Richard and Charlotte started Ferme Lève-tôt in 2010 through a combination of good luck and good planning. We’d been living in Montreal for about ten years when Richard started a farm apprenticeship with Ferme Cooperatif Tourne-Sol in Les Cèdres. It took about two hours of farmwork to convince him that he’d found his calling, and he’s been a farmer ever since. Charlotte got into farming through her work at victory gardens and in community radio.
In 2010 we moved to the Outaouais, where we established our farm enterprise at the Plate-forme agricole de l’Ange-Gardien. During our first two seasons we often worked with our baby Emmett in a carrier or in a stroller next to us in the field; the learning curve was steep but we persevered. In 2011 we bought land in Low, near the village of Wakefield, Quebec. Our second son Avery was born in 2014.
We are lucky to be farming at a time of innovation and social support for small-scale farmers. We are part of an amazing network of farmers flourishing in Quebec and the Ottawa Valley. What started about ten years ago as a yearly gathering of farmers and researchers (and a great listserve), has evolved into the CAPÉ (Cooperatif d’agriculteurs de proximité écologique). This coop organizes incredible farm conferences, tool-building workshops, group purchases, etc. and advocates for small-scale organic farmers.
In any given year we work about 5 of the 12 acres of open field on on our farm. We have a sandy loam soil surrounded by mixed deciduous forest, which means we are constantly working to improve the fertility and organic matter of the soil with cover crops, manure, crop rotation and gentle cultivation. Our light soil tends to dry out quickly (great in a wet spring, hard when it’s hot and dry), so we dug a deep pond and use a modular irrigation system to ensure that the crops stay watered. We also have several greenhouses, high tunnels and mobile low tunnels to protect sensitive crops and to extend our growing season.
We bought our first team of draft horses in 2015 after learning the basics of draft power from some established farms in Ontaio and Quebec. Bart and Buck are Norwegian Fjords; they are compact, hardy and well suited to the local climate and scale of our farm. We use draft power to prepare the soil for planting and seeding, to integrate cover crop seed and vegetable residue, and more recently to cultivate and weed vegetables in the field. The horses are very dear to us and we love working with other species on a daily basis.
Our farm sells produce through a veggie share (CSA) program and at the Wakefield farmer’s market. The food we grow and harvest goes directly from our hands to yours. This model is integral to our ethos as farmers and the relationship sustains us financially and socially. We underline that trust and our commitment to environmental sustainability by certifying our produce with EcoCert Canada.
Every season we employ 2-4 full-time farmworkers who help with all aspects of production and learn from our experience. Many of our employees have gone on to start their own farms or work as skilled organic farm labourers. We are also active with many farming organizations including the CAPÉ (Cooperatif d’agriculture de proximité écologique), Canadian Organic Growers and on the board of the Wakefield Market.
We love farming beacuse it’s eternally challenging and fundamentally rewarding, and it is great fun, most of the time.