young upstart challenges the established pecking order, but normally these are pretty zen hens.

Last summer we disrupted the convent by introducing roosters. It was never our intention, but vegetarian friends who breed and raise novelty birds for their own laying flock found themselves with a few too many roosters for their hen quota. It was understood that as meat-eaters, we would probably dispatch them and add them to the pot, but we decided to observe them for a few days to see which rooster might prove worthy of our harem.

One Wellsummer, three Ameracaunas and a cross-bred mutt rooster called Falcor all got trounced in turn by the indignant  and unwilling brides-to-be. Pandemonium ensued and the whole operation started to resemble some twisted version of “The Bachelor.” The boys preened and strutted, every once in a while gathering enough nerve to sidle up to a likely conquest, only to be driven back into the bushes until they worked up the nerve for another foray.

Integration began to seem unlikely, but a week passed and a clear leader emerged from the huddle of disenfranchised Romeos. Falcor, the smallest, least flamboyant rooster, called up some dominant gene from the depths of his murky lineage and began a dating schedule that would have killed a lesser bird. Eventually the remaining bachelors gained favour with the girls, but were granted only the occasional clandestine rendezvous when Falcor was otherwise engaged.

In the end, we kept them all, deciding that their hilarious antics more than compensated for the extra grain. Although, at 3 a.m. when the one demented Ameracauna  begins another day of incessant crowing, coq au vin recipes start floating through my head.

Intern Julian a rare capture with Falcor

Intern Julia in a rare capture with Falcor

Wanted: Hungry Mouths – 2014 Wellspring Gardens CSA Memberships

2014 CSA Memberships

Wanted...hungry mouths

Wanted…hungry mouths

Incubatorship Opportunity

 

Wellspring Gardens is an organic market garden located in the Upper Ottawa Valley. It is owned and operated by me, Sheila Selby, and my husband Joe Renaud, both of us long-time residents of the area. I’m the gardener and Joe is the invaluable infrastructure guy.

We live, work and play on 150 acres of mixed forest and field, only 3 acres of which is currently under cultivation. We raise pastured meat chickens and turkeys, pastured pork, and eggs in addition to our vegetables.

We are entering our fourth year of operations offering a 30-member CSA program, a booth at the biweekly Deep River Farmers’ Market (DRFM), and possibly a weekly roadside stand or farm-gate sales this year.

Our mission is to provide fresh, locally grown produce using sustainable agricultural practices and promote farmland as a community resource through ecotourism and education. Because our long-term goal is to integrate the present organic vegetable production into the larger framework of a farm B&B and other related agritourism components, we feel the time is ripe to explore an incubatorship. This will not only give a potential farmer/producer a chance to try their wings, but it will also allow us to build expertise on multi-component operations and our future hope for an intentional community.

We are registered with Corocoro Farmstay as a host farm for Japanese international students seeking a language immersion experience in a rural setting. We also support the local high school by offering co-op placements to interested students.

Applicants are asked to submit a detailed project proposal. We will consider either an individual, who would barter three days of labour on the farm for use of the facilities, room and board, or a couple, who would barter a total of four days for use of the facilities, room and board. It is expected that you will keep the revenues from your own project. Of particular interest to us is the construction and operation of an outdoor bread and pizza oven. Raw materials are supplied and we have a local source for organic grains.

You will have access to cultivation equipment (two tractors, flail mower, 5-foot tiller, disks, flat harrow), irrigation, greenhouse, garage with power tools, gardening materials and a client base provided by our CSA membership, the Deep River Farmers’ Market and the Ottawa Valley Food Co-op. We anticipate your participation from May to October, however we are open to alternate arrangements.

Accommodations are a square timber outbuilding, the Milkhouse, which is equipped for sleeping, lounging and light cooking. Laundry, bathroom and shower facilities are in the main house. We also own a family cottage nearby on the Ottawa River where you can spend free time swimming, canoeing or fishing. Driver’s license and vehicle an asset, but not required.

If you would like to discuss the project in more detail before submitting a proposal, or any other aspect of your stay at Wellspring Gardens, please feel free to email, call or arrange a visit.

