Spring 2020 Update

Kent Coates | April 18, 2020, 9:05 p.m.

Spring 2020 Well! 

Early in March I had written a newsletter that outlined how excited I was to be starting a new season and how much I was going to focus on more farming, great staff and make a few adjustments to grow more food and spend less time on the road mid-week. Just before I hit the send button COVID-19 turned the entire world on its heel and challenged all of us to adopt new ways of doing things. 

With a renewed sense of purpose and responsibility to feed ourselves I am excited to grow more veggies! To provide the safest possible food we will keep up to date with COVID-19 guidelines and endeavour to grow more and more food for our communities. 

Thankfully, our family and staff have been able to stay healthy. We got all of our family home from abroad safely and quickly implemented new systems to protect (y)our food. I hope all of you have managed to adapt to new ways of life and stayed healthy too. At Nature’s Route Farm winter is a busy time and this one was been particularly busy. Winter is our time to review the previous season, do taxes and plan the next season. Ironically, my winter seems even more hectic than the growing season as I load up my weeks with meetings, volunteering and try to get to all those projects that were set aside for the quiet winter season. Oh there are so many! 

Pre Covid-19 I was more successful than ever at mixing up production work and administration along with the requisite moving snow and firewood processing. The greenhouse takes a lot of firewood and for the first time in 6 years I have taken the time to cut some of our own wood. I got about 30 cords cut; almost enough for a season in the greenhouse. It feels good to clean up our own wood that has fallen down in the storms rather than relying on hardwood that was machine harvested from clear cuts. I am looking forward to the next couple of months of getting equipment and projects ready for the 2020 growing season. 

The farm has evolved a lot over the last few years as I dealt with some of life’s big challenges. While these were not all easy times, we made big changes to both make the farm more manageable as well as more fun and fulfilling. The most significant change came in 2018 when we started employing three Mexican men as part of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program. These men changed my business and my outlook. Within weeks of their arrival our work was caught up and our stress level dropped; so much so that my daughters both approached me and expressed more interest in the farm. These men enable us to reliably get the labour work of growing vegetables done. Their work ethic, attention to detail and ability to work independently have given me renewed passion for our work. They have enabled me to concentrate on the business and given me hope that we can farm the way I want to for years to come. These are wonderful men whose time here gives them and their families’ opportunities they cannot access in Mexico. COVID-19 will challenge us and our Mexican workers. Jesus arrived in January and has been our lifeline for handling vegetables and getting winter production work done. Unfortunately, like many of us, he cannot get out much anymore; he lives on the farm, I buy his groceries and he works separately from us to safeguard his health and (y)our vegetables. He is able to stay in close contact with his family in Mexico via the internet and able to support them through his work here. 

With the urgency of designing new safety protocols, closing the farm to visitors and creating new ways to get food to customers, our focus is returning to how to grow more food and take care of our staff. As the season progresses we plan on having three more workers from Mexico arrive in early June. With the requisite 14 day isolation on arrival, our plans will evolve and we will have to provide additional housing. My big challenge in the days ahead is to consider the impact if one of our workers or family members contracts the COVID-19 virus and how this will impact our food production. We are being careful to sanitize our work place and work as separately as possible to minimize the risk to all of us while maintaining some ability to keep people working throughout the phases of the next months. I feel our community will need our food and I remain so passionate about growing it. 

This crisis reinforces my passion to be self-reliant and independent. I love growing food for people and operating a medium sized multi-faceted system with so many moving parts. I envision a farm that does not rely on fossil fuels, grows the highest quality food and feeds as many people as possible. Balancing sustainability with production is difficult. Carrots do not grow in the forest; that said, I am committed to improving our soil health and eliminating synthetic chemicals from my part of the food system. We will maintain our organic certification and hope to build systems that work with nature as much as possible. I am committed to simplifying our farm, this is difficult for me as I love taking on more projects. We will implement systems that are as linear as possible, they will be robust while also reducing duplication. A tall order I realize. 

Accordingly, we have planned lots of big changes for 2020; then readjusted them for COVID-19: 

  1. Solar Power. Though postponed due to COVID-19, we are working on installing an all farm Solar Electricity System! This will complement our electric forklift and electric irrigation system in our transition to eliminating diesel from transportation and production; 
  2. Markets. Our focus will remain our markets. We will add the Friday Virtual Market in Dieppe and a pop-up Market Friday afternoon in Moncton. We are committed to being in Sackville on Saturday. We will endeavour to collaborate more with our farming friends to provide veggies all winter throughout the Maritimes. 
  3. More Food! We will grow more cover crops, build our soils, increase diversity and increase acreage by adding more drainage and maximizing the areas we already use. 

With so many plans and so much to do, I look forward to our future. Thank you for your support; in times like these I feel so appreciative of our community and staff and so grateful that we have so much to gain by working together. I wish all of us good health and resilience in these challenging times.