There really is a farm that’s part of St. Francis Herb Farm.
I was a farm kid, pulling weeds, squishing potato bugs, harvesting wild herbs, watering the greenhouse beds. We grew 55 different kinds of herbs then, and so my love of herbs seeped in early on—growing them, tending them, seeing how my parents used them to craft herbal medicines using the ancient traditional ways. It was a great way to grow up. As I look back, I see how much taking care of the farm was part of the way my parents, who founded St. Francis Herb Farm, lived their lives and ran the business. Life on the farm was, then and now, about staying close to the land and staying healthy with herbal medicines and simple wholesome foods.
Today, as the second-generation owners of St. Francis Herb Farm, my wife Caitlin and I are starting out on our own 52-acre farm tucked into the beautiful Madawaska Highlands in Ontario’s cottage country just outside of Barry’s Bay (population: 1300). We knew we wanted our sons to be farm kids too, and for our own farm to be a green and growing part of St. Francis Herb Farm. The first time I stepped onto our property, I could practically see that dream unfold. It’s a healthy and vibrant spot, teeming with wildlife like wild turkeys, beavers, ducks, turtles and frogs and with a beautiful creek running through it. We love it. It’s a place to get our hands dirty, to connect with nature and enjoy simple living, and yes, to grow herbs.
To get it right, we’re starting small, with a couple of old barns, a couple of greenhouses, a drying shed and three acres of herbs. We are a certified organic farm. It is a careful step-by-step process, and there’s a lot more to it than just saying “no pesticides or herbicides.” So, we’re working on principles like soil care, crop rotation, and building raised beds and wind barriers. We’re also learning about approaches like permaculture, which means planning the farm and the crops so that they imitate what’s happening in nature. Examples are growing herbs that like shade besides tall crops or planting different herbs that grow well together in alternating rows. Running the business of St. Francis Herb Farm is endlessly interesting and challenging, but getting out on the farm in the fresh air gives me a balance for which I am grateful. Count me blest!
Our farm feels like a circle is being completed, from farm kid to herb farmer and herbal business owner. Growing herbs and using them to craft herbal medicines—well, that’s our life’s work and our passion. As our farm is certified organic, our herbs will be used in St. Francis Herb Farm herbal medicines. Our first herb crops are valerian, burdock, nettle, sheep sorrel, and marshmallow, all of which will naturally thrive in our climate. We want to strive to perfect our farming methods by incorporating innovative ideas such as keeping chickens on parts of the field that are in cover crop (chicken manure is one of the best soil-building nitrogen source) as well as developing an experimental garden where we can try herbs that are more difficult to grow. We always want to keep learning.
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