TapRoot Farms / Blog

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Plans change. We must too.

Posted on by Patricia Bishop

How we got here

We started farming in 2004. The farming model was non organic high volume production to sell to retailers and a small amount for our local farm markets. This model of farming was paying the bills and was keeping everyone employed but it was not providing any income for Josh and I and our growing family, we didn't get paid, but our debts were being paid down and we were thankful for that. 

In 2007 our third child was born and we came upon an opportunity to purchase a small and long standing organic farm. Organic agriculture was my vision for the future of our farming. In 2008 we didn't make enough money to cover our mortgage payments with the new farm and that propelled us to problem solve or give up the new farm. We learned about and implemented a CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) model on our new farm. 

In 2009 we started our first season of CSA in April. With the support of the community, for the first time in a few years we earned enough of a living that we could pay for our farm and have enough to invest more in our farm. It also provided us with the security to begin transitioning more and more of our production on the first farm to certified organic. 

Basically since 2009 we have had three sales outlets to keep our farms viable. 1) the traditional model of selling large volumes to the retailers, 2) selling small volumes to farmers markets and stores that carry our products ie. Noggins, Pete's Bedford, Organic Earth, many other health food stores and farm markets and 3) our CSA membership base. 

Over the years we have worked to move away from working with the retailers because of the volatility of that market and to focus our energy on our CSA members and smaller local retailers. 

Here is how it works in our experience working with larger retailers. In the winter we had a meeting to discuss how things went and what is coming for next year. The retailers provided us with a sense of what they think they will require and it is likely based on sales from the previous year. Last year we had a good year working with one of the retailers and so when we sat down with them in the winter, we explored new opportunities. There are not agreements or contracts. That would be far too risky for the retailers. It is all a conversation. We take all the risk.

When we left our meeting in the winter we had a plan in place to produce enough or our organic vegetables to supply them with the following:

  • 200 cases of grape tomatoes per week
  • 70 case of green onions per week
  • 50 case of zucchini per week
  • And that we would give ground cherries a go this year likely 10-20 cases per week.
  • Many leeks and Many brussels sprouts.

Note: The sweet corn (news of late) is not organic and is grown in a crop share with our family farm, Noggins Corner and they sell the corn to the retailers. We planted 30 acres for these sales. Years past we planted as many as 100 acres.

We have calculated that so far, we have had an approximately $100,000 impact because of no orders from the retailer. We haven’t started with leeks and brussels sprouts yet so we are not sure what will happen there. I email regularly and sometimes twice a day.

A few years ago we decided to no longer work with one of the retailers (we sort of fired them) because they would actually order, receive the order and then a few days later decide to reject it at which point the farmer loses everything, unless they hire a truck to bring it back to the farm where at the very least they could use it for compost or animal feed. If you see poor quality food in the grocery store it is because it has been sitting in their coolers for too long and they aren’t going to bring in fresh until they have used up what is in inventory. Then then of course the consumer thinks the farmers are doing a poor job. The situation is really not good. AND this isn’t just happening to us here, it happens all over the place. If the price is 2 cents less coming out of Ontario or California then there are no sale for us/local farmers. Which then puts us in a place of have to choose whether to sell our corn for less than it costs to produce it, which of course we all know what that means. 

We (collectively) are in a conundrum, we really are. The retailers are a part of the conundrum. They are in a very competitive market too, trying to keep things going. All the power is in the hands of the consumers. It truly is. I think the focus needs to be on having direct relationships with food producers. On our farm, we have always kept our relationship with the retailers because honestly, it is efficient for us to do up one large order of something and ship it off. We have the systems to do that on our farm and our farm has depended on it for many years. The time has come however to step away. The risk is too great. We need to focus on markets 2 and 3, small local retailers and directly to you as CSA members and maybe we need to consider what other alternatives there could be. 

Thank you for the incredible response on the weekend. It filled up our cups!  We need you now more than ever. 

Ways you can have an impact:

  • When purchasing at the grocery store look at what you are picking up. If it is not grown locally, go to the produce manager at the store and tell them you are not purchasing this item because it is not local. And then do not purchase it. 
  • Search for local retailers in your community, shop there 
  • Join a CSA
  • Shop at farmers markets


Saving the Seasons - ground cherries

Posted on by Justine Mentink

Ground cherries, these little golden gems have been gaining in popularity in the last few years, and it's no wonder. They are so fun to eat, in their own little paper package, and they are delicious. A not too sweet berry, with a slight pineapple taste. We mainly eat them up before we can use them for any other purpose, but the patch in my garden is about to be ripe and I think there will be too many for us to eat all at once.

