How did I find myself in the Thunder Bay area growing vegetables? Well…
I grew up in bustling southern Ontario. We lived in the city, but spent as much time as possible outside it. In the late 1970s, my parents took up farming as a second career, eventually moving to rural southwestern Ontario. My brother had also become a full-time farmer. After a three-generation flirt with suburbia, my family once again lived outside it. I hope our great-grandfather is not spinning in his grave; he’d considered it a great advance to move his family into the city.
The best part of our parents’ farm was the orchard we planted in the early 1980s, containing over 3000 apple and pear trees. Its eventual upkeep was a lot of work, but it was a sight to behold in all seasons, and produced mountains of fine fruit. We learned as we went, farming conventionally, but absorbing the finer points of when to harvest for peak flavour, what order the varieties ripened in, nutritional requirements of various strains, climatic considerations, and so on.
However, the heyday of fruit growing in southwestern Ontario had passed. Finding buyers and shipping arrangements for the crop became more problematic with each passing year. By the late 1990s our orchard was at peak production, but more than 50% of neighbouring orchards had been pulled out. What to do?
I conceived the idea of using the local farmers’ market as a fruit outlet, and set up my Galbraith Farms stand in London’s Covent Garden Farmers’ Market from 1999 to 2005. Although only a small fraction of our fruit could be sold there, my brother and I found growing and selling directly very rewarding, and quickly expanded our repertoire to include a comprehensive range of fresh vegetables.
In 2006 my husband and I moved to Thunder Bay Region, attracted by the beautiful surroundings and human-scale sense of community. This area forms a unique topographic thumbprint at the end of Lake Superior. Much of the city of Thunder Bay, and the area behind it in this thumbprint, has been the beneficiary of a layer of glacial outwash that over the centuries has become very rich soil. The lake, as well as this thumbprint, contribute to a local microclimate that’s milder and less extreme than the surrounding boreal hills.
Nosing around, I observed that the area had its own egg production and local liquid milk supply. And, just as I was absorbing this information, we found the perfect home.
We knew what we wanted when we saw it – both in our choice of community, and our particular home. I didn’t investigate fully until all was said and done, but I soon found that our house and fields sit on 20 acres of fine sandy loam with very few rocks. This was truly a lucky strike. I formed plans to learn about northern gardening lickety-split, with an aim to resume my market gardening.
All has gone well since then, growing and researching. In this new setting I grow my produce with ecology in mind, and without manufactured pesticides. I will detail the results on this website, but it’s all been positive. I sold my veggies at the Thunder Bay Country Market from 2008-2010, and enjoyed every minute (really!) – and had plenty of good feedback.
From 2011 to 2017, I marketed my apples and veggies at the Nolalu Market on summer Fridays. And in 2014, I added Kakabeka Farmers’ Market in Kakabeka Falls, Saturday mornings during the farmers’ market season. Look for us there!
I hope to hear from many of you, near and far, from those who grow fruits and vegetables to those who like to eat them, or paint pictures of them.
Please also see my Bearhaven Facebook page.
~Wendy O’Connor firstname.lastname@example.org