YYC Farm Series: Happiness By the Acre

By | May 23, 2017

Over the past five years, Marcus Riedner has been transitioning a quarter section of land from conventional canola and wheat production to organic small scale vegetable production northwest of Carstairs, AB. A quarter section is 160 acres, a significant piece of land for a market garden farm. This piece of land, like most in the area, has a long history; much of the surrounding area has been family owned and farmed for nearly a century. Unfortunately, the majority of the cultivation in this region involved practices that proved detrimental to long term soil fertility and texture. Marcus is determined to remedy the soil situation through sustainable practices.

Marcus is a “skip generation farmer.” His grandparents were farmers but his parents did not pursue the same path. He was re-introduced to farming through a SPIN (small plot intensive) farming course with some friends.  Working in graphic design at the time, he started growing produce in his backyard and after a few years, decided to become more involved in the land. For Marcus, farming is fundamentally a spiritual experience: a way to connect with creation. It follows that the health of the ecosystem is of utmost importance to him.

 

Marcus’ approach is deeply focused on regenerating the soil: not an easy task, and one that requires time. Recent soil samples indicated that the organic matter present in the soil is extremely low, but Marcus is motivated and capable of changing that. There is a strong sense of vision for this land. This year the focus is on developing and establishing infrastructure. A dug out is being constructed to provide sufficient water supply. 

So far, this market garden is composed of different varieties of beans, peas, cabbage, broccoli, onions, garlic and some favourite herbs. Spring garlic and asparagus are already coming up. A small orchard was established a few years ago too. There are apple, apricot, plum and even a variety of hazelnut trees. The orchard has proved challenging. Despite his efforts and a considerable fence around the property, moose and deer have taken a liking to browsing the orchard.  Marcus has considered letting nature take over this area to see which trees persist and prove fruitful. Marcus keeps a lighthearted attitude towards what some may consider a loss; he clearly sees his work as being part of the ecosystem rather than working against it.

This farm is focused on enhancing biodiversity and reestablishing balance in the area. Marcus is very aware of how the farm ecosystem is interrelated. He is concerned with establishing shelter-belts, and carefully selects tree varieties that will not negatively impact soil pH. There is also a healthy population of wild flowers in the area that he is keen to protect. Enhancing biodiversity on the farm also means introducing animals. There are plans to introduce pigs and potentially yak to help contribute to the farm ecosystem. This farm is still quite young in its development, but I am looking forward to see it flourish for years to come.

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