Little Trickle Farm
It is hard to imagine there could be any connection between whitewater rafting and farming, but at Little Trickle Farm the ties run deep. While the name Little Trickle conjures a soothing image, in actuality it is a salute to a rolling rapid in the middle channel of the Ottawa River. Marry this notion with the demands of farm life and we can etch out a relationship of physical strain, the uncertainty of weather, and risk.
Heather MacMillan and Patrick Carter, both 29, met in their early 20s while working for Owl Rafting on the mighty Ottawa River. Together they have transferred their calmness for managing risk on the water to managing risk on the 30 acre farm they purchased just outside of Douglas, Ontario, in the heart of the Ottawa Valley.
But Heather and Patrick can affirm that despite the idyllic setting and the company of their two dogs, living rurally can be a lonely life and they have found solace in the Ottawa Valley farming community and a surprisingly growing number of like-minded individuals. The Valley has a strong foundation in conventional farming which brings with it a (thankfully) unforgotten attitude of helping one’s neighbours. As the amiable couple says, the neighbour coming to plough under their buckwheat cover crop was “no bother.”
In some ways, it sounds unusual – two young entrepreneurs with no prior farming experience staking their foundation in an ageold Canadian practice. Or, perhaps their story rings as one of a traditional romance – a story of young love growing in the fields. Whatever it may be, Heather and Patrick are actually among an emerging minority. Interestingly, there is a trending increase of first generation farmers, those with little or no background in farming, who are drawn to agricultural life in both urban and rural areas. According to Just Food, a non-profit organization supporting new and established farmers in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec, this increase includes both youth and second-careerists, who are bringing with them a keen interest in sustainable production methods. New Canadians are also prominent within the new trend, often bringing strong agricultural expertise and an interest in producing diverse crops.
In the case of Little Trickle, Heather had some experience from growing up on a hobby farm but with such a large undertaking as Little Trickle, the couple did find they had a rather steep learning curve. To remedy this, the pair spent a year working with their mentor, Bob Dobson at Dobson Farm, raising 15 head of cattle and bringing them to market. Now, with a five year lease on their own thirty acres, they plan to build on what they have learned.
Heather and Patrick’s acreage is mainly dedicated to raising grassfed beef, a practice to which they are committed. While the herd is not certified organic, Heather and Patrick are not feeding grain to the animals, nor using growth hormones or antibiotics. The thirty acre property provides enough space for them to practice rotational grazing which is good for the cows and good for the land. No artificial fertilizer is used on the fields. When the pastures can no longer provide, the herd is fed hay, sourced locally. As a result, they feel their cows yield a product that is not only high in flavour but also higher in health benefits with a leaner meat and a better balance of Omega fatty acids.
They have begun their cattle stock with eight cows, including Charolais, Hereford, Limousin and an extremely rare heritage breed of cattle brought to the America’s in the 17th century: the American Milking Devon. With only 1200 in North America, including a herd on one other farm in Ontario, Patrick has staked the future of his herd on this exceptional breed. The American Milking Devon is suited to both meat and milk, and as far as cows go, is less picky as it happily thrives on grass and forage.
Currently the farm sells beef shares to their existing client-base first established with their 15 head in 2013. A recent and serendipitous meeting between Heather and Dave Wallace from Around the Block Butcher Shop on Cobden Road in Ottawa forged a liaison that means Little Trickle’s beef will soon be available to the larger community.
In these early days while Little Trickle Farm establishes both their herd and a regular customer base, they have looked for other avenues of revenue. Diversification can go a long way to creating alternate cash flows and managing any unforeseen calamities that farm life seems to dish out in excess. In addition to the cattle seen foraging their land, the couple are also raising organic, pastured poultry. In accordance with Chicken Farmers of Ontario's Small Flock and Farm Gate Marketing Regulations they are limited to raising 300 chickens annually. Each morning these chickens can be seen rotating through the pasture in moveable chicken tractors.
Raising chickens is but one way that Heather and Patrick ensure they are regulars at the local farmers' markets and keep busy year round. Another avenue they have successfully shouldered is the growth and harvesting of garlic. The couple grow eight varieties of garlic on the farm, and last season harvested close to 5000 heads. In addition to Ottawa area farmers’ markets, they also sell at the Toronto Garlic Festival and Taste of the Valley in Cobden.
Lastly, Heather herself has uncovered a passion for bread making that has developed into a cornerstone business for the farming couple. Her bread is labelled Heather’s Hearth and each week she bakes upwards of 175 loaves and as many as eight artisan varieties of organic, naturally leavened bread in an outdoor woodfired cob oven. It is an art she gained an interest in while working at a remote lodge in BC and later augmented with a formal education at the Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver.
These brave 20-somethings represent a new breed of artisanal farmer. With seemingly boundless energy, they are honing new skills and diversifying their talents to produce a higher quality and variety of food to their local community. Their commitment to sustainable farming practices and their open, community-oriented attitude gives them an edge in a market that is increasingly concerned with the story behind the food on the plate. In the case of Little Trickle Farm, this story – one of risk, love and adventure – is a story worth savouring.
Little Trickle Farm
592 Dillabough Road, Douglas, Ontario
littletricklefarm.ca | 613-281-8524