Ground cherries freeze well. My mother in law freezes them every year and uses them over the winter in smoothies, or thawed in yogurt for breakfast. She says no need to lay them on a tray, just take them out of their paper husk and put into bags or containers.

I am also inspired by some of these cooked recipes. I think this jalapeno and ground cherry jelly would be great on warm brie with crackers. Or the recipes I saw for ground cherries pies or mini pies. I also saw a recipe for ground cherry salsa that looks intriguing. 

 

Mini Ground Cherry Pies

Pie crust of your choosing

2 cups Ground Cherries, de-husked and washed
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp flour 

 

 

 

Ground Cherry Jalapeno Pepper Jelly

1 Jalapeno (next time I plan to increase this to two, or toss in another kind of hot pepper)
2 C ground cherries
1 medium green pepper
2 1/2 C red wine vinegar
10 C sugar
1 pouch Certo

 

 

 

Ground Cherry Salsa

This recipe is just for fresh eating, not canning, but you may try freezing it.

  1.      ½ medium- to large-sized red onion, diced
  2.      1 jalapeno, diced
  3.      ⅓ cup fire-roasted tomatoes(see note below)
  4.      1 cup ground cherries, husks removed
  5.      ¼ cup cilantro (or small handful)
  6.      1 lime
  7.      ½ tsp sea salt

 

 



Saving the seasons - preserving cherry tomatoes

Posted on by Justine Mentink

The one thing I try every year to put up is tomatoes. I prefer to can them in a pressure canner, but you can also freeze them whole, roasted or in sauce form. Cherry tomatoes can be used in the same way as you would larger tomatoes.

We started freezing cherry tomatoes here at the farm a few years ago, to great results. They are actually very handy to have in the freezer, so when you're making something that calls for a few tomatoes - soups, stews, casseroles - you just pop open the container and throw a few in. I always leave the skins on the tomatoes, if i'm making a recipe where I want a smoother texture then I use the stick blender before adding the jar to the dish. The plus side of this is that you get extra fiber from the skins, and it's much quicker :)

Freezing cherry tomatoes is easy:

Whole:

Simply wash the cherry tomatoes and let dry on a tea towel. Then bag them up and put in the freezer. You can lay them to freezer on a baking sheet and then bag them, but I don't find this is necessary because they don't stick together in the bag like other fruits and vegetables do.

You can use your frozen cherry tomatoes right from the freezer or thaw them before use if the thing you are cooking doesn't have a long cooking time.

In a post I was reading, they said they used their frozen tomatoes in this recipe with great results.

2 1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp sugar
2 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp flour
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds assorted cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped basil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg
  • 1 1/4 cups grated Gruyere cheese

  • Roasted:

  • You can roast your cherry tomatoes and put right into the freezer to add to sauces or soups in the winter (slow roasted grape tomatoes) or make a sauce, like in this recipe (Balsamic Roasted Cherry Tomato sauce), then put into jars or bags in the freezer.   
  • Canning cherry tomatoes is easy (but you must be sure to read about the process first from a tested recipe):
  • My preferred method of canning tomatoes is to can them. I have been doing it for years and feel very comfortable with it. I have both cherry tomatoes and larger tomatoes in my garden and stew them both together to make my sauce.
  • Cherry tomatoes can be canned in either a water bath or pressure canner. I prefer to make a sauce first before putting it into the jars, but you can place them in whole and process that way. If you process them whole, the tomatoes cook down and you end up with a 3/4 full jar, so it seems like a waste of jar space to me. When you make a sauce, you can fill up the jars and when you are done you have nice full jars of sauce.
  • When I make sauce I just wash and cut up the tomatoes and stew them down. I use a pressure canner, so I do not add lemon juice to up the acidity, but if you are water bathing the tomatoes you should add 1 T per pint, and 2 T per quart. It's recommended that you always follow a recipe when canning tomatoes and that you follow the instructions on your pressure canner. A water bath doesn't have to be anything fancy, just as long as the pot is large enough to have the jars covered completely in water. If you add any vegetables to your recipe, then you must use a pressure canner.
  • These canned tomatoes can be used in any place where they call for tinned tomatoes.
  • I love looking at my rows of tomatoes in jars, knowing that I have locally grown, organic tomatoes for cooking with all year long.
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Agricultural LAND - Everyone's business

Posted on by Patricia Bishop

For many years I have been personally engaged in speaking up for the protection of agricultural land in Kings County, Nova Scotia. 

