Great gardens start with soil but many of us don't know enough about the incredible resource beneath our feet to be able to help our gardens thrive. Join FSN for two upcoming educational teleconferences all about soil! Part 1: Understanding Soil (Jan 22) and Part 2: Building Great Garden Soil (Jan 28). Register soon to save your spot on the line. These sessions will inspire you to plan your garden this winter and make 2015 your best growing season yet!
Terry Dobbie farms up (way up!) on a hill outside Heart's Content, overlooking Southern Cove Pond. The fifty-five acres of land that he leases were at one time Reginald Legge's, before being used as an experimental farm by the Lower Trinity South Regional Development Association. Terry, along with his aunt Donna Bishop, have been working the land for the past six years. Terry grew up in Ontario, and studied to be an engineer. Newfoundland is someplace he knew would be home without ever having set foot in it. He knew, too, he wanted to farm, so he moved out to Newfoundland, and found the land that became GrowDat. Donna, after twenty years living away, came back to her native Cavendish, where she and Terry now both live.
The land that Growdat is on is beautiful. Fences are made from rough cut trees, askew, and the main barn, the chicken coop and the farmstand are recently painted in yellow and green. Walking up through the fields, you can turn around and look back on the pond, a huge expanse of water surrounded by trees. Or you can look right at a vast expanse of sky and field. As the sun set, the day I dropped by, it illuminated everything in a sort of golden light, falling across sheaves of grass, and shooting out from behind the barn.
Terry started the farm without a background in agriculture and he's been learning as he goes. Donna has experience working with horticultural products, which she and Terry grow in the greenhouses, along with warm-weather plants like strawberries, tomatoes, peppers and watermelons (!). Terry also grows field crops up the hill – cabbages, zucchinis, carrots, potatoes, as well as having a field of experimental blueberries – English high-bush. Donna and Terry both take care of a flock of about thirty-odd laying hens who roam free during the day and stay in the coop at night – they're pretty nosy and will try to eat anything resembling food out of your hand. Donna shows me how they have some of the birds – the original flock – trained to sit as you walk behind them. It's a leftover habit from the days when they didn't have a coop of their own and would be carried up to the barn every night.
Terry tells me it hasn't always been easy, that it's still not easy - it's a pretty isolated place to be growing food, the learning curve is steep, and support from the government in terms of extension programs has not always been there. But it'd be hard to say that Terry, and Donna, haven't got a good thing going. They've got a good piece of land, good infrastructure from farms before, and good farming spirit - generosity, good humour, and kindness abound. I really enjoyed meeting Terry and Donna, and the time I spent at GrowDat.
There's a whole lotta wind up on that hill so the recordings of my conversation with Terry aren't the best. In lieu, some short excerpts are transcribed below. Take a read, if you like.
You can find GrowDat's food and horticultural products at the farm, 2km south of Heart's Content, between Heart's Content and Heart's Desire, on Route 80. For 2014, their farmstand hours are from Friday to Sunday, 10am to 6pm. You can visit their website for news, updates, photos and stories.
Rubee, farm dog extraordinaire.
"What got me started... I was living in Ontario, with my wife. [...] This always felt like home to me even though I'd never had the opportunity to live here before. So we said, let's take a break, from the rat race, [...] catch our breath, we'll build our house that we want to retire to eventually. [...] [And then] I literally bought the farm."
A mechanical transplanter.
"When you got the land, did you do any soil preparation? You got the land about six years ago, I guess." "Well, the farm was already here. It was fallow for a couple of years. But I did get a couple of loads of crab offal from a couple of the plants that were around here, and I composted them for a year, and so I've used them on this field, and pretty much all the fields. I went and got some seaweed and put [it] on there. Other than that, no, in terms of preparation." "It was pretty good in terms of preparation, because they'd been here before?" "It wasn't bad. Now, they weren't doing it organically [...] so even now you can tell that some of the fields they're just starting to come back to life."
Power lines, running overhead.
"What I've learned so far is that I have a lot more to learn. [But] [...] you have to keep the place diverse and you have to do it smart."
"I have nothing against [traditional agriculture] it's just I don't see that it's going to work."
Hens and chicks, down in the greenhouse.
"Our problem is labour, and trying to figure out how to [get things] to people on time."
"Those questions are still out there. [...] What are we going to eat? What are we eating? How do we sustain ourselves? [...] I think the answers are down there [in the soil] somewhere."
Thanks Terry. Thanks Donna.