It was February 2013 and for the first time on our 5-day drive across Canada, it began snowing. We had just driven around Georgian Bay, south from Sudbury, on the last leg of our move eastward from Chilliwack, BC. It was then and there I realized that my MEC raincoat that had served me so well through Vancouver winters wasn’t going to cut the mustard in Grey County.
Pat, myself (Amy) and our two pups, Layla and Yarrow, settled into a little home in Clarksburg that winter, with our sights set on starting a new market garden farm on Pat’s family land in Heathcote. We had been growing vegetables and flowers for some years on rented land in BC (where I am from and Patrick and I met), but felt the urge to put down roots and settle on a farm of our own in a place we might be able to afford to do it – hence our move eastward. That winter of 2013, Sideroad Farm was started.
In our first few seasons we grew vegetables, flowers and raised turkeys, chickens, laying hens and heritage pigs on pasture on the windy, heavy clay laden hillsides of Heathcote, ON. We dug ponds for irrigation, built paddocks and livestock shelters from scratch, tended to baby seedlings in our garage and worked incredibly long hours, days, weeks, and months to bring our dreams to fruition.
Photo Credit: Clay Dolan, Escarpment Magazine
Fast forward a few seasons and eventually we purchased our own farm close to the village of Walter’s Falls, where Sideroad Farm now operates. In this time, we also started a family with the addition of Wyatt (age 4) and Norah (10 months). Our family now makes our life and living growing organic vegetables and cut flowers, and raising laying hens and chickens on pasture. We sell our products year-round to local restaurants and retailers like Mudtown Station and Casero in Owen Sound, Goldsmith’s Orchard Market in Thornbury and Eat Local Grey Bruce (online), at local farmers markets in Collingwood, harvest box customers locally and in Toronto, and through our on-farm store which we opened in Fall 2018.
It’s full steam ahead on the farm bringing in the fall harvest – potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, garlic, squash and the like. The trees turn colour and our flower beds go to seed, eventually turning brown with the first frost. This is the season we eat like kings and put food in jars to continue the feast through winter – tomatoes are the most important for us to have stored in order to make hearty chillis, soups and stews. Before it turns too cold and dark, we slip away from the farm for a couple of hours to go for a canoe on Robson Lake just a short 5-minute drive from our house.
Winter is a time for planning on the farm. We spend more days inside than usual reflecting on the season past, pouring over seed catalogues to pick out new crops and writing plans for the future. We eat our way through our storage crops which we worked so hard to get out of the ground before the snow hit in the fall. We also pick spinach from the hoophouse, which can remarkably withstand the frigid temperatures of January/February, for some coveted winter salads. Wyatt is fortunate to enjoy skiing with his Gramps and Nana at Beaver Valley Ski Club while the rest of the family tends to our market booth at the Collingwood Winter Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings. On calm winter days, we enjoy low-key walks with our horses through our back hayfields and the neighbours’ forest which are covered in a blanket of soft snow.
In spring, the lengthening of the days and warming of the ground brings new motivation to us farmers. Spring is our chance to do everything better than we have in the past. So we set forth with great intentions planting our veggies, and flowers, first in the heated greenhouse and then eventually outside. Our first batch of baby chicks arrive and we work to make sure they stay warm, fed and hydrated in the barn before setting them out on pasture for the first time. We eat delicious fresh greens, radishes and onions from our early plantings in the hoophouse and forage for wild leeks which are abundant in the private woods surrounding our farm. Once the snow melts and before farmers’ markets start, we head to our local parks and conservation areas for small walks and hikes with Wyatt and Norah on weekends. One of our favourites is the boardwalks at Bognor Marsh Management Area which is rife with birds, frogs and wildflowers.
Summer is high season on the farm. We are hard pressed to find a moment to breathe, let alone leave the farm. We spend our days right here, planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, feeding and moving chickens around on pasture. We get excited about each new crop that is ready for harvest; first the zucchinis then the carrots, beets, tomatoes and potatoes. Both Wyatt and Norah have been raised on a steady diet of our cherry tomatoes during the season, often right off the vine.
Even though we don’t leave the farm much during this season, we are never lonely. There seems to be an endless stream of people coming and going from the farm and we are forever grateful for the community that shows up to support us in many ways throughout the seasons. If we do have a few hours on a weekend, we enjoy the portion of the Bruce Trail that loops around Walter’s Falls which is beautiful in all seasons.
Six years into our life in Grey County we can honestly say we are so grateful to have settled in an area where we can live, farm, play and raise our family all in one place. As market farmers, we’ve learned to embrace eating seasonally; even through the depths of winter. We are so fortunate to be farming within such a supportive community who allow us to continue doing what we love - growing good food.
Sideroad Farm is a small, family run mixed farm growing certified organic vegetables, cut flowers, and pasture-raised poultry in Walter’s Falls. You can find our bounty at the Sideroad Farm Store which is open Thursday – Saturday, at the summer and winter Collingwood Farmers’ Markets, via our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and Winter Bounty Box programs (more info online) and at local retailers and restaurants. If you’re interested in following our story please find us on Instagram @sideroadfarm and Facebook. Website sideroadfarm.com