Fall litter. Source: Funny Duck Farms

In the last two months, I’ve been fortunate to visit several organic farms in the Eastern Ontario. Two farms have really stood out for me: Funny Duck Farms in Jasper (southeast of Smiths Falls) and Ferme Dagenais in Embrun (east of Ottawa).

The farms are similar in many ways. Both are organic and use biodynamic farming methods. Both are owned by families with a strong interest in herbs and natural healing methods. And both are centres of community education and the promotion of healthy living.

I’ll start with Ferme Dagenais. I visited this farm back in September, just before the first Agri-Tour weekend, of which Ferme Dagenais is a participant. Although Agri-Tour had not started yet, Irene Dagenais was happy to provide me with a tour of their biodynamic farm and organic orchard.

We started with a discussion about how the Dagenais family got into organic farming. It’s quite an interesting and inspiring story. Back in the 1980s, the Dagenais’ 12-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a very serious form of scleroderma (an auto-immune disorder that causes hardening of the organs), and was given only 18 months to live. Desperate to find a way to help their daughter, the Dagenais came across a woman in Switzerland who was having success with a special diet to treat scleroderma. They implemented this diet for their daughter, but quickly found that they needed more control over the source of their food, as any food additive would cause major problems for their daughter. So they gradually began growing and raising all their food, in a completely organic and natural way.

This major lifestyle change saved the Dagenais’ daughter’s life. She is now in her mid-30s, and has two children – something the doctors said would be impossible for her. She continues to follow a very strict diet, but is very healthy.

The Dagenais’ commitment to organic living has led them to open two businesses. One is the farm itself, which is open for guided tours, and has an organic orchard with apples and pears. The other business is a health food store, called Le Tournesol, located on the farm. They carry produce and meat from their farm, as well as other organic food and a large selection of health products. Irene Dagenais is very knowledgeable about natural healing methods, and is happy to share her experience and advice.

As mentioned previously, the farm is biodynamic, which means that it’s treated as an organically, self-contained entity. The livestock and crops are integrated, so that the livestock helps to keep the soil productive (using manure), and the crops help to feed the livestock. This is a practice that is also followed by Funny Duck Farms, the other organic farm that I’ll cover in this blog post.

Like Ferme Dagenais, Funny Duck Farms developed out of a concern for the health of the owners’ children. While pregnant with her first child, Samantha Klinck became very interested in healthy eating and the avoidance of chemicals. After their child was born, Samantha and her husband began raising more and more of their own food. They are now a certified organic farm, raising free-range chickens and heritage Tamworth and Berkshire pigs (no ducks though!). They also grow vegetables and herbs, and sell hand-picked herbal teas and tinctures, as well as organic skin and body care products.

Samantha offers farm tours and wild herb walks, either at scheduled times in the warmer months, or by appointment. I visited the farm last week (October 15th), and despite the cold and rainy weather, had a great time. I learned so much about how livestock and crops can be integrated to support each other. For example, the pigs have been gradually improving the pasture area, without the need for a tractor to work the soil. Pigs will naturally root through any soil, eating up the weeds and bugs, digging up large rocks, and naturally fertilizing the area. When an area is cleared, it is then seeded so the pasture can be used for the chickens and/or planting of vegetables. The Klincks also plan to use the pasture area for the organic dairy cow that they will be buying soon.

The egg-laying chickens are completely free-range; they walk around the property wherever they want, which is fun when you’re getting a tour and are always surrounded by chickens wherever you go! In the summer months, Funny Dark Farms also raises broiler chickens, which live in floorless, movable shelters that are moved to different parts of the pasture on a daily basis.

Samantha’s tour includes a discussion of planted and wild herbs that grow on the farm. She uses these herbs to produce her teas and tinctures. Future plans at the farm include “The Quack Shack”, a fully-stocked store that will include Funny Duck Farm’s products as well as some of their neighbours’ products.

One thing that was very clear from visiting the farm is that producing food – especially meat – is very labour-intensive. Factory farms get around this problem by jamming as many animals as possible into indoor facilities, while using hormones and antibiotics to maximize production. Raising meat in a more natural and humane way is hard work and not very lucrative (which is an understatement!). Samantha explained it best in an email to me (which she agreed to have quoted on this blog):

Our society as a whole seems to have lost track of the fact that protein in the form of meat is expensive, and it’s always been that way. But in today’s world, most commercial farms are subsidized, so we aren’t really aware of the true cost of the food. It’s even higher than we think, especially when we add the cost of the air, water and soil pollution, and the health care costs to the humans eating the conventional meat. As well, 1000 years ago, even as little as 150 years ago, meat was even more expensive, in that not all members of the hunting party would make it home alive.

– Samantha Klinck, Funny Duck Farms

With that, I will finish up this blog entry with a big thank you to Funny Duck Farms and Ferme Dagenais for opening up their farms for tours, and for sharing their knowledge and experience. Their commitment to raising healthy food and educating others is very inspiring.