Ad­ven­tur­ous Agri­cul­ture in Way’s Mills

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Way's Mills

When Ot­tawa na­tive Tony Scott left his province about thirty years ago in search of af­ford­able farm land, his jour­ney brought him to the East­ern Town­ships where, much to his de­light, an or­ganic com­mer­cial farm­ing move­ment was well un­der way. “When I came to check Tony Scott and Eve Le Bour­dais run an out the East­ern Town­ships, there was a meet­ing on or­ganic veg­etable farm in Way’s Mills.

or­ganic agri­cul­ture in the area. So I went to that meet­ing and I was re­ally im­pressed. In On­tario all the or­ganic farms were owned by Euro­peans, so to come here and see lo­cal Que­be­cers farm­ing or­gan­i­cally was like a breath of fresh air,” said Mr. Scott, an or­ganic mar­ket gar­dener with a farm in Way’s Mills, when I caught him for an in­ter­view in be­tween mak­ing batches of to­mato sauce for the year.

He bought the Way’s Mills prop­erty, now called the Ferme Maraichere Way’s Mills, in 1991, a semi-aban­doned farm with a few ap­ple trees. “The owner wanted to sell it to an or­ganic farmer, so I got the farm,” said Tony. “To grow and sell food lo­cally was my big in­ter­est at the time, but it wasn’t big back then.” He be­gan sup­ply­ing restau­rants and lo­cal food stores, but the needed vol­ume still wasn’t there, es­pe­cially with the fall crops. “Then I heard about a co-op of Amer­i­can and Que­bec farms, the Deep Root Or­ganic Co-op based in Ver­mont, which sup­plies Bos­ton and other big cities along the coast. I joined that and it has made all the dif­fer­ence,” he ex­plained.

Roughly 80 % of the farm’s pro­duce, which in­cludes sum­mer greens, fall stor­age crops, French shal­lots and more, heads down to New Eng­land. “One of the great chal­lenges of a veg­etable grow­ing busi­ness is you need to have vol­ume; you need to be sure to be able to move pal­lets of veg­eta­bles.” In many cases, veg­etable farms go from one gen­er­a­tion to the next, and a mar­ket for those veg­eta­bles along with it. “But most or­ganic farm­ers had to start every­thing from scratch,” he added.

The Ayer’s Cliff Farmer’s Mar­ket has been an­other out­let for sell­ing pro­duce lo­cally and Mr. Scott has been a ven­dor there for many years. “The Ayer’s Cliff Mar­ket is an in­cred­i­bly dy­namic place,” he said en­thu­si­as­ti­cally. “It’s the ven­dors who run the show al­though we do have a co­or­di­na­tor. We get to­gether and dis­cuss every­thing; we man­age the com­pe­ti­tion. And all the ven­dors are very com­mit­ted to mak­ing the mar­ket an en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence for ev­ery­one.” Some of the mar­ket’s ven­dors have been there for over a decade, like Tony, while oth­ers come and go. “There’s al­ways a reg­u­lar chang­ing of the guard, we have some new peo­ple each year.” Ac­cord­ing to the farmer, there has been a big move­ment lately in the or­ganic world to smaller, more bio-in­ten­sive farms. “Peo­ple are start­ing to make a de­cent liv­ing on smaller acreages.”

One big con­cern this or­ganic farmer voiced was over the in­creased use of pes­ti­cides in Que­bec. “I don’t crit­i­cize other farm­ers, I re­spect all farm­ers, but be­cause of the move­ment to GM crops, pes­ti­cide use is grow­ing. The bugs and the weeds are de­vel­op­ing re­sis­tance to the crops.”

Asked if he had no­ticed changes in the weather since he be­gan farm­ing thirty years ago, Mr. Scott an­swered: “Ab­so­lutely, ab­so­lutely! Where to start? We as a so­ci­ety, as a coun­try, a world, we need to wake up. We are us­ing the re­sources that Mother Na­ture gave us in an un­sus­tain­able way. This year was dry, very good for our farm. But in Africa there is a drought like they have never seen be­fore. It hasn’t rained in Zim­babwe for two years.”

He con­tin­ued: “These are nat­u­ral weather phe­nom­ena be­ing in­flu­enced by hu­man ac­tiv­ity and I think there are se­ri­ous con­se­quences around the cor­ner. I’ve been on my hands and knees out­doors for thirty years now; I see the changes. Be­fore, most peo­ple were farm­ers, but now only 1 % are farm­ers. There aren’t many peo­ple left to sound the alarm.”

As many read­ers will re­mem­ber, just last sum­mer the Heath Or­chard lost its en­tire ap­ple crop af­ter get­ting hit by hail on three sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions. Mr. Scott’s farm was also hit by hail twice last year, caus­ing him to lose $25,000 worth of let­tuce. “We used to see hail once ev­ery ten years, so you start to won­der what’s go­ing on here. It’s now Septem­ber 18th and we still haven’t had frost and it’s not ex­pected un­til around Oc­to­ber 9th. The sea­sons seem to be shift­ing, start­ing later but end­ing later. The old plant­ing dates just don’t work any­more.”

“Just look at the losses these two lit­tle farms ex­pe­ri­enced, mul­ti­ply that by more farms, and prices will start to go up and then things will be scarcer. That’s what I see hap­pen­ing in the fu­ture. Ul­ti­mately there is a price to be paid…”

But wor­ries about the fu­ture aside, this mar­ket gar­dener re­ally seems to en­joy his work. “I like get­ting to know my cus­tomers; the main rea­son you go to the mar­ket is to es­tab­lish re­la­tion­ships with them. It’s lonely out there in the fields! We’ve al­ways had ex­cel­lent sup­port from the com­mu­nity and we just want to pro­vide good food that peo­ple can af­ford. You’ve got to re­spect both sides of the coin.”

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Tony Scott and his part­ner, Eve Le Bour­dais, speak with a shop­per at the Ayer’s Cliff Farmer’s Mar­ket.

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