This weeks' "Local County Stories" is a unique one, as I'm keeping the same format but interviewing myself along with my husband John (J&L). We started the Local County website about 4 years ago as we started thinking about how to market our own local farm experience that we were developing. We became very interested in helping increase awareness of the local food/farm/producer community and discovered many fun and helpful local connections along the way. So here's a bit of the background about our own "Boreal Harvest Farm".
Local County: What is the nature of your farm and can you tell a bit of the story about how you got started?
J&L: We bought 40 acres of land 17 years ago this spring and immediately started establishing shelter belts and planting a variety of trees. It was a very dry year and the land had been heavily grazed. We didn’t live on it for the first 6 years, just kept planting trees and planning while both working full-time jobs and living in Edmonton. Over the first few years, we dreamed about starting a u-pick berry orchard and a Christmas tree farm as well. We did some research into growing fruit in our zone 3 climate and decided to try the super-hardy Honeyberries (Haskaps). We built a farmhouse and moved out to our land December 2007 and continued to dream and plan.
Over the past 9-10 years we have planted a 900 bush haskap orchard and around 1800 Spruce and pine trees for u-pick Christmas trees. We also grow over 30 varieties of pumpkins and squash for Pumpkin Hill Farm available September-October. It is definitely a farm with variety that follows a natural seasonal rhythm every year. We have been open for u-pick Honeyberries (limited amounts) the past two years in June-July, and this past December was our first experience selling Christmas trees!
We also raise our own pigs in the summer, grow a garden for our family, and keep chickens year-round for eggs.
We chose the name "Boreal Harvest Farm" this past year as we are located within the Northern Boreal forest region and love harvesting throughout the year.
Local County: what do you most enjoy about this type of farm/Local experience?
J&L: We really enjoy learning about what will grow in our climate and trying new things. John has a career background in forestry and has always been passionate about growing trees and making the most of our land. Growing the honeyberries and Christmas trees, as well as pumpkins, has been a way to turn that “hobby” into a year-round farming experience. We love stocking our freezer with bags of honeyberries as well as harvesting our own Christmas tree for our family. It’s also been fun to share our land with the people who come out. It is quiet and wilderness-y enough that people can feel like they are getting out to the country- but still only 20-30 minutes east of Edmonton.
Local County: what has been a challenge/learning opportunity as you’ve pursued this type of farming?
J&L: The deer and moose are very hard on any trees grown out in the open, so as we planted our first 110 Honeyberry bushes in 2010, we knew we had to put up a deer fence right away. We enclosed 7 acres in a page wire fence and continued planting honeyberry bushes, White spruce trees, then Lodgepole pine trees for Christmas trees and more shelter belts. It’s amazing how well trees will grow when protected from the deer!
Frost in the late spring and early fall can also limit the pumpkin growing season so we’ve started using large fabric row covers to extend the season a bit- but we usually end up harvesting pumpkins first or second week of September.
We've also had to figure out how to cover the honeyberry rows with nets to deter the flocks of cedar wax-wings from eating the berries. There seem to be endless challenges/learning opportunities.
Local County: what is an interesting/unique thing about your farm?
J&L: I guess one unique thing is that we have grown our own wheat before. We did it in an old-fashioned way: hand-sowing/broadcasting, weeding, harvesting with a scythe, "stooking" to dry, and then beating the wheat on a tarp and collecting the grains, separating chaff from the wheat by pouring it back and forth between 5 gallon pails on a windy day. We harvested this wheat a week after our first son was born mid- Aug 2008. In hindsight it is a really strange memory! It was a fun experience, but each (very tasty) loaf of bread made from that wheat took a lot of work, never mind doing it with a tiny 5lb baby in a sling! We haven’t pursued growing our own wheat again since, but it is a fun story to tell.
Local County: if you were to be a “tourist in your own backyard” what local activity(ies) would you recommend to others?
J&L: We would recommend exploring the Blackfoot Provincial Recreation area. We really enjoy cross country skiing on the groomed trails there, and hiking during the spring, summer, and fall. We like fishing at the North Saskatchewan river in the summer, and have recently become interested in trying gold-panning in the North Saskatchewan river again. If we actually find gold it likely won’t be enough to worry about keeping the spot a secret, but its fun to try find some anyhow!
Local County: How can people best follow you/contact you to learn more about your farm?
J&L: You can find more information about our farm at www.borealharvest.com or at @laurajpeterss on Instagram and also about our pumpkins: www.localcounty.ca/pumpkinhillfarm