Saturday July 9th
The bus pulls into Weir's Lane Lavender and Apiary on a Saturday morning. Hopping off the bus, we are met with the sweet fragrance of lavender.
The farm is run by Kevin and Abigail Beagle, who after getting tired of their lifestyle in Toronto, moved to Hamilton in 2010 to start growing lavender. Now, they create 107 lavender and bee products.
We walk between the rows of flowers while Kevin explains their different uses; the French Lavender is used in scented products, while English Lavender is used for baking and medicinal purposes. In total they grow 13 cultivars of lavender including rarer white, pink, and yellow varieties. Luckily, lavender has no pests (it is an insect repellant), so they don’t use any pesticide at the farm. Kevin also adds that since they don’t mind the rows of flowers looking wild, they pluck weeds by hand instead of using herbicides.
After rubbing our hands through lavender to pick up the lovely scent, we walk over to where they’ve recently planted 250 young hazelnut trees. Kevin tells us that with the severe drought affecting Ontario and no irrigation system near the trees, they’ve been hard at work carrying buckets of water to quench the hazelnut trees every three days. Although the trees are young, they will start collecting hazelnuts next year.
Next, we visit the bee hives. We learn that the female worker bees collect pollen from flowers that they bring back to make honey, while male drones mate with the queen bee, who spends her days laying thousands of eggs. Kevin says that there are ten frames in every hive each producing 3.5 kg of honey. As part of a sustainable approach they only take half the honey that the bees produce and let the bees forage from September to November to build up enough honey to eat for the winter. The honey that the bees produce will have a slight lavender flavour as the bees pollinate all the lavender on the property.
Once the tour is overwe filter into the shop to explore their wide variety of culinary and aromatic products. With everyone smelling like lavender we get back on the bus, and we’re on our way to the next tour.
We soon arrive at the second farm, Heart’s Content Organic Farmstead, where we are greeted by farmers Richard, Ella, and Tom. Richard is also a naturopathic doctor and runs a clinic at the farm. We are introduced to their sheep who help cut the grass, and their chickens who get to retire when they can no longer lay eggs. Having these animals on the farm also helps to fertilize the land. At Heart’s content, they make their own compost and herbal fertilizers. Ella tells us the farm is 57-acres and is located on the rail trail between Brantford and Dundas. The border to the Greenbelt is down the road from their farm — they are left out by a few metres and are passionate about Greenbelt expansion to include their farm.
The Greenbelt is an area of protected forest, farmlands, and wetlands extending 2 million acres. It sequesters and stores 102 million tonnes of carbon every year, and contributes $9.1 billion to the economy. It protects lakes, wetlands, rivers, and streams that supply us with clean drinking water, and provides $95 million in recreational value annually. Environment Hamilton will be hosting a cycling tour to Heart’s Content Organic Farm on August 20th to raise awareness about the need to grow the Greenbelt to include brant county.*
After an introduction, Ella takes the children to play on gigantic hay bales in the barn while Richard and Tom give us a tour of their plants. They grow mulberries, kale, asparagus, leeks, tomatoes, basil, and many other herbs and vegetables. They show us their dense gardening plot with broccoli, cauliflower brussel sprouts, and cabbage. Growing these vegetables closer together helps to crowd out weeds and increase the yield for a smaller surface area.
There are also many less commonly known edible plants, so Richard and Tom explain some of their uses. Borage is high in essential fatty acids, calcium, and iron; lamb's quarters have edible leaves, shoots, seeds, and flowers, and comfrey is used as a pain and inflammation remedy. We get to munch on the lemony flavoured sorrel leaf which is rich in vitamin C. We taste lovage—a leaf with a strong celery flavour that can be used in salads or to flavour a soup. They also grow tomatillos which are a tart green fruit that is used in sauces and salsas.
After touring the crops we visit Jill, the donkey who loves being pet. The children join us again, pulling each other in a cart. While we walk to get a better view of the greenhouses, Richard tells us that he and Ella live in an off grid home with solar panels and water heater.
Now our tour has come to an end, and they bring out freshly made sorrel and arugula pesto for us to buy. After Ella gives everyone dehydrated fruit bars for the ride back, we get back on the bus and head home with our delicious goods. It’s been a wonderful day.
Join us for our next Rural Routes tour on Saturday July 30th. We will visit Trembling Aspens Herb Farm and Alpacas From Eighth and Mud. Call 905-549-0900 or email email@example.com to sign up.
*If you are interested in the bike tour to Heart’s Content Organic Farm on August 20th, save the date and firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
A Wonderful Day Despite Rainy Morning and a Change of Plans:
Our first stop is Dunbar Organic Farm. The farm is part of Earth To Table FarmStart program, which provides support to enterprise farms. We meet Christie, who explains to us that all properties on FarmStart are certified organic. At Dunbar Organic Farm none of the vegetables use artificial chemicals, pesticides, or herbicides, and all seeds are GMO-free. The sustainable farming methods used at the farm include crop rotation, cover crops, low-tillage methods, saving seeds, using heirloom vegetable varieties and growing pollinator-friendly plants. She also gives produce donations to Neighbour 2 Neighbour Centre and Living Rock Youth Centre.
Christie tells us that they let the fields they are not cultivating grow wild, and they are rewarded with sights such as a rare bobolink bird who was recently spotted in the field. We walk past the fields and rows of vegetables, and reach the chicken coop. She raises organic, free range meat chickens, and explains to us that they enjoy eating grass and weeds, so she moves the fence to a new location when they’ve grazed the ground clean.
After visiting the chickens we head back to the barn to purchase fresh produce from Dunbar Organic Farms and Moondog Organics, and head to our next destination.
When we arrive at Alpacas from Eighth and Mud, Sharon tells us the farm has over 50 alpacas and 2 Italian Maremma sheepdogs. The dogs guard the alpacas, but get along well with the herd. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s a dog and who’s an alpaca,” she jokes. They fell in love with the animals after visiting South America, and decided to become experts. Now they breed alpacas, make yarns and felts, and sell fibre products which they make at the farm in their shop.
After an introduction we split into two groups and see their fibre processing room and their alpaca enclosure. In the fibre processing room there is a drying rack and several machines which treat the fibre and spin it into yarn. They tell us that they are always working on developing new yarns, and they blend their alpaca with other quality fibres depending on what the material will be used for.
When we meet the alpacas they run to greet the group as soon as we walk outside. Very friendly, they nuzzle the giggling children and the adult’s hands. We all enjoy getting acquainted with the sweet and companionable alpacas before we head to our last destination — a surprise stop at Ridge Road Estate Winery down the road.
We arrive in the winery’s beautiful dining room and begin a wine tasting session with delectable cheeses, crackers, and chocolates. We taste their white, rosé, and red wines. A lovely afternoon snack and drink is a great end to a busy day.