Over the winter, Ecocentric interviewed farmers across the country from our Eat Well Guide in an effort to highlight both the challenges and triumphs of sustainable farmers across the country. Join us as we delve in to discover what it means to be a farmer in the 21st century.
Peter Finch grows vegetables and herbs on 55 acres at Rolling Hills Organics in Roseneath, Ontario. Read on to find out what he says balances out the exhaustion and unpredictable crop outcomes he faces every season.
What do you grow/raise on your farm?
At Rolling Hills Organics, we grow vegetables (arugula, lettuce, mixed salad greens, kale, chard, spinach, beets, potatoes, carrots, beans) and herbs (garlic, lavender, basils, cilantro, mints, calendula, echinacea).
How many acres do you farm?
While we have 55 acres, around 20 are in pasture and 3 are for market crops, with 2,000 square feet of unheated greenhouses.
What’s a typical day in the life on your farm?
As I look out the window, the fields are blanketed in drifting snow! Winter time is spent reading up on soils and farming, researching online, and writing blogs and books. For the other ten months of the year, busy days begin with first light and end with a tired tumble into bed. Two days a week see early morning picking, washing, weighing, bagging and storing, followed by a drive into the city to sell at the farmers market and into town to deliver to restaurants. Fridays are spent exclusively preparing for a large Saturday market in the city. In between days are spent farming – tilling, plowing, planting, weeding, watering, mowing, greenhousing….
Describe your local food community in four words.
Small, conventional, unadventurous, thrifty. (In the towns small and large around us, the farmers markets are well-attended but fail to generate the income necessary to farm full-time. So it is that we drive an hour and a half into the city of Toronto to sell at well-established, vibrant farmers markets with regular and growing clientele).
What is your favorite aspect of farming?
I love the fresh air, hard work and wondrous reward of planting a seed and nurturing its plant through to harvest as healthy food.
How did you decide to get into growing food? What did you do before you got into farming?
I learned to garden through my Dad, a part-time market gardener and full-time provider of holidays for under-privileged children. A move to the country 15 years ago allowed me the privilege of looking after land which had never seen chemicals. This inspired me to grow fresh food to eat and sell. Going the certified organic route was a no-brainer. Before getting into farming, I owned a mapping company that published and distributed wall maps and satellite images, including the first ever composite view of the Earth from Space.
How did you get access to your land? Do you own or lease?
We were initially looking to purchase a house on a couple of acres. We ended up with a farm and 55 acres.
There is no better time for young farmers to get farming and take up the mantle of us ageing ones! There is such a wealth of valuable information both online and in print from farmers and thinkers who have blazed the organic, bio-dynamic, ecological, small-scale farming trail.
What is your philosophy of growing food? Are you Certified Organic? If so, what motivated you to join the program?
We initially certified organic in order to sell our herbs and vegetables at our local farmers market. At the time – and still today – I believe that customers have a right to know that annual inspection and verification ensures them that our farm’s produce is 100% organic and grown using sensible sustainable practices.
How do you market your products (CSA, farmers' market, on-site sales?) Do you have to travel far?
We travel 100 miles to market twice a week and deliver once a week to local restaurants. Local customers are welcome to pick up at the farm.
What are some of the ongoing challenges you face as a farmer?
Weathers are always a challenge! Too hot or too cold, too dry or too wet, too windy! But this is the nature of things and the challenge is gladly taken up. We may experience a poor harvest of one crop one year, but this is invariably compensated for by a good harvest of another crop. Finding enough reliable local seasonal help is difficult, so we are forced to dig in and over-exert our ageing bodies. Exhaustion during the growing season is offset by off-season rest.
What do you think about the growing new farmer movement? What advice do you have for people who want to become farmers?
There is no better time for young farmers to get farming and take up the mantle of us ageing ones! There is such a wealth of valuable information both online and in print from farmers and thinkers who have blazed the organic, bio-dynamic, ecological, small-scale farming trail. Hats off to those that take the challenge. The rewards of farming well are great, and the markets are certainly all around us to be catered to.
What could the government do to help establish a more sustainable food system?
While some farmers take advantage of government programs, I tend to think that farmers are better off using their own skills, their own resources, their own instincts free of outside intervention. That way, they get to realize their farm’s true potential unencumbered, using independent industry-related assistance only. It is clear that government’s main interest is in supporting corporate Big Agriculture, largely at the expense of independent small farms and farmers.