Email: sheilaselby@rogers.com

Phone: 613-401-0879

A Word from Julia

I grew up in what I used to consider a small town in Southwestern Ontario, yet I now know better after living in a few true small towns.  I spent the last four years in Montreal completing a B.Sc in Environmental Science at McGill University. While I chose this degree by chance, it uncovered and cultivated the environmentalist inside of me whose existence was unbeknownst to me at the time.

After completing my degree and embarking on quite a miserable job search, I stumbled upon the possibility of a farming internship.  I jumped at the opportunity as I have always wanted to learn more about organic agriculture and how to produce my own food, ethically.  Whether this internship will bring me down the farming road or simply prepare me to grow a self-sustaining garden has yet to be determined; my future is still a bit foggy.

I wasn’t sure what to expect before arriving at the farm as every single thing would be (and has been) a new experience for me.  I had to accept the fact that I was clueless about everything, which is a feeling I am not used to.  I quickly learned to swallow my pride and ask every question that comes to mind, no matter how obvious the answer may seem!

Despite the sometimes demoralizing cluelessness that ensues, I really enjoy working on the farm.  I feel so at peace and in tune with nature every day, no matter the task, rain or shine, and despite the constant buzzing and biting of black flies, mosquitoes, and deer flies.  I have yet to be given a task on the farm that I dislike or find mundane!  From the transplanting hundreds of tomato plants, to the endless weeding, to the daily animal care, I find enjoyment and repose in every task.  I think Sheila is more enthusiastic about me taking time off from the farm than I am!  I love to be outside and active every day and getting up close and personal with the earth.  I cannot wait to watch the fields become a diverse display of delicious organic fruits and vegetables, and to be a part of such a fundamental aspect of human life.

A friend and fellow gardener said to me before I left, “growing food is simply the best time spent;” I am starting to agree.

Quiet repose

Quiet repose

Playing Fowl

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Chicken Launcher

One of the tests any new animal on our farm must undergo is their compatibility with chickens. I love letting the hens free range, which means ensuring that visiting dogs and our own Wellspring canine division understand that these are not playthings. Peace reigned on the farm until we adopted Hudson, a lively Lab-Shepherd cross with a penchant for chasing down hens and liberating a few tail feathers. I finally succeeded in convincing him the consequences were not worth the sport and he backed it down to the odd feint when he thought I wasn’t looking. Or so I thought. The other day as I was approaching the barn to top up the hens’ water he raced ahead and systematically launched a row of indignant birds off of a low perch by putting his nose under their rumps and tossing them off with a flick of his head!

New Wave Food Lexicon

Today, there is an increasing tendency to question what we eat, where it comes from and how it’s produced. Some consumers are prompted by the rise in obesity and diet-related health problems. Others are responding to food scares and a belief that an industrial production system that treats food as a commodity rather than a necessity is ultimately unsustainable. Across the globe, consumers are actively seeking ways to forge closer connections with their food sources and take more control over what they eat. The result has been a delightful food lexicon that represents the grassroots movement to create alternatives to the industrialized food chain.

Can we change the world overnight? Of course not. Can we improve our own small corner? You bet we can! Here are a few delightful additions to the modern lexicon. At the very least, they’ll spark a lively debate.

Food sovereignty – A policy framework advocated by a number of farmers, peasants, pastoralists, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, women, rural youth and environmental organizations. It claims the “right” of peoples to define their own food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries systems, in contrast to having food largely subject to international market forces.

Foodshed – A foodshed is everything between where a food is produced and where a food is consumed. It includes the land it grows on, the routes it travels, the markets it goes through, and the tables it ends up gracing. A local foodshed might be defined as a simple 100-mile radius.

Locavore – Someone who eats foods exclusively or primarily from their local or regional foodshed or from within a defined radius (often 100 miles). By eating locally, most locavores hope to create a greater connection between themselves and their food sources.

CSA – Community supported agriculture is a small farm model where consumers purchase a share of the harvest in the spring in exchange for weekly baskets of fresh produce. The model creates food communities, promotes sustainable agriculture and allows people to trace their food from field to fork.

