The Maritime Small Farms Co-op: A Community Affair
By Sarah Pittoello
Sarah Pittoello farms with her husband Joey and their two kids, Mia and Lewyn, at Rerooted in Hortonville. Sarah is also a counsellor in private practice, sarahpittoello.com, and Joey is the Director of Coffee at Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-op. You can learn more about the Maritime Small Farms Co-op at martitimesmallfarms.ca, follow us on facebook, or come chat with us on Saturday mornings at the Wolfville Farmers’ Market.
When I recently responded to a survey for my vision of a sustainable food system in the Valley, my response came down to building and maintaining caring relationships between any of us who eat with growers, with our own bodies, with the environment, within our communities, and between farmers. Small-scale farming, for us, has always been a community affair.
Our first garden was a tiny plot right next to the sea in Japan, where a 65-year old farmer taught us, in a hilarious exchange of English and Japanese, how to grow veggies in their full-year growing climate. Our garden only got washed out by the ocean once, and we managed to learn the basics and grew our resolve to continue. When we returned to Canada, Joey apprenticed with Titia Posthuma at Ravensfield Farm in Maberly, Ontario for two years at her biodynamic mixed farm. With Titia, who grew a one-acre market garden and cared for pigs, chickens, goats, and horses on her own, we learned what it meant to be fully engaged in a farming life.
We moved to Wolfville in 2009 when Joey had been connected by Av Singh to Alan Stewart to learn more about organic orcharding, and I had been accepted to the counselling program at Acadia. Originally, the plan was that we would grow vegetables at Al’s farm in exchange for learning about growing apples, but we planted so many vegetables that Al ended up helping us with them instead… we never really got to the apples. We happily worked together for a number of seasons, and even when we bought our own farm in Hortonville, we grew complimentary crops and sold together at the Wolfville Farmers’ Market. If Titia gave us a sense of being fully committed to a piece of land, Al showed how to keep farming a part of our lives while also having a career, a family, and being an active part of a community. Al’s first comment to us was, “Well, if you want to farm, you’re going to have to get a job.”
During these later years, we also had the opportunity to begin farming with the Just Us! Centre for Small Farms along with Av Singh, Karen Shepard, and their daughters Shaani and Kaia. We became their farmers-in-residence and grew our crops on the beautiful acre garden behind the Just Us! in Grand Pré. This was such a gift for us, as it allowed us to offer our skills and knowledge, and embedded us within a community who were so generous with their help, whether it was holding babies, working in the garden together, or rescuing rows of veggies that we had given up on. We learned from them how to be more political about our work and how to imbue our work with generosity and care.
Having kids was the tipping point where farming in a community became a necessity. Although I did spend the first summer after I had Mia pushing her down the bumpy road to Al’s garden in her stroller for her nap and working for as long as she’d sleep, that was about as long as I could pretend that things hadn’t changed. We’ve managed to continue with the support of our families and friends, who’ve cared for our kids and helped with bigger jobs that got so much faster with many hands. We have also become so much more efficient; it actually works better for me to work in small concentrated chunks than long days that stretch out like those 300ft rows of beans.
We’ve also been supported by the community of vendors at the Wolfville Farmers’ Market and the Wolfville community that frequents it. One of my first memories of arriving in Wolfville was walking down the hill to the market on a Saturday morning to meet Al and begin our introductions with the community. The Farmers’ Market, celebrating it’s 25th anniversary this year, is an essential hub in our community’s food system that, not only offers the opportunities for producers and artisans to directly engage the community, but is also constantly pushing to do this in more innovative and sustainable ways.
This year, we’re thrilled to be one of four founding farms in the Maritime Small Farms Co-op, along with Ann and Joel Huntley from Moon Tide Farm in Scots Bay, Jocelyn Durston and Chris Kasza from Seven Acres Farm in Canning, and Adam and Courtney Webster from Olde Furrow Farm in Port Williams. Each of these farms embrace similar values and desires to our own: ecologically sensitive farming methods and finding a way to small-scale farming work. Our co-op makes it possible to streamline our administrative work, share resources, serve larger organizations, and perhaps most importantly, keep us accountable to and learning with others. We have shared crops this year, so that we could choose the crops we grow best. Together, we’ll be selling at the Wolfville and Tantallon Farmers’ markets and offering a 14-week CSA. CSA shares are still available, with multiple drop off points both in the Valley and in the city, and you can find more information at maritimesmallfarms.ca. We have big dreams for this co-op. Coming together will enable us to tackle some of the more complex issues in our food system much more effectively than we can as individual farms.
Of course, each year has its share of disappointments, frustrations, and achy bodies. And each year Joey and I decide that it will be our last year farming. And then something happens in the winter – like rest? – and when the spring comes we’re itching to get going again, and it’s these relationships that makes all of this possible. This past Saturday, I spent the morning with the co-op at market, Joey’s parents took our kids in the afternoon so Joey and I could work together in the gardens we established with the Centre for Small Farms, and we finished our evening enjoying a beer with Al at the Horton Ridge Malt House, looking out over the farm that we spent so much time with. These relationships form the netting that makes it not only possible, but also encouraging and inspiring, to continue growing here in the Valley.