BreadRoot Farm: an Earth-centred Community
by Hélène Tremblay-Boyko
Farming, for Al Boyko and Hélène Tremblay-Boyko, has never been merely about the production of commodities. Rather, it has been a journey into the incredible world of the soil’s micro-biology, learning, with every step, how to live in relationship with the land and all its inhabitants. Hélène came to the agricultural lifestyle late in life. Having grown up in Northern Ontario’s shield country, she developed a sense of wonder at the grandeur of boreal forests and a love of pristine lakes, the call of the loon and wolf, and the wonderful aroma of pine needles and poplar leaves. In the early 80s, she met Al in Calgary, Alberta, and they soon began sharing their dream of living a simpler lifestyle, closer to the land. They moved to the Boyko family farm, near Canora, SK, in 1989 and began to live the dream.
In the early years, Al and Hélène grew primarily cereal crops, with an occasional oilseed crop, such as canola or flax. In addition to crops, however, they began planting trees, in the hopes of establishing wildlife corridors and creating shelter belts to capture snow around the yard and in their fields. When, in 2000, they became certified organic, the trees became buffer zones, on the edges of the crop land, between their organic fields and the neighbouring fields being treated with chemical. Over the past 25 years, Al and Hélène have planted an estimated thirty thousand trees. Al has often marvelled at the increasing diversity of song birds that have populated the yard as the trees have matured. In any given summer, at least a half dozen species of sparrows and a similar number of warbler species have been identified, their bubbly, early morning song sprees spilling in through the open windows.
Al had vowed he would never raise cattle in his adult life. Having grown up on the farm, he had not always enjoyed morning and evening chores. However, in 2007, they purchased 640 acres of land which had been used for growing alfalfa hay. After attending a Holistic Management conference in Russell, Manitoba, and hearing Allan Savory, the father of Holistic Management, Al and Hélène were inspired to become involved in raising beef cattle using planned, rotational grazing. This approach bunches the animals into small paddocks through which they are moved on a three- to five-day interval, imitating the movement of the bison herds which roamed here before farms and towns were established. This system is healthy for the cattle as their movement keeps them ahead of the inevitable flush of flies; it is healthy for the land as manure and hoof action rejuvenate the pasture; it is healthy for grassland birds as it maintains their habitat.
Adding beef cattle to the mix has proven to be the best thing ever done to complete the cycle of sustainability on the farm. Financially, it has provided diversity of income. This was especially significant when, in 2010, the floods prevented any seeding at all. Environmentally, it has allowed the preservation of wetlands and standing bush, and provided sanctuary for all the wildlife dependent on these ecological acres. The wetlands are additionally important for slowing down the flow of spring melt-waters, preventing flooding downstream and allowing its percolation into ground water. In terms of community, the Boykos provide their beef locally to customers who value the healthier alternative of certified organic, grass-finished beef. Organic production ensures that they are grown without genetically modified organisms, that they are grown and processed without the use of synthetic chemicals, fertilizers, antibiotics, or hormones. Beef cattle who are fed entirely on grass and forage, are never fed grain. This is believed to provide many health benefits for consumers: less fat, more omega-3 fatty acids, more conjugated linoleic acid, and a higher vitamin content.
Over the years, Al and Hélène have looked for ways to move away from a commodities-driven farm to production for the local food marketplace. They are always pleased to see their organic oats milled in Yorkton and their organic wheat and hemp marketed under the Farmer Direct brand in Canadian grocery stores. But the most rewarding experience has been to bring their certified organic beef directly to customers in Regina and Saskatoon under the banner of The Farmers’ Table at www.thefarmerstable.ca. This group of sustainable farm families has allowed the Boykos’ BreadRoot Farm the unique opportunity of combining their product with a great variety of Saskatchewan farm products and making these available to customers shopping on-line for monthly delivery in their community. The collegiality and relationship between like-minded farmers and health-conscious customers have brought a valuable dimension to the daily tasks of growing food.
Finally, the Boykos are in the process of looking forward to the next generation of stewards on the farm. This project has been a bit of a roller coaster ride as the notion of passing on stewardship and engaging in a relationship through mentorship, is not part of the conventional paradigm. Through perseverance and the help of FarmLink.net, an on-line “dating service” between land-owners and aspiring farmers, Al and Hélène are confident that a new generation of young farming families will be settling on the land within the next year. This would fulfill their vision of building a land-centred community in collaboration with young, energetic, earth-centred partners on a Saskatchewan farm.
To contact Al and Hélène at BreadRoot Farm near Canora, SK, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (306) 563-5341 or visit https://sites.google.com/site/breadrootfarm. Also, see The Farmers’ Table display ad on page 15 of the 22.3 September/October issue of the WHOLifE Journal.