Freegan – Freeganism is a boycott of the industrialized food production system. The word freegan is compounded from “free” and “vegan”. Vegans are people who avoid products from animal sources or products tested on animals in an effort to avoid harming animals. Freegans take this a step further, circumventing the economic system by practicing “urban foraging” or “dumpster diving” to recover edible or reusable waste. (Read more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freeganism or a thought-provoking documentary, Bin Appetit, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ds7-jEc1K_k)

Mindful eating – A meditative approach to eating that focuses awareness on the positive and nurturing aspects of food preparation and consumption. The mindful eater becomes attuned to the interconnection of earth, living beings, cultural practices and the impact of food choices on all of these systems. Many adopt mindful eating as part of a health and diet regime. (More at http://www.tcme.org/)

Slow Food – An international movement founded by Carlo Petrini in 1986. Promoted as an alternative to fast food, it strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming of plants, seeds and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem. It began as part of the broader Slow Movement, whose goals of sustainable foods and promotion of local small businesses are paralleled by a political agenda directed against globalization of agricultural products. (More at http://www.slowfood.ca/about/ or at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slow_movement)

Incredible edible communities – Cities, towns and villages that have dedicated public and private lands to grow food for the taking. Parks, schoolyards, medians, pathways are converted to garden plots and tended by members of the community for the benefit of all. The models vary from community to community, but the common themes are food accessibility and education, healthy eating and local produce. (Watch a brief video at http://vimeo.com/36838823)

Of course, the language is constantly evolving and this list is far from comprehensive. Feel free to submit terms as you come across them 🙂

2013 Membership Newsletter

 

Hello all you adventurous eaters!

Let me begin by extending a huge thank you on behalf of the Wellspring team for your wonderful support and enthusiasm throughout last year’s CSA season. I hope never to see a drier summer!

Although most of you are probably just ramping up your winter activities, here at Wellspring Gardens we’re already well into the planning for our 2013 growing season. Part of any good action plan is a review of past performance, so here’s a quick recap of last summer on the farm.

What we did differently

The biggest change to our operations last summer  was the addition of two pairs of working hands. Shaliz and Amanda signed on as farm interns and spent weeks and months immersed in the daily operations of organic food production. Their help was instrumental in bringing fresh, nutritious food to your tables and  the Deep River Farmers’ Market. We were pleased to be able to contribute to the future of Canada’s small farm industry through these enterprising youth farmers.

We also welcomed a Mackenzie Community School co-op student to our team this fall. Brittney Goudreau joined us for September and October to prepare for her eventual career choice of veterinary assistant and wildlife rehabilitation agent. She gravitated instantly to the livestock on the farm and quickly became adept at moving chicken tractors and slinging hefty bags of feed over the fence to the pigs. We are looking forward to her return this semester to help with the multitude of behind-the-scenes tasks that begin well before the snow melts.

Our CSA membership grew this year from 18.5 full shares to 26. In addition to increasing our basket program, we signed on for eleven weeks at the newly launched Deep River Farmers’ Market, where we were able to reach a new segment of consumers and connect with other local producers.

We introduced a good number of heirloom vegetables to our offering this year. Among them were thirty varieties of tomatoes  chosen from Terra Edibles in Foxboro, ON, a popular flowerpot squash called Pattison’s verte et jaune and some tasty Boothby’s Blond cucumbers. There were a number of star performers that we’ll try again this year.

Six heritage English Large Black pigs came to work and play on the farm this summer as well. We  brought them in as part of the sustainable agriculture plan to turn over a new garden plot and help clear the land. As a result, we have expanded our cultivated plots by another ½ acre and harvested two freezers full of “happy” pastured pork to offer our customers.

We also sold plants this year for the first time. They were a big hit at market and a number of customers drove out from Deep River to buy organically grown, heirloom plants for their home gardens.

On the equipment side, we added a second, smaller tractor to the farm “fleet.” With it, we can perform a number of delicate operations in the rows, including making raised beds that provide much needed drainage to our clay-based soil and allow the soil to warm up quickly. In true rural fashion, we traded labour (mostly Joe and Napoleon’s) for a used Farm All from Rainbow Heritage Garden in Cobden.

