Fiddle Foot Farm: A reverse farm family

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A farm near Mansfield sat quietly for more than 40 years. Close to the Boyne River on a dead-end road, the 66-acre paradise was populated by weekenders who loved the place but did not work the land. The large barn sat empty. A neighbour grazed cattle on the pastures.

The property changed hands at the turn of the century. A decade passed and then owners Tom and Mary Ouchterlony found themselves in possession of a newly awakening farm. Their daughter, Amy, and her partner Graham Corbett began to break ground, acre by acre, and started a biodynamic, mixed farm. So, notes Amy, the Toronto-based parents now spend weekends with their farmer children on the family farm, reversing a Canadian trend many decades in the making.

A couple of city kids who were bitten by the farm bug, Amy and Graham both studied environmental science before they headed for the hills. They spent three seasons together at Whole Village in Caledon, where they managed a three-acre plot and community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. Last summer, they arrived in Mulmur and began with one-and-a-half acres, selling organic vegetables to local restaurants and at the Rosemont Market.

They fixed up the barn and fences, installed a greenhouse and mobile hoop-houses, and began to bring in animals—Barred Rock and Heavy Red chickens for eggs and meat, shorthorn milking cows, and a few Large Black pigs. The chickens are in moveable coops in the pasture, with the concentrated manure helping to enrich the fertility of the soil.

This summer, they launched the Fiddle Foot Farm CSA with a broad range of staples such as potatoes, beans, beets, greens, celery, garlic, cabbage, zucchini, leeks, tomatoes, onions, cauliflowers, cucumbers and peppers. The more unusual fare includes patty pan squash, ground cherries and sunflower sprouts. Next year, strawberries will be added to the list.

A CSA is a seasonal “farm share”. You pay in advance for a selection of produce as it comes ready between June and October. This arrangement allows the farmer to predict sales and plant accordingly, and brings in handy spring cash for seeds, repairs and labour. Over the years, I’ve participated in various weekly CSAs and other “food box” programs. I always enjoy the anticipation of peeking in the box each week and getting to know the people growing my food.
CSA members share the ups and downs of the season. For example, this year’s challenges included corn that did not do well in the new section of the garden. The spinach bolted repeatedly in the heat. On the other hand, there were heavenly potatoes and beans, and zesty ground cherries inside papery jackets that delighted my small son.

I pick up my Fiddle Foot share at the Creemore Farmers’ Market, one of several weekly locations. Over the summer, I’ve had the pleasure of chatting each Saturday morning with not only Amy and Graham, but Amy’s father, Tom, and the three apprentices working the farm.

Visits to Fiddle Foot Farm are a pleasure. The once-silent barn is now home to some handsome, dark pigs and, upstairs, the airy space holds rows of hanging garlic and neatly stacked boxes of curing onions. The days are getting shorter and some of the crops have already been turned into the soil. I am standing with Amy, watching Graham and a neighbour work on a tractor and apprentices Rob Day and Sarah Weinberger pull out weed covers between rows.

Amy smiles at a memory of her father looking around the farm one morning and turning to her: “Doesn’t it just take your breath away sometimes?”

“Every day,” she says. “Every day.”

Fiddle Foot Farm offers large, small and mini-size CSA shares, plus a greens “top-up” share for those who love their salads. The shares are picked up weekly over the 20-week season. Upcoming winter CSA shares will be available in November for vegetables (e.g., onions, carrots, potatoes, beets) and pork.
You can contact Amy or Graham at 519-925-3225, fiddlefootfarm@gmail.com or through their website www.fiddlefootfarm.com.

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