Sootoday Article – Sylvan Valley Farms & Edible Algoma

By Carol Martin
Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fledgling farmers Melanie and Martti Lemieux have put down roots in Sylvan Valley, just out behind Echo Bay.

They’ve planted a one-acre market garden of vegetables. And they are preparing for delivery of their Icelandic sheep.

Icelandic sheep, we’re told, are treasured for their meat, fibre and milk.

“The sheep have evolved over 1,100 years under difficult farming conditions in Iceland, with a resultant sturdy and efficient constitution,” says a fact sheet on the breed. “A defining quality of the Icelandic breed is the ability to survive on pasture and browse.”

These very qualities led the Lemieuxes to purchase enough Iceland sheep stock to start a herd in the Algoma area. The sheep will be arriving some time in July, Martti said.

The couple moved from Toronto to Sylvan Valley in October 2008, to farm vegetables and raise sheep, because they started to ask questions about where their food comes from when their first son, Kian, arrived five years ago. “We started as co-producers, purchasing from farmers to prepare our own food,” says Martti, who’s originally from the Sault. “Then, we got into watching them, helping them until finally we became farmers.”

Shortly after Kian was born, Martti and Melanie decided they wanted to return to this area and farm for a living. But it took some doing. Neither of them had any direct experience with farming before Kian was born. But they’ve thrown themselves into it and were happy to find a vibrant community of like-minded people at Algoma University last night.

The Algoma Food Network hosted a public event, Edible Algoma, in the Great West Life Amphitheatre to seek the public’s input on its plans for growth. “The local food movement has planted its roots and is growing bigger each year across Canada and the U.S.,” said incoming Algoma Food Network chair Birgit Kroll. “In the Algoma District, consumers have demonstrated their eagerness to embrace local foods through farmers markets, community-supported agriculture, community gardens and businesses.”

Seeing more people become involved in the network makes Kroll happy.

The goal of the Algoma Food Network is to connect local food producers with consumers, she said, and adding new producers to the network is good for everyone.

Among the issues discussed in the open-forum part of the event were advocacy for local food producers, education for consumers and the area farmers markets.

One participant suggested the Algoma Food Network organize a hundred-mile supper to help raise awareness of local food producers and, at the same time, raise funds for a charity.

Martti Lemieux asked whether organic certification was important and whether there were any other food producers there who were interested in creating some food-processing facilities, particularly a grainery.

The Lemieuxes plan to grow several grain products and are interested in processing their product locally for their own use (to feed their sheep) or to sell locally. “We want to make the farm self-sustaining and more stable, to limit our reliance on outside feed sources,” Martti said. It’s also important for the couple to know where the feedstocks they are are feeding their sheep come from, what they are and what’s been done to them.

The Lemieuxes are starting from scratch at their farm and they’re seeking organic certification right out of the gate. They say their soil is not the best but they are exploring different ways of improving it naturally and they chose the breed of sheep they did so they wouldn’t have to rely completely on grain to feed them.

They also say they want to provide healthy, safe, nutrient-rich foods for all three of their children and for other families in the region. As Kian, Aidan and Nora grow, the Lemieuxs hope they will be nourished by the food their parents grow and by the relationships their parents continue to nourish with other food producers and consumers brought together by the Algoma Food Network.

They hope to grow their farm to include chickens and pigs, while the Algoma Food Network hopes to grow a directory of local food producers and a calendar of events.

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