The sunny warmer weather we’ve been having in Toronto (not counting the past few dreadful chilly days), has brought up memories of one of my favourite Saturdays of this past summer. After getting sunburned the weekend before, I slathered my chest up with aloe vera lotion and went to Everdale farm on a scorching hot day with my jacket zipped all the way up (felt like a sauna). I was a hot-burning-itchy-HAPPY mess. I made these plans weeks in advance and a sunburn wasn’t going to stand in my way of having a good time.
After volunteering at The Stop, I thought about this website I came across last year that brought people from the city on a day trip to farms. After a quick search online, I found Field Trip and browsed the upcoming trips. Everdale stood out to me because it was both an educational centre (helps train farmers) and certified organic farm. I remembered purchasing tasty purple/yellow beans, carrots, swiss chard, and beets from the Everdale stand at The Stop’s Farmer’s market the previous fall and so I thought it would be fun to see where these things are grown.
The meet up spot was near a park behind Broadview station. A private shuttle bus took a group of about 15 of us to Hillsburgh, Ontario.
When we arrived at the farm, our tour guide Robert had us go around and share why we wanted to come to the farm. If I remember correctly, I said that I had purchased from Everdale before at the The Stop’s Farmer’s market and I’ve always wanted to see how an organic farm is run. Right from the get go, I could tell this guy loved his job.
He was bursting with enthousiasm when he was talking about farming. Robert described himself as a city guy who fell in love with farming. After doing an internship with Everdale, he became a full time farmer. Incredible!
We learned a lot but I’ll just mention the key points I recall:
- It’s all about the soil. If it’s too wet, they cannot plant seeds as they will drown.
- Organic produce has a higher price tag because organic farmers do not get subsidies from the government the way conventional farmers do.
- Pest management on organic farms requires a farmer to find creative ways of dealing with pests without compromising the crop or the soil.
- Crop rotation, they do this so the soil doesn’t get stripped of its nutrients
- We must feed plants or else we will rob soil of nutrients
- We must grow food in cycles because we need food all year around and at different times
- Importance of seed preservation and specifically the work of Seeds of Diversity – a non-profit working on preserving our heritage seeds.
Highlights of Everdale
- Compostable toilets
- Education Centre (helps train farmers) – ensures that there will be young farmers when other farmers retire
- C.R.A.F.T. Internship Program for farmer
- Straw bale house
- Delicious organic produce
We had a tour of the animals. It was sort of surprising to see cows, chicken, and sheep all in the same area. Robert explained that in this way, what one animal doesn’t eat the other animal eats what’s leftover so nothing really goes to waste.
We sampled purple beans, saw a pig pen and eventually made our way to a food forest. A food forest emphasizes the use of vertical space, so some crops are grown lower to the ground while others tower above. Everdale holds various workshops and they have ones specifically on food forests.
We also learned that Everdale rents land from the Nestle water bottle company for the majority of their produce which they grow for their farmer’s markets and C.S.A.
They have a green house that at the time was used to grow tomatoes and garlic. The green house had two rows of tomatoes down the middle and trays of garlic on the sides. I never saw trays of garlic like that before. It was amazing!
We had the pleasure of being greeted by this smiley furry friend when we arrived.
This black dog ran towards me as I was looking at squash and just plopped himself in front of my feet. What a sweetie!
We had a delicious meal prepared for us after the first half of the tour was over. It was nice to help ourselves to an assortment of salads, couscous, quiche, a layered sweet potato/mixed beat and a warm dessert.
After lunch, we took a ride to the Nestle water bottle company land to see the rest of the produce and got our hands dirty. I ended up picking weeds surrounding the leek crops. This was pretty tough in the hot sun, I was boiling but my sunburn meant I had to keep covered up.
I enjoyed it because I got to chat with the organizer of the Field Trip Sarah Dobec. I learned that after doing an internship on a farm for five months she started Field Trips with a colleague of hers she met through The Big Carrot. Sarah’s farming experience coupled with her background in tourism made launching Field Trip a fairly natural transition. She’s also a Holistic Nutritionist who works at The Big Carrot. Ever heard of IHN? The Institute for Holistic Nutrition? Sarah teaches there! When she mentioned that she was an instructor at IHN, I blurted out “you mean–The Institute of Holistic Nutrition?” I think my enthousiasm took her by surprise (probably sounded like I just found out she was a celebrity). I had researched nutrition schools before and seen them at the Green Living Show. She was very easy to talk to and I hope I get to see her again on another Field Trip.
The day ended off with us going to the farm store to pick up some produce. I left with a bag full of beets, sweet potato, garlic, green onions and some chard. These were the biggest cloves of garlic I have ever seen and cooked with. I bought these with the intention of recreating the quiche and the layered sweet potato/beet slices they made us. I made the quiche the next day but I overcooked it. My thinly sliced layered sweet potato/beet bake has been a success and I’ve made it three times now. It’s super easy and I made it up on the fly.
This was an amazing way for me to spend the day out of the city getting in touch with the food that I eat and being even more grateful for the hard work that organic farmers do for us year-round: from planning and growing their crops to ensure it is available when we need, to combating pests and weeds without the use of pesticides, crop rotation to ensure soil is full of nutrients, and the LONG hours they put in just so we have food to eat. AMAZING!! SOO thankful!
If you have ever wanted to visit a farm or wondered about how your food is grown, I highly encourage you to check out Field Trip this summer. If anything, it will give you the opportunity to ask a farmer all your burning questions that you might not get around to at farmer’s markets.