Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario has a thriving and diverse urban agricultural sector. It's much more widespread than many realize. I've had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing several small business owners and entrepreneurs, who operate their farms within the city limits. As consumers are understanding the benefits of sourcing their food locally, these businesses continue to grow.
One of those farming operations is Jardin Farm. Operating since 2015 and owned by Connor Desjardins and Alyne Bosse, Jardin Farm is located on Third Line West in Sault Ste. Marie. They purchased their thirty-acre property in 2019 and put it into production in 2020. Before that purchase, the farm operated on land leased from Connor’s mother.
Both Connor and Alyne bring extensive practical experience and education to their farm operation. “Connor has always had a natural affinity for plants and growing,” said Alyne. While growing up in the Sault, his mother had a big garden where he was introduced at an early age to growing food. In high school, one of his first jobs was at Marshalls Farm where he worked two summers as a farm hand, assisting in weeding and harvesting. After high school, Connor went on to study agriculture at University of Guelph, Ridgetown Campus. While there, he worked on a large-scale tobacco and tomato farm. After he completed his education, he moved to Toronto, and worked with smaller scale, mixed vegetable operations Wheelbarrow Farm & Fresh City Farms, where he was field manager for two years.
Alyne told me that her interest in farming started with a passion for plant-based medicine.
"After high school, I took an herbalism internship in Oregon with a small self-sufficient community who were growing as much of their own food as possible. I quickly shifted interest to nutrition and food as medicine. I went on to apprentice on a small organic farm on Mayne Island, B.C. where I worked for two years. Learning through that experience was instrumental in my journey. After that, I was hired on another farm where I was promoted to manager. I went on to manage two similar operations until I met Connor in 2016. In 2017, we decided to try working together for the beginning of the growing season, and so became our journey together as life and business partners."
In 2015, a start-up funding opportunity arose through NOHFC (Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation) for young farmers to start northern farm businesses. "Connor used everything he had learnt through his accumulated education and hands-on experience and built a business plan for a small-scale, mixed vegetable operation, and so Jardin Farm was born. Starting on a small, one-acre plot of land rented from his mother, and with the help of NOHFC funding, Connor invested in some equipment to get started and planted his first year."
I asked Alyne about Jardin Farm growing practices and their overall philosophy of food and farming.
Our whole growing philosophy is built strongly around soil management and health. Soil is a living structure, and through neglect and mismanagement, can die. Our goal is to tend to our soil before we tend to our crops. We take great efforts to ensure we are always giving back to our soil more than we are taking from it. We do this by crop rotation and cover cropping in order to build organic matter and nutrients. We try to avoid tilling whenever possible so that we can preserve the soil diversity. After a crop is harvested, we turn in the remainder of the plants so they may be digested by the soil. Healthy soil makes for improved water retention, and higher resilience to crop diseases and pest pressure. As well as more nutritious and flavourful crops. We farm regeneratively and organically, though we are not certified at this time. Eventually, as we grow, we will certify, but at this time we have the opportunity to talk directly to our customers about our growing practices and answer any questions they may have.
Currently growing on just two acres of land, Connor and Alyne work full-time and year-round on their farm, with some part-time help during the peak growing season. “We are a small-scale, intensive vegetable production farm. On two acres, we are able to produce enough food to supply seventy-five CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members weekly vegetable boxes throughout the growing season, as well as sell directly to many families via The Mill Market Farmers’ Market.”
I noticed that Jardin Farm also uses greenhouses as part of its operation. "Greenhouses are key for our short growing season up here in the north. They allow us to produce food for an extra 3 to 4 months of the year. This almost doubles our growing window, as our outdoor growing season is only four months long. We have three greenhouses, two passively heated for shoulder season (early spring, late fall) production, and one heated where we grow microgreens throughout the winter."
Jardin Farm grows a large variety of vegetables but is most known for its microgreens, salad mix, tomatoes, beets, carrots and flowers. They also grow:
- Baby Greens such as kale, arugula and mustard greens
Every year, they will trial new crops to add better diversity to their CSA weekly boxes. This year they will be trying a few different crops like celery, cauliflower and squash.
While Jardin Farm sits on thirty acres of property, eighteen of that is cleared. “We are currently working two acres, but have opened up four acres and will get it ready for planting. It will need a few years to get the soil to the best growing medium,” said Alyne. "When that happens, we will be hiring more staff to help us."
While the Jardin Farm property is not open to the public. Alyne mentioned that “someday we would like to be in some capacity for farm visitors, but for the time being, there are only two of us and all of our time and energy is focused on planting, growing, harvesting, washing, packing and delivering.”
Jardin Farm products are mostly sold directly to their customers via their CSA weekly veg box subscription where members receive a mixed box of seasonal vegetables each week. They also sell through the Mill Market Farmers’ Market every Saturday from 9 am to 2 pm year-round. In addition, orders are taken online through their website www.jardinfarm.ca and they offer delivery services year-round.
At the end of our interview, Alyne added: "We feel so fortunate for Sault Ste. Marie! Everyone has been amazingly kind, enthusiastic and supportive of us as young farmers starting out. We're now in our 6th year of business and wouldn't be where we are without the support of this wonderful community."
I have to say, I am so impressed with the ingenuity and hard work that goes into food production in Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma. Connor and Alyne are farmers who are proving to a few naysayers that it can be done, and done very well indeed.