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