About the farm
The farm has been in Blythe’s family for 3 generations, and her family has been farming in the area for even longer. It is located outside of the small village of Ayton, Ontario, close to the Village of Neustadt and the town of Mount Forest. The family farm operates a small dairy, raises beef cattle and chickens, and works the fields for cropping. Our market garden accounts for about an acre of the land and began on fallowed soil that had been undisturbed for over 30 years. The soil is fertilized with manure from the farm cattle and is not treated with synthetic fertilizers. We employ the use of a small tractor at the beginning of the season, and a 5hp walk-behind rototiller throughout the season, but otherwise the work is done by hand. We strive for bio-intensive and sustainable agricultural practices.
Up at the farm
Much as spring represents the beginning of new life, so it was for us when back in the spring of 2008 we embarked on our first market garden adventure. At the time, we were both freshly steeped and stirred advocates for a local food system, for food security and resilience, and for the mental and physical health and vitality that comes with the growing of one’s own food. We read earnestly from the volumes of Michael Pollan, Wendell Berry, Joel Salatin, Bill McKibben and the like (and still do!). For Blythe there was a definite need to retrace her roots, coming from a long lineage of Ontario farmers spanning 6 generations back (and even more generations prior to that overseas). And for Adam there was a budding fascination with growing food and a love of working with his hands in the great outdoors. And so it was, on that cold spring day in 2008, up on the family farm, that we cultivated and planted an ambitious 50’x50’ vegetable patch. As it happened, the patch was planted on the very same location that Blythe’s grandmother Iva’s vegetable garden had been planted many years before. Iva had grown mythically bountiful vegetables on that very soil for many years. At the time of our planting the ground had not been worked for well over 30 years, and its fallowed nature held a surprise equal to that of our earnest labouring. The patch yielded scores of delicious goods from swiss chard, to cabbage, carrots, leeks, tomatoes, peppers and the like. We were up to our knees in fresh, delicious and healthy garden vegetables. And we mean delicious! We can remember eating our first broccoli from the garden, steamed with a dollop of butter and a touch of salt, simple and irresistible. It tasted nothing like the broccoli from a grocer. The same was true for all of our field-to-fork creations. Sautéed swiss chard, with caramelized onions and roasted garlic. Roasted squash with olive oil, maple syrup and a dash of paprika. Grilled zucchini with sliced tomatoes, grated parmigiano and dill sprigs. Everything was unbelievably tasty. And we also had too much of it. We were quickly overwhelmed with how much this fertile patch was producing. It soon became apparent to us that the food we were growing needed a purpose.
Enter the lost art of food preservation. Preserving food has a long and coloured history, dating back to the beginning of civilization and is thought to be, along with agriculture, a major contributing factor to mankind’s survival on planet earth. Canning, drying, fermenting, smoking, salting, freezing, root cellar storage; only a generation or two back, these methods of food preservation were common place, recipes and techniques were aplenty, and the glory of a localized food system was in full swing. Every family preserved and stored their own food, because they needed to, but also because it was part of their pre-globalized culture. Being a locavore was the only option, with the occasional exotic treat from afar on special occasions. Sadly, this is not the case today. With much of our preserving facilities and canneries relocated overseas, one can be hard pressed to find an Ontario pickle or jam. Food preservation plays a vital role in a local food system and food security. All of this was on the forefronts of our minds while we picked bushel after bushel from our garden patch.
And so, drawing off of Blythe’s upbringing and her experiences as a child pickling and preserving with her elders, we rolled up our sleeves and got to it. That marked the beginning of Spade & Spoon, and the first of many canning adventures together. Since then we have been participating in a number of shops, trade shows and farmers markets, with Dufferin Grove Organic Farmers Market being our first back in 2009. Our garden has grown in size tenfold, and we have also been harvesting from the majestic and somewhat overgrown fruit trees that were planted as part of an orchard on the farm over a hundred years ago. We pick wild elderberries from around the grain silos, wild leeks from the woodlot, and grow shitake mushrooms on oak logs. We ferment apple cider every year in an oak whiskey barrel, brew up sauerkraut and lacto-fermented cucumber pickles, and tap the maple trees that line the laneway. We pickle our beets, carrots, turnips, and cucumbers. We make jams, relishes and chutneys from an assortment of our garden fruits and vegetables. We cook up soups and salsas, vegan bean burgers and fresh garden slaws. Our culinary arts have evolved with our agricultural pursuits. Our garden gets bigger, and so do our forays in cooking. We have a love of food, and a love of farming and our products are a testimony to this. Spade & Spoon: small batch preserves, lovingly tended from our spade to your spoon!
Blythe grew up on the family farm. Along with her four siblings, she was raised on the back of a tractor, in the barn with the cows, and in the field picking stones. Blythe has been involved with growing and preserving food from a young age. She studied at the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia to complete her double major in Environmental and Health Studies. She worked for a number of years as a horticulturalist and in greenhouse vegetable and perennial growing. She came back to her farming roots in 2008 with her partner, Adam, and hasn’t looked back since.
Adam grew up in suburban GTA, but spent his summers at the family cabin on Georgian Bay playing with sticks and stones in the woods. He studied at Ryerson University, completing his Bachelor in Architectural Science, and a Masters in Architecture. While doing so, he has kept his hands in the soil by tree planting in BC’s interior (over 500,000 trees planted!), fruit picking in the Okanogan, and working on Urban Agricultural design. Adam also has a love of cooking, and treats recipe development and R&D as design exercises! He brings this discipline and attention to detail to the recipes at Spade & Spoon and the farming practices up at the farm.