Life tastes good for young farmers

Here’s an excerpt from a recent Toronto Star story by Jennifer Bain, about a young agricultural entrepreneur and his partner.

Mark Trealout and Laura Boyd serve visitors to their Kawartha Lakes farmhouse locally grown and homemade antipasti. They are part of a community-shared agriculture (CSA) program. Photo Jennifer Bain / Toronto Star

The man featured in this story is a someone who the Bovine editor met personally a few years ago at the Guelph Organic Conference, back when Mark was just starting out. It seems that since then he’s had some success with his business plan of remarketing the products of other small organic growers in the Kawartha Lakes area and trucking them in to Toronto.

Toronto’s recent Greenbelt-Foundation-money-fueled explosion of farmers’ markets in the last couple of years has led to a real shortage of authentic farmers willing to schlep their produce to Toronto. That trip to Toronto can be well worth the gas money, since organic produce in smaller communities, commands nowhere near the price premium it does among Toronto’s health-conscious foodies.

However, because his business model includes food from other growers, Mark would run afoul of the latest standards push by Farmers Markets Ontario to certify as farmers only those who grow everything they sell. Those are the only kind of farmers they allow at their “MyMarkets” chain of Toronto area farmers markets.

These “certified” farmers are meant to replace what they call “hucksters” who buy produce at the food terminal to resell at farmers markets, where they pass themselves off as farmers to the undiscerning shopper, sometimes undercutting the prices real farmers are trying to get for their home grown and probably fresher veggies and fruit.

Anyway, enough preamble, here’s that excerpt from Jennifer Bain’s story in the Star:

“….”We certainly don’t make a lot of money – enough to get by – but we eat well,” says Trealout. “With us, it’s more of a lifestyle than anything else.”

Trealout is the driving force behind Kawartha Ecological Growers (KEG), a group that has connected 23 local growers with hungry urbanites through a community-shared agriculture (CSA) program. Boyd, the third generation of her family to work these 40 hectares, oversees their farm, Grassroots Organics.

He is 34. She is 29. They are decades younger than most of Canada’s farmers.

I’m invited to their Woodville-area farm during a recent food tour of the Amish community of nearby Glenarm. We visit the barn to see their heritage chickens and turkeys, but it’s a dark winter’s night so we linger around the kitchen table.

The couple took over Boyd’s family farm in 2002, raising poultry, pigs and vegetables, and trying to sell locally, partly through 10 CSA shares. (People pay in advance for a share of a crop, whether the harvest turns out plentiful or minimal, and become co-producers instead of mere consumers.)

Next, the couple tried selling their harvest 90 minutes away in Toronto to restaurants and farmers’ markets. “We found that, yes, people are willing to pay what it’s worth,” says Trealout. But they still needed off-farm jobs to pay the bills.

Finally, they embraced the multi-farm CSA model. They launched KEG in 2005 with eight growers, including themselves. Last year, KEG had 23 organically minded farmers, including 12 Amish, and sold more than 200 shares. They hope to sell 300 shares for this year’s 23-week season that begins in June. Pickup spots are the Trealout/Boyd’s farm, or depots in Toronto, Oshawa and Lindsay.

KEG is also in the midst of its second annual, 10-week winter CSA. Every other week, 55 “adventurous” members load up on things like French fingerling potatoes, sprouts, onions, buttercup squash, red cabbage, rutabaga, carrots, frozen fruit and hominy. The first $30 of food is chosen for them. They pick the final $20 from optional items like frozen meat, honey and maple syrup. Pro-rated winter shares are still available.

It’s all very inspiring, but remember that farm life can be isolating, with hours that border on 24/7 and the need for “livestock sitters” when you go out.

The Kawarthas are already popular with cottagers. Its food scene, though in its infancy, is poised to explode.

“This area gets glossed over way too much,” says Trealout, then pauses. “I’m not sure how much I want to share.””

Read the whole story here

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Life tastes good for young farmers

  1. If you can work with Milkmen to deliver milk, dairy, and more to the consumer, direct to their home, then you can have a very good business doing just that. INcluded can be school lunch programs, certain restaurants, and corporate dining facilities. Think about. Whoever wants to get this type of business going, then contact The Milkmen USA. We have some answers to your entrepreneurial work. related questions.

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  2. Tammy doughty

    I love these people. I really do. I am coming over for lunch guys. It has been way too long. Race you to the pig Laura!

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