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FEATURE

Dispatches from the Farm

Antony John, Organic Farmer

Dispatches from the Farm  | Antony John, Organic Farmer

Photos courtesy Antony John

 

ANTONY JOHN, along with his wife, Tina, are the farmers behind Soiled Reputation, a certified organic farm located in Sebringville, Ontario, that supplies gourmet greens and heirloom vegetables to restaurants, markets, and homes in Southwestern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area. Today 40 acres of their 80-acre farm is certified organic. You may remember Antony from his hit Food Network Canada show, The Manic Organic. The show aired in over 50 countries around the world, including the Discovery Home Channel in the U.S. You can read more about Antony and his farm at soiledreputation.com.

There are daily reminders of the changing seasons on our farm, and I never get tired of seeing the same vista each morning (although it would be nice to see the jungle again for a change!). Now that breeding season is over for most birds, they have given up maintaining territories and started to flock together. There is safety in numbers for most smaller birds that don’t have specific feeding or habitat requirements. For example, groups of blackbird species such as Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Brown-headed Cowbirds are gathering together to roost in the trees and pond at our place, and the evenings are filled with their chattering calls.

There is a marked change in behaviour of these migratory species as well, flying from tree to tree en masse and wheeling over our fields in shape-shifting ribbons by the hundred. This restlessness is a hard-wired response to changing light levels, for the birds to prepare for migration, and it has a wonderful Germanic name, zugunrhu. Most of the Tree Swallows, Cliff Swallows, and Barn Swallows have already left for shores farther south, lifting off from the hydro wire one night where they had gathered a few days before, a line of birds perched side by side from our Cooper’s shed to the barn. They’ll cover a couple hundred kilometres each night, stopping off along the way to refuel during daylight hours, perhaps feeding on other organic farms from here to (in the case of Barn Swallows), Brazil. Remarkably, migratory birds have the ability to sense when they’ve loaded enough calories to fly each night, and won’t lift off until that threshold is reached. These birds are connecting our farm to, for example, a bird-friendly coffee plantation in Costa Rica, where they may spend their winters (nice work if you can get it!).

“Sometimes in our focus on eating local, we forget the larger picture.”

Sometimes in our focus on eating local, we forget the larger picture. The Food Web I often talk about is not only the ecosystem of our organic farm, but rather a network of life connections stretching from the Arctic to Argentina, connected in a very real way by migratory bird species. Some of these migratory networks have evolved since the retreat of the last ice age, and is a testament to how fast evolution can occur. Some migratory bird species, like flycatchers, even change their diets, depending on which hemisphere they’re living in.

In the North, where there is less interspecies competition and many more insects, flycatchers eat protein-rich insects. On their wintering grounds, they don’t need to feed growing young, and fruit is more abundant (and easier to obtain), so they become frugivores, thereby reducing competition with resident flycatchers. The Baltimore Orioles that raised their young on our farm, feeding them caterpillars gleaned from the trees at our place, will feed on the blossoms of leguminous trees that shade-grown coffee farmers plant in Central and South America while on their wintering grounds. From November to March, these birds will become part of the Food Web of an organic farm in the southern hemisphere, and connect many other farms and ecosystems in the Americas, as they travel to and from their breeding and wintering grounds.

Of note in the vegetable department of our farm (and that’s REALLY what you want to know about right?), our ridiculously small haricot verts are finally ready. I’ve also added larger green beans to the list, but that’s a relative term, since even our biggest green beans are smaller than anything I’ve seen at other market stalls so far. In fact, I had a fellow organic farmer come up to our haricot boxes, wide-eyed in amazement, holding up a pint to me with a reverential look on his face and say, “Three dollars? For these? This should be ten dollars!” (More about flavour and value next time, I think.)

It looks like my prognostication for an “English” summer has stuck, and our “English” vegetables are coming on gangbusters. The shelling peas are very sweet, and the favas are at their peak of flavour, especially rewarding given their absence last year due to heat and drought. Hopefully the second planting will yield even more in a week or two.

 

ON THE FARM

August, 2017

Gourmet greens Arugula
Bistro greens Wild arugula
Italian greens Chickweed
Asian greens Purslane
Italian braising Radish sprouts
Asian braising Mustards
Micro mix Mizuna, tat soi
Herb mix Chard
Spinach Sorrel
Frisee Italian parsley
Incredible garlic Basil, Thai basil, holy basil
Honey (end of 2016 stock) Bronze fennel
Lemon balm Viola, marigold, nasturtium, calendula flowers
Patty pan squash Baby beets (red, candy cane, golden)
Zucchini/crookneck squash Pea shoots/frilly pea tendrils
Bok choi Shelling peas
Torpedo onions Sugar snap peas
Baby leeks Fava beans
Broccoli Haricot verts
Green beans (larger) Napa cabbage
Dandelion greens Borage flowers
Japanese white turnips

RARE EARTH

Fennel Flowers Blue Basil
Mexican Mint Marigold Kapoor Tulsi Basil
Cardinal Basil Nasturium Leaves
Gold Nugget Squash

 

Watch for more from Antony John, as he keeps us up-to-date on life on the farm. For information on where you can find his products, visit soiledreputation.com.

ANTONY JOHN, along with his wife, Tina, are the farmers behind Soiled Reputation, a certified organic farm located in Sebringville, Ontario, that supplies gourmet greens and heirloom vegetables to restaurants, markets, and homes in Southwestern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area. Today 40 acres of their 80-acre farm is certified organic. You may remember Antony from his hit Food Network Canada show, The Manic Organic. The show aired in over 50 countries around the world, including the Discovery Home Channel in the U.S. You can read more about Antony and his farm at soiledreputation.com.

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