Challenges

As always, Ma Nature presents the biggest challenges of all. Two years ago it was flooding.  This past year it was a record drought that seared plants in their beds and created inviting conditions for many species of marauding insects. Although production was diminished and some crops failed miserably, we were able to fill our baskets and market table with the many vegetables that did succeed. Our dug pond and drip irrigation were life savers.

Another challenge was to grow our production to meet the needs of the expanded membership and the new farmers’ market, which entailed two harvests every second week. This necessitated tightening up on our succession planting and honing our forecasting skills in order to anticipate what would be needed.

We outgrew our refrigerators and realized we would have to move our cold cellar up on the priority list for 2013 to accommodate vegetable storage. This and a larger greenhouse will enable us to take the next step towards a larger production model for 2013.

Time. There’s never enough time it seems. Which is how we managed to postpone plans for a farm day and potluck until it was too late! We also failed to coordinate weather, equipment and manpower to pickup manure and leaves at a few of our members’ homes.  We’ll be more proactive this year.

Benefits to Members

By subscribing to weekly baskets in 2012, members saved approximately 17% on the market stand prices.  We are continually tweaking our CSA program based on member feedback and tried out some new ideas, such as a trade bin and stir-fry baskets. We also set up the CSA pick-up similarly to our market display and listed products in order from left to right to help avoid missed items.

Many members enjoyed coming out to work on “their” farm this past summer and connect with the source of their food. We were delighted to welcome weeders, harvesters, equipment loans, menu plans, gifts of canned goodies, egg collectors, chicken feeders,  treats for the pigs and innumerable other contributions. We even had visiting guests from Québec City join in the garlic cleaning! Member Jen Bergevin arranged a visit from the local parent/child group “Let’s Do Fun Things in the Valley” where children had a chance to connect with the land and enjoy simple things like hand pumping water from the creek, feeding the chickens and climbing the massive sand hill behind the farmhouse.

Part of our mission is to promote farmland as a community resource, and we feel that CSA is a great model for this.

What’s Up for 2013

This year we will cap our Community Supported Agriculture program at 30 full shares in order to facilitate the addition of a weekly roadside vegetable stand along Highway 17 likely in Chalk River. We were delighted to bring our produce to shoppers at the Deep River Farmers’ Market last summer and would like to extend our reach to include weekend travelers and local  consumers commuting in the Deep River – Chalk River corridor.

Many of you said that the overall quantities in the baskets were sufficient, but that you would like more of certain items. In response, we are offering a Combined Share to members this year.  It entitles members to a full basket share (16-week pickup at farm) plus a $200 market share voucher (actual cost $170) redeemable over the course of the summer at our booth at the Deep River Farmers’ Market, our roadside stand or the farm (with advance notice).

We try to send out recipes every week with your basket notification. Sometimes, due to time constraints, it’s a bit hit and miss. Many of you have also contributed winning recipes for the contents of your baskets. This year Brittney, our high school co-op student will be compiling a Wellspring Gardens CSA Recipebook/Handbook, which will go out with the first baskets.

As mentioned above, we will be building a cold storage and larger greenhouse this summer to meet the needs of our increased production. The cold storage will enable us to extend our offerings into the fall and winter season and potentially offer a fall share.

We are also playing with the idea of a 17-week program which includes 16 full or 8 half shares and one floating week which can be tacked on to the end of the season to make up for missed baskets due to vacations.

Once again we are planning to host farming interns interested in gaining hands-on experience in organic food production. We may also be welcoming Japanese students through the Corocoro farm stay program for international students wishing to improve their English in an immersion environment.

2013 WELLSPRING GARDENS MEMBERSHIPS

Many of you expressed an interest in continuing your membership with the farm for the 2013 season. In past years we’ve noted the best promoters of our business are the members themselves. With this in mind, we are converting our advertising dollars to a $25 referral rebate for anyone that signs up a friend, neighbour or co-worker.

Please find attached the membership form. We realize that CSA is not for everyone. If you’ve decided this is the case for you, please notify me and I’ll remove your email from the distribution list. If you’ve opted out of CSA but wish to remain on a notification list for chickens, turkeys, eggs and pork, please indicate this.

See you soon!

Sheila Selby

WELLSPRING GARDENS

eat fresh, live well…