It all started for me when land in Greenwich was under treat of rezoning for the purposes of developing cluster housing. The land that we farm in Kings County has been farmed since the Acadians arrived. In my opinion it is priceless and a resource to be greatly valued for what it has the capacity to do,  grow amazing crops. 

My involvement in speaking up for the land led me to running in the municipal elections and I sat as a municipal councillor for 5 and a bit years. The 5 + years I was a councillor, the council of the day,CAO and staff could not get it sorted out to get the municipal planning strategy (MPS) updated. It has been years and years of effort and a continuous struggle. The struggle in my opinion is this: Any good planner realizes the need for prime agricultural land to be protected. Everyone in planning knows that the best way to protect anything is to have strong language of protection written into an excellent municipal planning strategy. Zoning is by far the best way to protect land. BUT, protecting anything is not how people like to roll. People want to be allowed to do what they want, when they want. AND so, we have a conundrum.

The time is here again. Kings County is now moving forward (a good thing) to get new policies in place and they need feedback on the draft policies.

It is time for everyone who eats to engage in this process. It doesn't matter where you live. It doesn't matter if your house was built on farm land. It doesn't matter if you life in Halifax. What matters is what is before us right now, and how we want to see things unfold into the future. We can't take it back, we are where we are, so now what?

Kings County is the hot spot for two important things. One) we have a lot of very good agricultural land here and we have conditions here that are found in only a few places on the planet because of our proximity to the Minas Basin. Two) we have a municipal planning strategy (not all municipalities have one) and everyone is watching what will happen here. If we protect land here, then a message is sent to the province to hurry up and enforce protection of land elsewhere in the province. If we weaken our policies here in Kings County, then it sends a sure message to the province that people don't care much about agricultural land. 

I have not been involved in NF2 for many years. I stepped away when I became a Councillor and I haven't been able to get back involved since my term ended because of two reasons. 1) I get really anxious now when I talk about land policy, I/we/many people worked so hard to bring about good sound options for provincal policy of which the gov't has done basically nothing, lip service and lip service is incredible insulting and 2) it has been full on  busy at the farm.

NF2 is alive and well and reaching out to share the news of the what is going on and what you can do. Please read below. Many thanks in advance. One thing that I know for sure is that each of our voices matter so so much!  Every single comment matters. Every single person in the room matters. Every person who can't be in the room that you speak for, matters.  Please come to the meetings. Please speak up. 

 

IT TAKES LAND TO FARM

 

This simple fact is absent in the proposed Municipal Planning Strategy (MPS) for Kings County. The protections the new MPS provide to farmland are grossly inadequate and flawed.

 

The proposed MPS starts off well. It recognizes the vital importance of farmland: it is necessary to preserve a way of life; it is a crucial engine to the region’s economy; it provides a steady supply of local foods; and it is a key reason why people decide to make their homes here and why so people come to visit.

 

And yet the actual policies setout in the MPS do not provide the protection this vital resource warrants.

 

The MPS’s Settlement vision is to “[c]oncentrate new commercial and residential development, including mixed uses, the Growth Centres . . .” However, with no explanation or justification, the MPS contains a number of exceptions that would allow residential development to take place on farmland.

 

The proposed MPS will allow non-farm dwellings on A1 farmland. Non-farm dwelling could be located on farmland if the lot has a minimum of 1000 feet road frontage and on infill lots. The MPS provides no reasons for these exceptions. Also troubling is the fact that the MPS provides information about the amount might be lost or made useless due to nearby residential development.

 

Without justification, the new MPS has increased the number of designated Grown Centres (GCs) in the County and contains a provision that would allow expansion of GC boundaries. There is no evidence that there are not enough potential building lots in the GCs and the Towns of Berwick, Kentville and Wolfville to accommodate the anemic population growth.

 

Equally questionable is the failure of the MPS to provide any protection to farmland located within GC boundaries. There is no information in the MPS about the amount of farmland in the designated GCs which will be unprotected and could disappear due to residential and commercial development.

 

FUZZY TERMS AND CROSS PURPOSES

 

The portions of the proposed MPS affecting agricultural land are full of contradictory policies and imprecise language.

