The History of Our Family Farm

Malcolm Slack’s Vision


            Though Malcolm’s vocation was mining his passion was farming. As a young boy in Timmins Ontario he belonged to the matriarcal Finnish community that produced food off the Great Northern Clay Plain that fed the immense number of immigrants that inhabited the North mining gold, silver and base metals. Most miners that spent their days in the deep and dark invested their labor into owning a piece of land where they could build their “have more plans“.  These small land holdings were more than a home for they ensured food and shelter in times of strife; a situation all to familiar for the many that had returned from the great wars.  Today we are so far away from these simple concepts that the thought of a severe economic depression or war would put most households in a very precarious position. In purchasing the original farm in Hillsburgh Ontario this was front and centre in Malcolm’s thought processes.      

         It was Malcolm’s grandmother, Old Nanie, that taught him the value of producer consumer cooperatives, farming in a harsh climate, the flavor and the nutrition expressed in the crops grown as result of this cold reality.  Where old Nanaie, who never did master the English language, taught him how to farm in the north it was his father Sam who opened up his imagination to the power of books.  Sam was one of the many Canadian immigrants leaving economic and social strife in Europe.  Born in the slums of Liverpool England Sam entered the great war of 1914 at the age of sixteen, naively believing this was a way out of crushing poverty.  Fortunately his father was able to retrieve him from the trenches and brought him to his new home of Canada.  Sam a gentle, thoughtful man never talked about the horrors he witnessed but the experience left an indelible mark that had left an impression on his only son. 

           At the age of fourteen Malcolm, on the families weekly visit to the Timmins library, selected a book called “Malabar Farm” written by Louis Bromfield.  This was perhaps the most important literary treatise on regenerative agriculture that Malcolm was to read and it shaped his search for a homestead approximately 30 years later.   

 

 

          Louis Bromfield set out to” …..prove that worn-out farms could be restored again and that if you only farmed hill country in the proper way, you could grow as much as on any of the flat land where something rich was lacking from life.” He envisioned joining a new race of pioneers who set out to repair the ravages caused by those who “….cut down the forests, burned off the prairies and raped the land.” His writing success had fostered world adventure and leaving his beloved France in 1939 in the face of Europe plunging into World War 2 probably heightened his global view and the need for some positive future direction. He believed that the world’s major problem was when “…..agriculture grew sick and …soil impoverished….first economic sickness and finally death, not only of agriculture but eventually of the nation and its civilization,” was the result. At the peak of his powers and with sufficient financial resources to return to Pleasant Valley and start the restoration of the worn out lands and to demonstrate the agricultural practices which could address the most critical of Man’s problems. And this problem in his experience and clearly in history had people “………victims of malnutrition, bad diet and above all—poor soil!

        It was in this context that Golden Innisfree Farms was founded and Susan and John under the guidance of Malcolm set out to practice what Louis Bromfield so poetically wrote and practiced at Malabar Farm.  The methodology was quite simple, ruminant animals and grass.  The existence of the largest migration of animals found on all continents was based on this relationship. What Malcolm brought to this story was the indispensable role minerals played in the formation of the most vibrant soil landscapes on Earth. 

The Move to the Ottawa Valley

The New Family Farm Reality

  


       

      After an arduous search Malcolm selected the soil landscape referred to as the Orangeville moraine, comprised of rich deep calcareous, (rich in calcium), soil derived from glacial rock, abundant recharging aquifers; a farm based on grass and majestic trees. In the early years the family found great solace and peace on this beautiful piece of land, providing all that was needed to feed a growing family, but the ceaseless expansion of urbanization inevitably took its toll.

     Urban planners that had allowed unfettered destruction of farm habitat soon enacted rules to protect the water and trees that remained; in the process weakening individual property rights, but by no means stopping the ravage of the remaining wild places.  The final blow came with the escalation of land prices and accompanying taxation.  Today the average age of a farmer is approximately 55 years and a generation has been lost with no prospects of a young family ever having the capability of starting a farm.  The stark reality is more and more agriculture land is held in Real Estate Investment Trusts, that rents land to farmers.  The move to feudalism is quickly becoming a reality.

As difficult as it was to leave a home that had meant so much to us the dream of a family farm as envisioned by Malcolm was quickly being eroded.  If John and Susan’s children and grandchildren were given the chance to pursue farming then finding a new location was inevitable. 

         

Why The Valley?

The New Family Farm Reality


        At the Hillsburgh farm the family pursued such interests as bee keeping, bio-intensive market gardening, milking sheep and raising Norwegian Fjord horses. With the move  to Ashdad the plan was to start an artisan sheep milk dairy.  This still remains an ambition but the family is unsure that the cost or regulatory issues make it profitable.  Currently we will market garden, tap maple trees, beekeep, raise beef, lamb, pork and chickens. 

       The search parameters that lead us to the small agriculture district of Ashdad was soil, isolation and abundant water.  Ashad was more than we could have hoped for being comprised of deep, calcareous, mineral diverse glacial till, completely surrounded by diverse mixed forest interspersed with wetlands feeding inumerable tributaries leading into the Madawaska River watershed. It is from this landscape, expressed in the complexity of the soil our family hopes to produce exceptional food.

      The second reason for selecting the Ashdad district was affordable land.  Where traditional modeling has resulted in this area having no or a poor agriculture classification the truth of the matter is if Ashdad was to be rated on soil health, ecosystem vitality and food nutrition it would rate amongst the highest.  In fact all through the Ottawa Valley there is hidden soil treasures which does not lend well to industrialized agriculture but are exceptional areas to feed the local communities exceptional food.

     Lastly we were unaware of the community we were joining but over the years have come to be humbled by the skills and attitude of our neighbours that live in the Valley.  We are excited and pleased to finally be launching our local family farm and we hope you can taste the difference!

 

       

 

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