Margaret and Allister’s two hundred and seventy acre mixed organic farm is nestled into a lush green valley on the Pisquid Watershed in Prince Edward Island’s eastern farming community of Avondale. Margaret, who grew up only a few miles away, and Allister, originally from Nova Scotia, bought the farm in 1987 with the intention of raising a family in a healthy, rural environment while simultaneously contributing to the growing local organic foods movement. In 1989 they became the fist certified organic producers on the island.
Over the last twenty years, Margaret, Allister, and their four children have built a holistic farm system that is founded upon the principles of diversity and creativity, and a wholehearted embrace of reciprocal relationships. One hundred and seventy acres of their farm is wooded, and five acres of the cool, shaded forest floor is rented out to a local farmer who harvests wild blueberries from the land. A local farmer keeps one hundred beehives between the Veinots’ pastureland and forest in exchange for two pails of sweet Island honey annually. The couple are looking to find someone interested in helping them to thin their woodlot, in order to optimize the healthy growth of the trees.
Part of ensuring that diversity and relationships are respected is preserving and enhancing natural habitat for local wildlife. When the Veinots bought their farm, it had one pond on it. The couple have since added two more, which, together with the extensive woodlot bordering their land, attract a wide variety of birds and other wildlife. Margaret and Allister also recognize the importance of maintaining strong, mutually beneficial relationships with their neighbours and community. Over the years they have hosted many educational tours, farm apprentices, and exchange students, as well as sharing their experiences with other farmers interested in growing organically.
Although their farm is mixed, the Veinots’ main focus is raising sheep for milk. They currently have one hundred and fifty ewes, and three hundred and fifty sheep in total. All of the sheep milk is sent to a cheese making facility in New Brunswick that turns it into five different varieties of specialty, high-end cheeses. Some of their cheese is marketed directly by the processor. The Veinots also sell their cheeses, as well as a wide variety of other specialty cheeses, many of which are produced locally, at the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market. Sheep that are not needed for milking are sold as meat, and the wool is sold to a local artisan who uses it to make winter socks. In addition to the sheep, the Veinots keep a few pigs and chickens. They sell their eggs alongside their cheese, at the Farmers’ Market.
Margaret and Allister have a small certified organic vegetable garden in which they grow juicy tomatoes; tender beans; sweet, crunchy carrots; deep ruby beets; sun-ripened squash; dark green cucumbers; onions; full, orange pumpkins; aromatic herbs; light, full-bodied lettuce greens, as well as a few potatoes. They also grow small amounts of strawberries, raspberries, and high bush blueberries, and over the past couple of years have been planting blackcurrants, which they are interested in growing more of once they become more familiar with the best cultivation practices. During the summer months the couple sell their produce to visitors and neighbours alike directly from a roadside stand on their farm.
The environment in which they live and raise their livestock is important to Margaret and Allister. They try to grow as much of their feed as they can. Although they purchase their grain from off the farm, the Veinots grow all of their own pasture and forage on land that is too hilly or wet for field crops. Keeping such sensitive land planted with perennial grasses with deep root systems reduces erosion and increases the carbon content of the soil. The animal manure enriches the pasture soil, and composted with straw, provides readily available organic inputs, thus replacing the need for synthetic fertilizers.
The Veinots love to farm. Although Both Allister and Margaret have off-farm employment as a school bus driver and a crop insurance agent, respectively, and milking the sheep after they get home from a full day’s work makes for very long hours, they cannot imagine not farming. Allister says: “it is very fulfilling to know that we are putting healthy food on our table, and on the tables of many other families in our community.” Margaret remarks on how much she looks forward to spending time with the animals in the barn every evening. “I love putting my hands into the soft wool when I milk the sheep, and how good they smell!” Both Allister and Margaret recognize that farming is not for everyone, but working with the earth and the animals brings them so much joy that they plan on continuing to farm long into the future. Their hope is that they can continue to find new regional and international markets into which to sell their tasty Island produce.