Micro-farms play an important role in the local food chain: Andrew Coppolino

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A few hundred yards from Queen’s Bush Road in Wellesley you will find Muddy Creek Farm owned and operated by Melissa Winkler.

Despite its location in the rural township, the quarter-acre farm is located next to a residential area of ​​the village and only a few blocks from a chop house, computer repair shop and a financial services company.

Muddy Creek is, in this sense, a kind of “urban” farm and, despite its size, is dedicated to farming in an ecological way to provide fresh food to the community through its weekly vegetable boxes.

In recent years, a number of small or micro farms with unique qualities have emerged that are also dedicated to sustainable agriculture that takes care of the soil, the environment and the community around it.

Muddy Creek Farm is dedicated to farming in an environmentally friendly way (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

For Winkler, who calls herself a small-scale farmer and market gardener, the connection to the community is a “core value”.

“It’s a connection to the land by working with and learning about the functions of ecological relationships. We seek to promote diversity on our farm and connection to the community,” Winkler said.

This is not to say, of course, that large farms are not community-run and stewards of the land, but it is a defining characteristic of small farms, often with a single farmer working the fields. and selling the products.

Along with co-farmer Arjenna Strong, the couple employ organic practices, although Muddy Creek is not certified organic.

In many ways, farms are passion projects that evolve into something more over time.

“It’s always a process of creative problem solving in the garden,” Winkler said. “He’s always learning how the system works and trying to balance it out.”

In addition to the weekly boxes, Muddy Creek Farm produce is sold at Bailey’s Local Foods, an online “farmers market” that operates in downtown Waterloo. During the summer, Winkler and Strong grow spring vegetables, peas, beans, tomatoes, green peppers, cabbage, parsnips and carrots.

Arjenna Strong (l) and Melissa Winkler (r) stand in front of the Muddy Creek ‘micro’ farm (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

“Let people know we’re here”

Several miles away, Josephine McCormick is the eldest of six children, some of whom help run Fall Harvest, a farm known for its bountiful pumpkins and squash.

Josephine’s mother, Rosemary, started selling roadside pumpkins before she was a teenager. It turned into a large-scale farming operation and a few years ago the family opened a small store and started selling their summer produce. The expansion is gaining traction with customers, McCormick says.

“With the store, people find out more about us, but it takes time. It’s with any type of business that has grown. People know us for the fall, but with the products summer, it lets people know that we’re here and harvest,” McCormick said.

When I visited on a Tuesday morning, there were several customers in the small store: his brother Marshall worked at the cash register; I bought a jar of honey made by his other brother, Mason.

Marshall (l) and Josephine McCormick (r) at the Fall Harvest store (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

When it comes to beef, pork and chicken, Two Calves Standing in Baden is a 12-acre farm that has a Red Wattle heritage pig program as one of its unique features. Farmer-owner Bryan Izzard visits Stratford’s Sunday Market and sells his wares online.

Customers want healthy, local food

In Paris, farmer Dave Rogers went from cooking as a professional chef to working 30 acres of land on his small farm to raise beef, pork and laying hens four years ago.

He owns 18 head of cattle and naturally raises Black Angus, Hereford and Speckle Park on grass. The approach is driven by what its customers want at six farmers’ markets, including the Kitchener market.

“They’re looking for a healthy food source, to connect with their farmer and eat local,” Rogers said, calling his farm “regenerative.”

Fall Harvest beekeeper Mason McCormick stands with a jar of honey (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

What is Regenerative Agriculture?

In St. George, Brant County, south of Waterloo Region, Alexandra Powell operates Alexandra’s Farm on a quarter-acre of land that she works alone to create an agricultural ecosystem she calls “the big poo loop of the soil food web”.

“I use regenerative farming practices that nurture soil life, including bacteria, fungi and insects. This soil-food web interaction recycles nutrients allowing plants to grow and thrive, while creating crops and healthier, better-tasting soils that are more resilient to climate change,” Powell said.

She sells produce such as lettuces, tomatoes, chard, beans, cucumbers, watermelon and cantaloupe at the Hespeler Friday Market.

“It’s the best time of year for crops,” she said, adding that the drier conditions had not had an impact. “I have grown more produce this year than since I started four years ago.”

It probably has something to do with very good soil. Like Muddy Creek Farm, Alexandra’s Farm focuses on soil health by providing it with the nutrients it needs to become the ecosystem that in turn fuels growing crops.

There are other similar small farms that have carved out a place for themselves, including Vibrant Farms and Wayward Farm in Baden, Fertile Ground Farm in St. Agatha, and Brookfront Farms Grass-fed Beef of New Dundee.

A goose and some hens at Vibrant Farms (Andre Coppolino)

Each farm offers something slightly different to customers – there are many more than I could have included – partly in keeping with their approach to diverse crops and partly for their business model, whether it be courses farm meditation, grass-fed beef, heritage breeds, notes on carbon sequestration, farm tours or holiday markets long after harvest.

People feel the need to connect

I think the common thread they share is to satisfy a customer’s need to “connect” on some level. But at the end of the farm day, as small farms strive to adopt sustainable and regenerative farming practices, they must also assess their own sustainability and how, and if, they can grow their businesses, according to Winkler.

“There are a lot of investments both in infrastructure as well as in time and energy, and so getting that return (on investment) is probably the most difficult aspect,” Winkler said, adding that at the end of the season, they will consider the next steps.

Until then, crops, produce boxes, volunteer opportunities and weekly on-farm mindfulness classes are the focus of Muddy Creek, which means people interact and share their experiences, she says.

“I think it’s a response to a need to connect with nature with more and more of us living in cities. Especially after the last two years people are looking for ways to take care of their mental health and their physical health.

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