Two weeks ago I drove out to Gardiner Mines after work, to visit with Marc Vassallo on his (and his parents’) organic veggie farm. It was an overcast day and there was a bit of drizzle, but I put on my rubber boots and traipsed around with Marc as he showed me all the land they have in production.
I had never been out to their farm before, but I have bought from them at the Cape Breton Farmer’s Market in Sydney, and I can attest that the vegetables and eggs are fantastic.
(There are chickens in here! Also, this is called a “chicken tractor,” which makes me laugh, and imagine a teeny-tiny tractor with a chicken riding on it.)
Look at this view! That’s the Lingan Power Plant in the distance. There are blue herons that usually hang out in this little inlet, hence the name of the farm.
Marc shows me a patch of seaweed they pulled up from the beach, that’s both killing the grass under it to prepare new ground for growing, and being rinsed by the rain. Once most of the salt is out of the seaweed, in a few months, they’ll use it for mulch in other beds.
They grow the onions and the beets in clumps of three or four.
Cantaloupe! On Cape Breton! It can be done.
This tunnel full of tomatoes is what I imagine heaven to be like. (I really really love tomatoes.)
The property the Vassallos are living and farming on is close to where Leonard grew up in Dominion, and growing food here started out as their retirement project. (But quickly grew into much more!) Leonard’s wife Monique (Marc’s mom) is originally from New Brunswick. The two met in Newfoundland and lived in Cornerbrook for many years, teaching biology. Now they put their bio-smarts to good use with soil and seeds. Son Marc moved to Cape Breton in May from Toronto, and is taking on more and more of the work of the farm. He’s planning to do a full-run CSA next year, and the farm may become certified organic down the road as they expand.
Maybe Leonard and Monique will get to retire after all!
In case you’re curious, a pint of tomatoes is $4, kale is $5 for a 1/2-lb bunch, spinach is $5 for 1/2-lb, and carrots are $3/bunch. For more information, follow the Vassallos on Twitter @Blueheronfarmer or email Marc at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also join the Facebook group for the farm here.