Small Farm Spotlight: Tipsy Toad Grove Farm
Tipsy Toad Grove is a small mixed farm in Tremont, Nova Scotia. They are regular vendors at both the Kentville and Wolfville Farmers’ Markets.
The Grapevine: Tell us about yourself:
Sue Earle (SE): I run Tipsy Toad Grove Farm with help from my husband Troy Turple. Our farm is in Tremont ( home of the Tremont World’s Fair), near Greenwood. I’ve always been a bit of a foodie and in recent years I developed a real passion for sustainable food systems and food sovereignty. Everything we do on our farm takes into consideration environmental sustainability and making sure that our animals have the best life possible. We believe that the way forward is going to be many small farms that can feed neighbourhoods or communities rather than a few huge farms that try to feed the world.
GV:: How did you begin farming?
SE: My interest in food systems pried me away from a very good university job in the fine arts. As my interest in food and food production took hold I felt a real need to contribute to healthy and sustainable models of producing and eating. It seemed like something I could do to make a difference, maybe not on a grandiose scale, but definitely in a way that was meaningful. We bought a farm and jumped in feet first, not really having any clue what we were doing, but determined to figure it out. We’ve made a lot of mistakes but every year things get a little easier, so it’s all good.
GV: What are your main products?
SE: We are all over the map. We grow spray-free produce which we sell through a small CSA. We raise pastured pork, lamb, and poultry for our own consumption, as well as most of the hay that feeds those animals in the winter. We also have a herd of miniature Nubian dairy goats which we use for milk. Initially I dreamt of getting into dairy, but it doesn’t seem financially feasible on a small scale, so I use the milk from my goats to produce soaps and body products which I sell at markets as Tipsy Toad Soaps. My art background led to the development of chemical sensitivities, so the soap business grew out of a need to find products that were natural and gentle enough for my own use.
GV: How has your business evolved since you began farming?
SE: I’ve never been one to put all my eggs in one basket. It took a long time to make the decision to leave a decent paycheque with benefits for the complete uncertainty of farming. I am always trying new things in an effort to figure out what will pay the bills and what’s not going to work. I’m a big fan of value-added products. The past couple of years I’ve been selling “farm to fork” burritos at the Kentville and Wolfville Farmers’ Markets and that sales avenue has been doing very well. I’m an avid foodie, and I thrive on the challenge of taking whatever is abundant in my field or available at market and turning it into food that people seem to love. I get a lot of satisfaction from introducing people to Tokyo bekana or pepicha and seeing them come back the following week for more. I’ve come to realize that education is as important as producing…no matter what you make or grow, the product won’t succeed if you can’t show people why they want it and how to use it.
GV: Tell us about the Kentville Farmers’ Market. How long have you been selling there?
SE: I started at the Kentville Farmers’ Market in 2014, just a few months after moving to the Annapolis Valley and buying the farm. Initially I was just selling soap and body products, but I’ve also sold produce, fresh salsa, and hot lunch items at the market. The Kentville Farmers’ Market is not huge, but it’s intimate, and I have a lot of regular customers there who I’ve come to know by name and by need. Kentville was my first farmers market and it will always feel like my launching pad and my family.
GV: What is your biggest challenge as a farmer?
SE: Balance. I am not happy unless I’m busy, and as a creative person I’ve always got a backlog of ideas and projects that I want to explore. I have a very hard time making opportunities for relaxation, play, and me-time. I’m constantly driven to complete a never-ending list of tasks: planting, trimming hooves, mucking pens, weeding, making soap, cooking, making hay, fencing. I’m exhausted all the time, but I can’t stop. Finding balance is impossible when you’re driven.
GV: What is the best part of farming?
SE: Challenges! I love problem-solving and I get absolutely bored stiff completing the same tasks day in and day out. Farming offers such a great opportunity to think, create, innovate, scheme, and invent. Just when you think everything is finally perfect, something else goes off the rails. Having to be constantly on your toes may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I thrive on it.
Find Tipsy Toad Grove Wednesdays 10am-2pm at the Kentville Farmers’ Market and Saturdays 8:30am-1pm at the Wolfville Farmers’ Market.