Puddleduck Farm owners Merridy Senior, Eban Hancock and son Sawyer were on hand on Sunday September 18th as part of a Farms at Work farm tour at the farm on Glamorgan Rd outside Millbrook. The couple, who have been operating the farm since 2012, produce eggs and poultry, some beef, honey, maple syrup and market garden crops and cut flowers. They greeted 30 visitors who came to better understand where their food comes from. Some were market customers, some teachers and others were interested because they were launching their own farm business and wanted to hear from someone who had been there, done that.
The drought conditions experienced over the summer made production more difficult than usual. The couple spent a lot of time hauling water every night to maintain their market garden crops, and soon developed a system of hoses and tanks to streamline the process. Over the past few years they have been selling Community Supported Agriculture or (CSA) Shares, which provides them cash up front to fund their planting costs. Under this program, customers sign up at the beginning of the season and each week pick up a basket of fresh produce over the course of the 20 week season. Despite their best efforts, many crops failed, leaving them with limited produce, but still managed to meet their commitments. This was largely thanks to a 50 foot hoop structure they set up early in the season, in which they grew many vegetables. With soaker hoses and protection, the plants in this structure seemed to thrive, as the plastic cover reduced the rate of evaporation and protected the plants from the drying winds that added to the dryness of exposed land.
Senior explained to visitors that they have co-operative arrangements with some of their neighbours. For example they harvest sap from a local sugar bush in exchange for allowing the landowner to graze some cattle with theirs.
While there are more permanent structures on their farm, for meat birds, they have a set up with flexible fencing and shade that is moved around to provide the chickens with fresh grass which makes for a healthier environment. The cattle are housed in a barn together with a single goat who is the offspring of parents who came with the farm.
The following day, the couple attended the “Selling Food to Ontario” workshop hosted by Cavan Monaghan Township. The day-long event provided a variety of technical information regarding food labelling, food safety, while identifying market opportunities but the best feature of the day was the opportunity to network, and they will be exploring an on-line farmers’ market opportunity as a result. KG