One of my favorite parts of My Farmers’ Market is all of the local farmers and producers that are a part of it! I’ve been eating Adagio Acres oats for months and wouldn’t have it any other way – so it was such a delight to be able to interview Amy about her family farm. Read on to find out what she had to say.
1) Why did you decide to start farming?
There are not very many people who “decide” to start farming, and similarly, Donald grew up on a farm, and always had a tendency to nurture things to grow. His family has been farming in this area for three generations before him, and he certainly felt the magnetism of the land drawing him back. We were living in Montreal, pursuing degrees and careers, when we decided to return to Manitoba and start a grain mill that would provide food for the communities around us.
I think that living in a large city was a pivotal part of this decision, as we realized how difficult it is to connect to real food when you live in an urban area, and yet how crucial it is in developing healthy food-routines and good life balance, to have a connection with where your food is grown. Questions of sustainability, and how we can contribute to a positive solution in all the environmental problems that are enclosing on us, also played into our decision. Are we munching on beets pulled from fertile soil close to where we live, or chewing on sugar-spheres formed into cereal flakes in a factory half-way across the continent? In eating “real” food, each one of us can have an impact on the ecosystems around us!
2) What makes your oats different from other kinds?
Naked Oats have been cultivated for thousands of years, tracing back to some of the earliest grain farming in Asia. They require minimal processing, and offer higher nutritional values and a richer flavour than conventional oats. However, they have been largely abandoned by industrial agriculture because in the equation of modern farming, higher yields and durability in long transport and storage are more important than taste and nutrition.
Our oats do not need to be steam-treated as conventional oats are, which significantly reduces the environmental “cost” of the milling process. Although our oats will not last for year upon year (we recommend using them within a month or two of opening a package), we believe that this is a trade-off that makes sense for a local product feeding the people who are around us.
3) What does a typical day look like at Adagio Acres?
We began setting up our mill about two years ago and are still trying to get things working “right.” To that end, we spend a lot of time revamping machinery, testing new processes, welding, inventing, re-inventing, and a significant amount of time “at the drawing board.” There are no rule-books for small scale milling, and Naked Oats are particularly difficult as there are only a few mills across North America using them.
Every year’s crop has it’s unique challenges: how to sort the wild buckwheat out from our steel-cut oats, why our aspirator keeps plugging up, how moisture and temperature fluctuations impact whether hulls are retained on the oats; the list goes on! But in between these challenges, we spend a few days every week just milling oats. We mill a few batches each week so that each delivery to a store brings the freshest possible product, and this process is still more time consuming that we would like it to be. It can be tedious and labour-intensive, and isn’t nearly as fun as other parts of the job like talking with customers, watching oats grow in the field(!), and eating an absurd quantity of oats!
4) Can you tell me a little bit about your farming practices?
Donald’s family has always farmed using the most ecological methods possible. His father has been developing a careful crop rotation that includes perennial legumes to build up the soil structure and minimize weed-pressure without resorting to the use of herbicides, and integrating the use of livestock to return nutrients to the soil. We are simply following this good lead, and taking a few extra steps to ensure that our fields are managed sustainably for organic food production.
We use only legume crops and manure to build soil fertility, and do not use any synthetic fertilizers. Unlike the typical prairie landscape of unending sky, our fields are small, and interspersed with bluffs of trees, native grasses, and wetlands. This provides an ideal habitat for birds and wildlife. Our fields are our kids’ favourite kite-flying spots and our own backyard – what better way to realize the immediate connection between the health of our agricultural land and our own well-being!
5) Why did you decide to become certified organic?
There are quite a few very serious concerns about the future of agriculture. The “Green Revolution” of the 60s made impressive strides in increasing food production worldwide, but these methods are quickly taking their toll, and we are seeing that the miracle cure of chemicals is not the easy fix we once thought it was. Yields are starting to decline as soil structures are degraded, insect pressure is growing stronger as pests build resistance to pesticides quicker than scientists can reformulate them, the effects of nutrient overload on our lakes is becoming dire, and to top it all off, our sources of fertilizers are quickly becoming depleted.
Unless we start experimenting and finding new ways to produce food sustainably, the future of farming, of eating, looks somewhat grim. Although what we are doing with growing and milling Naked Oats is not radical, I think that the world will need a lot of people trying out new approaches if we are to find a solution to the problems that we are facing.
6) What are some of your favourite things about owning a family farm?
Our morning porridge! We stir up a pot of oats almost every day, and there’s a bit of magic in having such a close connection to the food that we eat. Our kids are an essential part of why we chose this lifestyle as well, and even thought they’re just 3 and 5 years old, our children are able to see and participate in the whole process of growing food – from soil preparation and field work, crop rotations that give the soil a chance to rest undisturbed and build healthy microorganisms, migrating geese and deer gleaning from the leftover grain on our fields, and finally, an end product to be cooked up and enjoyed together.
It is good to be able to pass this knowledge onto a new generation, and participate in their sense of wonder and curiosity about the world around them.
7) What do you like best about farming in Manitoba?
It’s been exciting to be buoyed up by a growing number of people in this province who are dedicated to local agriculture and good, simple, food. We get so many emails (we call them “porridge love notes”) from people just telling us about how much they enjoyed their morning porridge, or sharing a favourite oat recipe, or simply encouraging us to keep doing what we’re doing. Farming is not just running a business; it is providing food. And food is more than just something that fills our stomachs. It has the ability to nourish our entire beings, and is indistinguishable from the health of individuals and of the planet.