 

For example, the MPS contains strong support for requiring residential development and other non-agricultural development to take place in Growth Centres where infrastructure and needed amenities are located. Yet one of the Settlement priorities is to "[e]nable and encourage a diversity of housing throughout the region." (Our emphasis.) And more damaging to the cause of protection of farmland and the goal of channeling residential and commercial development to Growth Centres are the numerous polices that will allow non-agricultural development to occur either on agricultural land or near agricultural land which will adversely impact the use of farmland for farming.

 

Here is just one example of sloppy language.

 

Proposed Policy 3.4.1 states that Council shall

 

designate as Agricultural portions of the Valley floor, North Mountain and South Mountain. The Agricultural Designation is intended to encompass the rural parts of the Municipality where agriculture is a dominant land use;

 

In order to make sense of this policy and implement it you need to know the meaning of “portions”, “rural parts” and “dominant”. But these terms are left undefined and imprecise.

 

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

 

To get more information go to NoFarmsNoFood Facebook page at

 

https://www.facebook.com/NF2-No-Farms-No-Food-137602539594998/?fref=ts

or search Facebook for “NF2 nofarmsnofood”

 

Write to the County Mayor and Councillors at: councillors@countyofkings.ca and demand that the MPS contain better protection for farmland.

 

Go to one or more of the County’s 3 public participation meetings and make your voice heard that Kings County needs to do more to protect its farmland.

 

Monday, September 11th, 2017

WATERVILLE FIRE HALL

1415 County Home Road, Cambridge

Open House Format 2 - 4 and 6 - 9

Town Hall Meeting beginning 7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

 

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

LOUIS MILLET COMMUNITY COMPLEX

9489 Commercial Street, New Minas

Open House Format 2 - 4 and 6 - 9

Town Hall Meeting beginning 7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

 

 

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

KINGSTON DISTRICT FIRE HALL

570 Sparky Street, Kingston

Open House Format 2 - 4 and 6 - 9

Town Hall Meeting beginning 7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

 

 

NOFARMSNOFOOD



New Waste Management Program at Taproots!

Posted on by Justine Mentink

In 2008 the average Canadian was producing 777 kg (1712 lbs) of waste per year. That's the size of a Holstein cow! Although Nova Scotian's are well under the national average, we are still producing roughly 378 kg (833 lbs) of waste per person a year. That works out to be about 1.03 kg or 2.2 lbs of waste a day, and people working on farms are no exception to that rule.Many of you may or may not know that Nova Scotia currently has one of the best waste management programs in the country. Why not use our curbside pick up and recycling and refundable programs? It's a great way for us here at Taproots to keep our waste disposal in line with our lifestyle and farming practices to limit or eliminate damaging practices to the environment.

 

If you think about items that would create waste in almost any job, they are likely to happen here as well. Coffee cups, water bottles, candy wrappers, ziploc bags, we have it all! This is where I come in! My name is Alyson, and I'm one of the newer additions to Taproot Farms. I was hired on as the Resource Management Intern in early August, and I'm very excited to be here! I am from Nova Scotia originally, but have lived in various cities all over the country. I'm happy to be putting my education and experience to the test in developing a successful Waste Management Program (WMP) for Taproots! I'm going to tell you a little bit more about the program, and will be giving everyone updates from time to time!

 

So let's talk about the program! Our initial goals for this project are identify, educate, and encourage. First thing was identifying our major waste items, and how they were currently being sorted. This could be different for every farm, as it is with many work places. Some major examples are paper towels, coffee cups, label liners, etc. Next was developing a system that was easily shown and taught to others. We have now set up several work stations across the farm that are colour coded and labelled. With the help of a Valley Waste Resource Management employee, we are going to be holding an education and demonstration seminar for all of our farm employees in the upcoming weeks. Finally, we are encouraging a recycling-minded atmosphere.

 

 

All painted and ready to go!

 

Sample of the stations around the farm.

 

Having stations easily accessible and well labelled will help encourage people to think before they simply toss what is in their hands in the trash. Many people that work here believe in a commitment to the environment and to having better, more sustainable practices. Within hours of having the bins painted, we had employees using them and asking questions on how to sort! In the coming months we are developing a system to take advantage of the curb-side pick up, and to start weighing how much waste we are diverting from the landfills. These are some of the initial tasks for the project, but there are tons more in the pipeline! I will be updating news from this project as it goes along, so stay tuned!