Three Generations on the Farm
by Ben Martens Bartel
This is an exciting time to be involved in alternative farming, as there are so many people doing exciting things, trying out new ideas, and bringing back old ones. We, as a society, are beginning to care about health rather than production.
The Bartel family has been farming the same piece of land for four generations, and has been witness to a changing farm. Grovenland Farm is now made up of three generations farming together. My wife, Lisa, and I, along with our first child, Jacob (now seven), moved from Winnipeg to Saskatchewan in May 2011, to begin a new farming story with my parents, John and Denise Bartel. The current iteration of our farm has felt like an adventure from the beginning, and we hope to learn and grow in that same spirit into the future.
After twenty years of conventional farming, John and Denise grew weary of the increasing dependence on chemical inputs and capital required to produce grains and animals for the mainstream global food production system. They then rented their grain land to neighbours and reduced their cattle herd to a level that was manageable while they both pursued off-farm employment. Their hope was to spend a few years looking at ways to gradually incorporate more sustainable methods for growing plants and raising animals on their farm land.
When Lisa and I began to express our dreams about the possibility of partnering in a new farming adventure, common values and goals became apparent. And so, in the summer of 2011, Grovenland Farm began to see new activity as it welcomed the dreams, ideas, and energy of the fourth generation of farmers from this family on its land.
It was a long road back to the farm for Lisa and me, starting with some reading, in particular the famous Kentucky writer/farmer Wendell Berry. In 2007, we spent the fall living in an intentional community in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains of Georgia (Jubilee Partners), gardening and teaching English to refugees. Taking a break from our normal urban lives in Winnipeg prompted a lot of dreaming and planning about how we wanted to live, and raise a family. It was also at this time we learned about another famous farmer, Joel Salatin (made popular by documentaries such as “Food Inc.” and the book, The Omnivores Dilemma). Lisa and I spent the next few years changing our lifestyle, focusing on community health, local economies, and food security. Lisa found jobs for adults with disabilities and I worked for the Winnipeg food bank. After another few months spent in Georgia, we were ready to take steps to transition to a farming life. The summer of 2010 was spent as interns at Harborside Farms with the Cavers family in southern Manitoba, through the Manitoba Farm Mentorship Program. The Cavers gave us some great tools and experiences to help us begin.
Then, with four summers under our belt, and two more children, Felix and Kaleb (now four and two), we are still excited about pursuing our farm dreams. So far, we have focused our farming endeavour in four areas—grass finished beef, heritage breed pastured pigs, pastured chickens (both for meat and eggs), and a full complement of vegetables being sold at the Lanigan Farmers’ Market, and through a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) seasonal box program in Lanigan, Watrous, and Saskatoon.
We are also excited about a newer collaboration with a group of like-minded farmers called The Farmers’ Table. This is an online market where eaters can order what they need and have it delivered to urban centres—currently Regina and Saskatoon—once a month. As a group of small diverse farms, we all eat very well and would like others to be able to also do so. We hope this will eventually become a kind of “alternative grocery store” for local and sustainably grown food. Not only has it given us another market to sell to, but also provided us with great friends who share our love for farming outside the norm.
Every year we experiment with different crops, gardening techniques, or different ways to improve our animal husbandry. In the garden, we use minimal tillage and promote soil health to keep away disease and pests rather than using poisons. Our animals are offered space, fresh air, and a healthy, varied diet. The results of our practices have been the near absence of disease or pests on our farm, with noticeable improvements every year.
Ultimately, our success rests on relationships, our relationship with the land, as well as with our farming family and broader community. We continue to try to develop relationships with our customers and hope to build stronger connections between farmer and eater. Our first “Open Farm Day” this past fall, was a positive experience and a great step in closing the gap between farm and fork.
The new beginning of this farm was several years in the making. This is an exciting time to be involved in alternative farming, as there are so many people doing exciting things, trying out new ideas, and bringing back old ones. We, as a society, are beginning to care about health rather than production. Our plants and animals are not units of production, they are living things and should be addressed as such. We are trying to create a new agriculture out of the old agri-business. We believe in producing good food for our neighbours and community, in a way that is environmentally sustainable and just for all creation. We have and will make mistakes and learn lots before we become pros at this, but we are nevertheless certain to produce a life full of joy and good eats.
Ben Martens Bartel farms near Lanigan, SK, with his wife, Lisa, and their three little boys, along with his parents at Grovenland Farm. The farm includes cows, pigs, chickens, and vegetables. They are a member of The Farmers’ Table, a local organization that has an ad on this page with details about buying Saskatchewan sustainable food online. For more information on this group, read the article from Sept/Oct 2015 WHOLifE. For more information on Grovenland Farm, visit www.grovenlandfarm.ca.