The summer is quickly progressing and the weather has been hot with a mix of thunderstorms. This makes for interesting conditions when it comes to vegetable farming. Visit number three to my favourite little farm, Hearts and Roots, was incredible. These monthly visits have become fun and something that I look forward to in the weeks before I go. I am excited to see the progress of the farm and see Justin Girard and Britt Embry both working away to create a business while doing something they love.
I arrived to see Girard, Embry and a couple of friends scurrying around like little mice to fill orders that needed to be delivered to Winnipeg that morning. Both Girard and Embry were without shoes as the conditions have been tremendously wet and they explained that this is “the uniform.” The mud makes your boots weigh about 10 pounds as you step threw the fields, and, as I found out later, they were not lying.
This visit brought vegetables galore and, as they have told me, I have not seen anything yet. Peak season will arrive when the tomatoes are ready to go to market. I followed Girard around as he packed up all the orders to take into Winnipeg. He was dropping off kohlrabi, collards, Lebanese and Italian zucchini, and assorted herbs to Crampton’s Market, St. Leon Garden Market, Organic Planet, St. Vital Market and Chew. As Girard packed up and got on his way, I turned to Embry for a tour and a chat about the fields, greenhouse and how the last month has gone.
The end of June and beginning of July has brought many exciting things for the farm. The walk-in cooler is up and running, the flowers are planted and will be ready for market in the next few weeks, and the most important thing, they have hired their first employee. A young student from the local area will be working full-time to help with seeding, planting, weeding, picking and anything that is needed on a daily basis. Girard and Embry are both ecstatic to have an employee and happy that they have found a young person who enjoys their line of work.
There have been a few hiccups over the last month. The rain has caused them to get behind in weeding, but they hope with their new employee they will be able to catch up. They lost about 95 percent of their salad turnips and radishes to a root cabbage bug that ate them under ground.
Girard was disappointed, but is happy that they have many other options to bring to market and that they have the space to try out many different varieties. Some of the squash plants have been doing something very interesting and sad. The plants are aborting or terminating the squash as they grow. Girard and Embry go out to the fields and check on the vegetables they have to sell for the week. They noticed when they would return a few days later to pick, the plants were killing off the vegetables. After much research they have found that this is due to a lack of bees in the area.
The plants are unable to support the vegetables without the bees help. Embry says is tough because they have thousands of plants for the bees to pollenate, it is hard for them to keep up. Her hope is to working with a bee farmer in the near future to eradicate this problem.
When problems like these occur, they have a few different resources to use. Embry explained to me that Manitoba Agriculture offers a program where they have a vegetable specialist on-call every day. You can speak to this specialist, send pictures and then they will give you their opinion on what is happening. She said it has been an amazing resource and they are extremely grateful that the government offer such a program.
The plants in the fields have at least double if not triple in size compared to my last visit. We toured all over the farm and Embry was eager to have me try some of the vegetables. The most exciting to me was the white cucumber, something I have never had, it was so delicious and fresh. She pointed out many interesting vegetables, from unique lettuces like magenta spreen to black heirloom tomatoes to dragon tongue beans. All of this exciting produce made me want to start cooking immediately.
Along the tour we had a chance to talk about how the markets have been going thus far. Every Thursday, Hearts and Roots attends the Downtown Farmers’ Market in the Manitoba Hydro building. They have also created an excellent growler program. It is a weekly $25 package of vegetables that they promote through their newsletter and Instagram page. The customer has the option to pick it up at the farm or at Forth on Friday afternoons in the Exchange District. These growlers are excellent as you get the see what is included for that week ahead of time. Embry said the market and growler have been going very well. She is happy that they are starting to grow a regular weekly clientele and she looks forward to the markets each week.
Next month, I am thrilled to be visiting Hearts and Roots at a farmers’ market. I look forward to seeing the interaction with customers and the reactions to their amazing products. Bringing these products to market is exciting and one of the final steps in this summer long process.
Melissa Hryb is the chef at Marion Street Eatery, where she specializes in hearty comfort food with a twist.
Follow her on Twitter @MarionStreetEat or Instagram @MarionStreetEatery