I know it isn’t quite the end of the year, but we’re close enough.
It’s been a big year here at Meeting Place Organic Farm. The year started with me (Katrina) purchasing the farm business from Tony and Fran which required a significant amount of figuring out what all that meant. Having to register the farm business name under me, opening new business bank accounts, transferring vendor accounts with numerous businesses that we purchase equipment, supplies and the like from the folks to my name (with the farm name). And on, and on, and on…
We also started 2016 having just farrowed our first litters of piglets! So we were learning the ins and outs of raising pork up from newborn. What a lovely, rewarding adventure. I can’t express in words the amount of joy that spending time with the piglets (and their mamas) gave me throughout the winter of 2016.
Another one of our big livestock decisions in early 2016 was to sell our lovely team of Norwegian Fjord draft horses. Though we loved their spunk and impressive ability to pull and work given their size, with us moving from a 2 person full time operation to a 1 person full time operation, efficiency will be more important. So, we set our sights on a larger team and purchased Barb and Song in February. They are a Belgian Appaloosa cross and purebred Suffolk Punch.
Though I have taken over the business, Tony and Fran have continued to be an integral part of our farm operation. Without their hard work, mentorship, wisdom and experience, I wouldn’t be able to take things over as smoothly as I have (and that isn’t to say that we think everything has been all roses). They went to Spain for the month of March for a much deserved holiday and to give me the chance to solo the farm.
They arrived back in April just in time to be present at the world premier of Meeting Place Organic Film; a documentary about them and the farm. Check out the website about it here. Barb (one of our new mares) had a foal that same morning. April fools on us! Duchess is a beautiful, spunky Belgian/Appaloosa and Suffolk-Punch cross. In April, we also started our first batch of meat chickens – this year as part of the CFO Artisinal Flock program.
In May we had our annual Mother’s Day weekend open house. (Save the date for our 2017 one – May 13th and 14th) which was full of fun farm tours, horse drawn wagon rides, sampling our organic pork sausages, organic seedlings of all sorts for sale, the first beef pickups of the year and a kids quiz board. It was a beautiful weekend and we feel fortunate to have so many people who make the trek out to the farm to spend a day or a weekend with us.
May is also when our apprentices arrived to become part of our farm team, and when Song lost her foal in birth. Unexpectedly losing an animal at any point in their life can be incredibly sad and hard and we mourned the loss of her life. We had other livestock losses and surprises this summer, losing one of this years calves in July and a 2 year old steer in September to unknown causes. This just happens sometimes. However, there were delights as well. We had a beautiful surprise when we got back from our annual family canoe trip in August: A cow we’d give up on having a calf back in May with all of the rest of them, surprised us with a healthy bull calf.
We decided to add a pair of French Alpine goats to our operation this season. Lydia and Jasmine have been adding personality as well as delightful goat’s milk to our lives. We’ve been experimenting with making yogurt, soft and hard cheeses and even ice cream! In part our desire to have milk goats was motivated by my desire to reduce the amount of disposable plastic in my life, of which, store-bought dairy products are a huge contributor.
By June we were at full throttle. We were moving cattle on pasture with all of their new calves; Sneeze and Hiccup both farrowed again, adding another beautiful bunch of piglets to our lives; we were milking Lydia; pasturing our first batch of meat chickens while brooding the second batch; the December 2015 piglets had turned into fat pigs and were ready for market. Not to mention having done a few Farmer’s Markets, getting ready to hay and keeping up with our modest (NOT) 1 acre home garden!
The summer whizzed by – I had a couple conferences I was heavily involved in organizing which took some of my attention away from the farm while home and meant I ended up being away from the farm for about 20 days between June and July. Fortunately Tony and Fran along with our team of apprentices meant that things continued to run smoothly. We got away for our annual family canoe trip with Rachel, Robin, Elliot and Emily which was a great time. We also added a feed bin tower to the little hill beside the barn – which will hopefully make managing feed for the poultry and pigs significantly easier and less physically demanding. (Fingers crossed) No more having to climb inside a feed wagon and manually shovel the grain towards the outlet or haul bucket after bucket to the feed freezers that we use store feed close to the animals pasture areas.
The summer’s weather was an interesting and challenging one, though not as extreme for us as for most farmers. This year we had a pretty severe drought in June, July and August. We had to modify our pasture management and grazing patterns to allow for significantly more regrowth time than we normally would, and our garden required much more irrigating than an average year. We’d planted out 100 new trees along our property line and as wind breaks in the spring and our apprentices spent many an hour taking a tank along to water them so that they wouldn’t die before they were able to get established. As climate change continues to occur, it seems that we will be needing to address more and more extreme weather conditions, so we continue to try and have flexibility in our farm plans and models as well as to have extra hay and feed on hand so that we are able to make adjustments as necessary.
The fall brought the apple harvest, which was a bumper crop. We’ll be enjoying frozen fresh cider for months to come! It was also a time of bounty – harvesting from the garden, making pickles, canning tomatoes, making jams and freezing all sorts of vegetables. We did a few more Farmer’s Markets and have also been busy with meat deliveries into Toronto, Burlington, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo and London areas. We’ve strengthened relationships with a couple other farms, so were able to join Ignatius farm during their open farm days, selling our own gluten-free pork sausages on a bun! We also now have an apprentice whose family runs Quaker Oaks Farm up near Sebright, ON that are carrying our meat and can be a delivery rendezvous point for folks who’d like to order bigger quantities of stuff from us.
We enjoyed the beautiful weather that lasted until the end of November in terms of getting work done outside around the farm. We did our fall plowing, planted the garlic, tried out our new paper mulch layer and we able to keep the cattle grazing grass much later that we’d expected. We’ve sold out of whole and halved chickens as well as lamb. We do have chicken livers still available, though eventually I’ll get around to making them into pate! We’ve sold most of our grass-fed beef and pastured pork, but do have some 20 pound mixed packs and lots of pork sausages, ribs and some bacon left for 2016. You can order online here, or send an email or give us a call.
We’re now (mostly) enjoying the snow and winter weather. Fran is working incredibly hard to make sure that all of our financials are up to date so that we can spend early January looking at our year end and use it to make educated estimates for our 2017 year. While she is spending much of her time at the computer, Tony is spending much of his time taking large bales of round hay out to the cattle in our winter pasture and using our snow scoop to keep the lane clear so that we can get out and customers and guests can get in. I have been doing a bit of everything – out working with dad and the animals, sometimes working on catching up on emails, marketing, book keeping, etc… and also off on the road – making meat deliveries and getting to catch a few moments with our customers to hear about how the year has been for them.
The next couple weeks will be low key. Our family celebrations are keeping us home this year, which is exactly what I want. I’ll be hosting a group of friends – both local and from afar for a New Years celebration. But mostly, we’ll be tucked in, finalizing our 2016 year, making plans for 2017, doing enterprise analysis and doing our chores!
Thank you for yet another wonderful year. It’s a pleasure and joy to be providing with our community with sustain-ably raised, organic meats as well as fruits and vegetables.
With so much gratitude,
- PS. To see what we’re planning for 2017, which includes a CSA vegetable garden and possible flower CSA, check out our blog post here.