“It’s super dry,” Daniel Chappel tells me as we discuss upcoming crops in the YYC Growers’ warehouse. Daniel is delivering his weekly order; all five of our Northern Rural Farms: Country Thyme, Shirley’s Greenhouse, Eagle Creek, Happiness by the Acre and Steel Pony share delivery, and today, it’s Daniel’s duty. The dryness is surprising. The comment might be considered phatic by some—Canadians, after all, are known for discussing the weather for the sake of conversation. But for Country Thyme Farm, the dryness isn’t simply fodder for a Tuesday chat, it’s an issue that concerns his crops, his livelihood. In spite of the moisture issue, Daniel is less stressed than previous seasons, which largely has to do with his new strategy—downsizing.
Country Thyme farm has been a long-time YYC Grower. Even before we had Rural farm members, Daniel was supplying us with products for restaurant orders and to bounty to make our original CSA more robust. Over the years, we have watched his farm evolve, grow, and now this season, downsize.
Downsizing is a buzzword for farmers these days—at least for small-scale agricultural practices. Farmers are understanding that using smaller growing spaces can increase efficiencies and consequently productivity. It’s a bit like juggling: nine balls in a circus act is impressive, but a juggler could still use 3 or 4 balls and put on a terrific show. With only three balls, they’ll be able to do more tricks, and less overall energy needs to be directed at the balls, ultimately giving space to improve other aspects of the show, such as talking to the audience and making jokes. Farming on 10 acres of land might have the potential to yield more food, but it also comes with increased responsibility, weed pressure, staff obligations etc. Farming on one acre, however, allows a farmer to focus on a limited number of crops, ensure that they’re well-tended and the most delectable vegetables you’ve ever had. This is Daniel's strategy going forward.
Daniel offers this advice to all new farmers and gardeners: start small, figure out what you can handle! When he began farming over 10 years, he made the mistake of believing that in order to be successful, you needed to grow everything. The impact this had on quality of life was huge: Daniel had to work harder and reap less. He also advises against brazenly assuming you’ll knock it out of the park right away. Farming is challenging work that requires esoteric knowledge. If you’re new to the game, be patient and gentle on yourself. Just as learning to juggle involves dropping balls, learning to farm involves making mistake. Daniel advises against quitting your winter job; it’s a great security buffer during those long months.
Like everyone else, Daniel is still transplanting and transplanting. New to the roster this year are peas, but in the interest of streamlining, gone is salad mix. Daniel says he just can’t make money growing it.