Standing in the greenhouse at Apple Quill farm, it feels as though I’ve been instantly transported to the Okanagan, or California. Brimming with melons, heirloom tomatoes, peppers, flowers, fig and apricot trees, it’s a jungle in the best sense of the word.
Apple Quill farm is run by a family of four, on a 15 acre plot in Wycliffe. Marie-Eve Fradette, Michael Albert and their two lovely daughters, Adelie and Elianna, have made an impressive go of farming in town. Their farm is an oasis of critters, crops and animals, and you can tell as soon as you drive through their gate that they deeply care for this place.
E and I were lucky enough to take a tour of Apple Quill Farm last week, and the entire time I was continually impressed with the amount of knowledge and understanding of farming that this family has.
As someone who is fairly new to growing, and always striving to learn, I was lapping up as much information as I could, like a thirsty dog on a water bowl.
Michael and Marie-Eve purchased their property ten years ago, although they’ve only been seriously farming for three. They grow too many things to list, but some of their specialties include heirloom tomatoes, raspberries and strawberries, and eggs from their ducks and hens. They sell their eggs and produce at the Kimberley and Cranbrook Farmers’ Markets.
Marie-Eve explained that even though their property is 15 acres, they use closer to four acres for farming, mainly because of the landscape.
“When we purchased the property, we never bought it with the intention of farming. We started growing for the love of food and for our health” Marie-Eve explained as she and her daughters picked raspberries. “Then we started sharing with friends and we fell in love with the process. It sort-of snowballed from there.”
Michael and Marie-Eve have hosted two workshops focused on growing berries and tomatoes. They have also been featured in a documentary called ‘New Roots’ made by local filmmaker Mark Locki.
Marie-Eve says that they hope to share their knowledge and processes with anyone who wants to grow.
“Michael is a really good communicator, and he’s very knowledgable. The goal is to empower people to grow, whether they are home growers or commercial growers,” Marie-Eve said. “I think the interest in growing has become more popular, especially with the pandemic. People want to know where our food comes from and how it’s grown. In the long run, it’s better for the planet and for all of us to eat seasonally and understand how to grow.”
We talked about the fact that we can get things like bananas and watermelons in the middle of winter, and it seems strange. Where as, eating what is seasonally available feels natural. There’s a reason avocados are so expensive.
Marie-Eve and Michael take full advantage of their crop through canning, preserving and by storing some of their goods in their root cellar.
“We store things like potatoes and carrots in the root cellar, for our own personal consumption. It’s nice to be able to come out here in the middle of winter and grab carrots that we grew,” said Marie-Eve.
As we continued around the property we passed their meat bird pasture, their laying ducks and hens, and of course their greenhouse. The entire property is fenced to help keep predators and critters out, but Michael says there are always challenges. Specifically, voles.
“It’s a constant battle with the voles,” he laughed.
He adds that one of the other major challenges they faced this year was, of course, the weather.
“Climate change has definitely presented some challenges. We’ve had plants waking up in the winter and spring on warm days. Or snow in September that breaks their limbs,” Michael explained. “Then, there’s these warming events. The heat has been horrible.”
He says that having a diversified farm is a major key to their success, so they’re not always relying on one thing.
“How diversified we are is important. Berries have a super intense, short season. Our meat and eggs are a staple, but we can’t raise meat birds in the winter. They’re usually done by the end of September, depending on availability,” Michael explained. “Our next goal is to heat the greenhouse, so we can extend our growing season.”
“We want to focus on growing better, as opposed to more,” she said.
When asked what their top piece of advice would be to those looking to get into growing, Michael said to test your soil.
“Soil tests are super important, so you know what you’re missing and what you have too much of,” he said. “Focusing on long-term soil health should be a priority.”
If you’re at the Cranbrook or Kimberley Farmers’ Markets during the rest of the season, I highly recommend stopping by Apple Quill’s tent for some fresh produce and eggs, and to say hello.
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