Rutabaga Ranch is a small-scale, biodiverse vegetable farm in Brinston, owned and operated by Jaymie Thurler and Robbie Henderson, a couple who are “partners in love, life, and farm.” They grow wholesome, nutrient-dense food, while employing environmentally conscious, natural, and regenerative agricultural practices. Their goal is to “grow high quality vegetables that are as good for the environment as they are for our health and wellness.”
Regenerative agriculture just means embracing a method of agriculture that aims to build up the soil with organic matter. This restores soil biodiversity, which improves the water cycle and the carbon drawdown. Regenerative agriculture aims to regenerate and revitalise the soil, using cover crops, tilling less, composting, and employing some of the principles of permaculture. Many practices employed in regenerative agriculture allow the soil to sequester carbon. Simply put, when farming practices are changed to increase the organic carbon content of the soil, the soil captures more carbon dioxide (CO2) than it emits. In short, CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and stored in the soil.
Some farming practices that allow soil to sequester carbon include cover cropping, decreasing the amount of land left fallow, use of legumes and grasses in crop rotation, and the conversion of marginal farmland to perineal grasses or trees.
Jaymie and Robbie believe that “health and wellness start in the ground our food grows in. Growing nutrient-dense food has a direct link to regenerating our soil health and improving our environmental impact. Sustainability begins on your plate and ends with improved health and wellness for all.” They are proponents of the methods of Jean Martin Fortier, maximising production on a small farm, while caring for the soil and the environment. Fortier believes that small, regenerative farms can help promote a transition to a more ecologically sound agriculture throughout the world.
His book, “The Market Gardener: A Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming”, has encouraged many gardener to “grow better, not bigger.” Farmers need to make a living. In the case of sustainable, regenerative agricultural models, if the farm is not profitable, the continuation of the farming practices that benefit the environment and community cannot continue. This is why community education about the importance of local food and food sovereignty is so important.
Jaymie and Robbie were both born in Winchester Hospital and raised on nearby dairy farms. Jaymie moved to the city to pursue social work, but soon found herself coming back home. Robbie spent his summers milking cows and hauling hay, eventually working as a mechanic on farm equipment. They were concerned about how to pursue a career in farming without the more traditional access to land, quotas, and resources. On their path to becoming market gardeners, they have found many like-minded market gardeners in the area, and new ones popping up. They didn’t know if this county was ready to engage with the local food movement, but they have found remarkable success through their Harvest Box program.
Big conventional farms in the area are adapting or reintroducing practices intended to improve soil health. There has been a lot of focus on education regarding compaction, cover crops, and tilling. Some young second and third generation farmers are beginning to add more diverse crop rotations, in an attempt to reduce soil compaction, and switching to no-till equipment. Some of these young farmers are resurrecting practices of their great grandparents, often on the same land.
Jaymie sees positive changes, and is admittedly sick of the conversations that pit conventional farmers against organic farmers, stressing that we can all learn from one another.
The Harvest Box program is based on the idea of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), where the consumer purchases a share, or membership, in the produce of the farm in the coming season. It is intended to put some money up front in the hands of the farmers when they need it for seeds, greenhouse upkeep, and a lot of intense labour. The CSA program is more of a relationship between the farmer and the consumer than taking the vegetables to a market. The farmer can grow according to the demand, and give the customer what they want. There is a lot less waste. With Rutabaga Ranch’s Harvest Box, you get 20 boxes of fresh, local, seasonal produce per season. CSA programs encourage a relationship between the consumer and both food and farmer. Customers become more in tune with what grows in the area, and what seasonal, sustainable, and local really mean in relation to food. Jaymie and Robbie would love to see the day when having a local farmer is as common as having a family doctor!
Businesses have been supporting each other through the pandemic. Rutabaga Ranch has teamed up with Ganden Gardens to include locally grown flowers in the Harvest Boxes, as an example, and Jaymie used a local photographer, Over the Moon Photography, to take some awesome pictures for the website. What can we do to support local food? We can buy their products, share their social media, volunteer, help to educate on the need for, and benefits of, local, sustainable, seasonal, accessible, and fresh food.