While the most people spent Thanksgiving weekend enjoying this year’s harvest, Cathy Munro of Bramble Hill Farm was giving thanks for harvests yet to come.
Thanks, in large part, to the local people who like her product, she will soon be using her new greenhouse to turn out salad micro-greens all year long.
“I’m thankful to everyone who has encouraged me, the people who buy from me at the farm and the (New Glasgow Farmers) market and to all those who supported our greenhouse campaign,” she said, adding a couple of local restaurants are using her greens and she is now selling to Stirling’s Farm market and The Green Thumb.
About 50 supporters contributed to an online Kickstarter campaign to cover some of the costs of the fully-equipped greenhouse which is now 85 per cent complete. In return for their contributions, they will receive gift certificates to purchase from Bramble Hill. In addition to her own investment, she also borrowed money through FarmWorks Investment Co-operative Ltd. which assists agricultural entrepreneurs.
“I’ve always been willing to work hard but in agriculture that is just not enough. You have to put yourself out there and asking people to take a chance on you and that’s challenging. My mother has done a lot of things in her life and she believes if you are truly passionate you will succeed, and I know this is a passion for me.”
Munro’s life as a farmer started with the desire to feed her own family with healthy, homegrown food. She does not come from a farming family, having grown up in Port Bickerton. Her background is fisheries science and she settled in Western Canada, but a move back to Nova Scotia has given her the opportunity to feed her passion for agriculture.
“We came to Nova Scotia from Winnipeg eight years ago and knew we wanted a country place where I’d have space to grow our own vegetables. We had a garden in our suburban backyard but we were very soon out of space, so in Nova Scotia we wanted room to grow.”
She first joined the New Glasgow Farmers Market to sell extra produce and crafts but the farming community inspired her to research the possibility of growing year-round greens which she has been doing in her farmhouse for the past few years.
“I knew my family would love to have year-round locally-grown fresh greens so I was sure there would be other families like us but I never imagined the response I have had. In my first year with micro-greens I expected the demand to fall off when the season changed but that did not happen and I found that very encouraging.”
As the demand continued to grow – she has been producing 50 trays of shoots in her house – so did the possibilities in Munro’s head.
“It got to the point where I had to decide if I was willing to do this on a bigger scale and the only way to do that was with a greenhouse.”
She is the farmer in the family but her husband Scott, a project manager with Sobeys, helped with plans and arranging construction, as well as being the on-call handyman.
“It is very much a family project and we had lots to learn. No matter what the plan is you have to adapt it to your own property and your business. Bob Parker knows a lot about greenhouses so he came and took a look and gave us some great technical advice – and other farmers have been helpful.”
The Munros’ two young children have enjoyed seeing the greenhouse go up.
“They will be spending a lot of time in the greenhouse. I can see me working, my daughter doing homework and my son playing, all in the greenhouse – and that will be most days.”
It was previous owners who named the property Bramble Hill Farm but the Munros have added chickens and pigs to the hillside property between Salem and Green Hill. Their farmhouse dates back to at least the 1870s and was once a bed and breakfast stop for stage coaches.
“We have a big carriage house with an area where horses were stabled. We’ve learned that a butcher worked out of another part of the building where there was also an ice room. At one time there was a huge apple orchard and the hills are full of blackberries,” said Munro.
There was no plan for a market garden when they bought the property but hilly terrain aside, it does have some pluses.
“The soil is good and it is south facing so that helps. The land I’m farming is probably less than an acre but it is well located in terms of getting to market and customers.”
Munro is convinced her business has great growth potential and sometimes finds it frustrating not have time to do all she’d like.
“I think I could be doing a lot more online to make people aware of what I grow and what they can do with it. Once the greenhouse is up and running that is an area I hope to have more time for. I try at the market, to familiarize people with micro-greens and their nutritional value, which is huge. When you add these shoots to a leafy mix you have all the vegetables you need for a meal.”
Her salad mixes containing sunflower, pea sprout, buckwheat and radish shoots are harvested every Friday and go straight to market.
“Right now it is very labour intensive because I cut everything by hand and wash it and package it in the house, but when the greenhouse is up and running, I’ll have a sink out here and cutting equipment. I’ll also have a large cooler and be able to load from here, so it is going to be much easier to manage.”
Selling at the farmers market is the social side of farming for Munro.
“There are so many hard-working farmers, so many women farmers, in this community that I am constantly re-energized. We support each other’s efforts any way we can, and that is exciting. For my family, we’re growing our food, just like we wanted to, and I’m getting close to calling my labour a full-time income. We’re where we want to be, this is home for us.”