2021 is Abundant Acres Farm’s tenth anniversary and the fifth anniversary of the Warehouse Market. It has been quite a ride! Thanks to everyone who has been part of the adventure with us. Back in 2011 we (Jen and Dave) had modest plans for the farm. We hoped to grow salad greens and spinach on 3/4 of an acre. Our marketing plan was to wholesale everything to a few stores and a food delivery service. The idea of having employees, or making significant investments seemed far out of reach.
A most remarkable string of events unfolded to help kickstart the farm. The October Hill Foundation, through Ecology Action Centre, funded farm efficiency research on season extension. The Modified Hanley Hoophouse was developed from that year of trial and error. It is an affordable way to grow crops later into the winter, and earlier in the spring, without burning heating fuel. Hundreds of them are now in use all over Canada. In 2012, the original farmhouse burned down (no-one was hurt), and we used some of the insurance money to buy our first tractor. In 2013, we were hired to do the Marthas New Growers program in Antigonish. The market garden school/incubator is now in its eighth year. Then a customer approached us to invest in our ability to produce greens year-round. The first climate battery greenhouse was built. Then a second one was built in 2020 with more customer investment. These sources of income allowed us to build farm infrastructure at a rapid pace.
At just the right time, amazing people, like Bruce Glass and Marshall Zuern, showed up who had the drive and commitment we needed to expand the farm and get into direct marketing through our Farm Share program, and at the Seaport Market. Bruce and Marshall both have started their own farms nearby (Glass Family Farm, and Fill Yer Boots Farm). There is a lot of co-operation between the three farms, which is a great comfort.
In 2017, Jeff Wilson invited us, along with Hana from Afishionado and John from Holdanca Farms to start the Warehouse Market. We had just been told we couldn’t use Victoria Park in downtown Halifax as a market space anymore. So we moved to the North End of Halifax on Isleville St. The area didn’t seem as lively as our downtown spot had been, but community support was overwhelming from the beginning. Once Espresso46 opened up in the same building, and Zoë Sevenants came on board as Market Manager, we could see that something special was happening.
What have we learned from the last 10 years? We have lost hoop houses, a farm house, and our cherished downtown marketing venue. In 2012, we almost lost the farm. We have had struggles with hiring, with equipment, and with the pandemic. Looking back, we found that when we let go of our own need for control, and approach life with gratitude and generosity, things usually turn out ok.
Looking ahead, we hope to get better at using the land and infrastructure we have while increasing the quality and variety of the crops we grow.
Some of our goals for 2021 are:
– More abundant spinach in the winter;
– Getting back on track with ginger after several years of bad crops;
– Refining our crop selection and planting dates in the Climate Battery greenhouses and unheated hoop houses; and last but not least:
– Streamlining all the jobs that we often find difficult to get done such as weeding, bookkeeping, and keeping the barn organized.
Compared to the seemingly endless number of things we wanted to do in years past so that we could increase our scale of production, this list seems quite possible to accomplish.
We see good reasons to stabilize instead of increase the size of the farm. First of all, it is a lot of work to build new infrastructure. Setting up greenhouses, laying out more irrigation, and bringing fallow land into production have taken so much of our attention and resources over these last ten years.
Starting our 2021 season, David is excited to be working with people who are serious about farming as a career, and Jen is excited to hand off administrative work and get out in the field. Learning how to be an effective farm manager and farming mentor is a constant challenge, often a source of joy, and always an opportunity for personal growth. Jen and I love seeing new ecological farms get established and prosper. Many of the people working at Abundant Acres this year will likely go on to start farms in the near future. Having a group of such promising new farmers working with us is something we see as a blessing and a responsibility. The overwhelming support we have received from our customers has allowed us to hire such an amazing crew. I hope that we can repay your trust in our farm with another season of healthy abundance.
Below are a few photos from the past 10 years.
We built a super-frugal wash/pack shelter, hired a crew, expanded the garden, bought a second hand John Deere tractor, ran our very old Ford diesel truck with vegetable oil, started selling at Seaport Market, expanded our stand at Victoria Park, continued with some livestock, and grew some beautiful vegetables.
Marshall, Bruce, Benjamin and Lori carried the farm in 2014. We started growing ginger commercially. We stopped producing pasture eggs. Marshall and Hilary started producing eggs, and started to get their farm set up next door. Bruce and Nadege got married and moved off the farm. 2015 was the year we had SO MUCH SNOW. We had to dig down through the snow to get into the hoop houses for harvest that winter. Bernard, Alice, Kevin, and Victoria made up the 2015 team.
2016 was a banner year with a very dry summer. The crew brought experience from other farms with them, and the farm took a leap in productivity. We had a great year at Seaport Market with Dakota leading the charge. We tried Alderney Market, but it didn’t seem to work well for our farm. Hyla did an amazing job painting our sprinter van. The Victoria Park market on Thursdays continued to grow as more people discovered our ‘side table sales’
In 2017 we lost our main marketing venue at Victoria Park, and moved to the North End of Halifax to set up the Warehouse Market on Isleville St. Notice the photos of the new market show very little going on compared to now! We continued to have a stand at Seaport Market. On the farm we dug a deeper well, and added a pond to the network through the middle of the farm. Jake MacDougall helped us build a climate battery greenhouse. We harvested greens all winter in that greenhouse, with no supplemental heat.
2018: The Warehouse Market grew slowly. We found the best farm cat ever, Barney. We had an amazing open farm day and dinner with about 100 people. Two amazing summer students, Naomi and Kathleen, joined our fantastic farm team.
One of the members of our farm crew had to leave suddenly, early in the season. It was very challenging to find someone to replace her on the team. The demand at Warehouse Market was growing with Zoë at the helm. Dave Wolpin convinced us to start importing organic produce, and to sell surplus boxes at the end of Market. At the end of the season, we had Hurricane Dorian and several other nasty windstorms in the winter.
2020: We were blessed with an exceptional crew on the farm and at the Market, with two crew members returning from the previous year on the farm. Brian Huntley built the second climate battery greenhouse. Bruce Glass started contributing vegetables to the market from his farm up the road. COVID-19 regulations, and construction of an apartment complex next to the Market was challenging for those working and shopping there. We expanded the market to 4 days per week to help reduce the lineups. Thanks all so much for hanging in there with us!