Photos by Puck Graafland
Text by Eric Lee
Our second stop on the July 8, 2018 tour was Healing Hands Farm, a little to the west of Guelph.
Farmers Dan Fuller and Michaela Cruz have only been farming since November, 2017 but the land, two acres of a larger property, had been a horse farm for thirty years and then was not farmed for ten years. Dan and Michaela have only a two year lease after which it is expected the entire property will be planted in nut trees. Thus, they have found the soil to be very rich, and thickly covered with weeds, but as short-term tenants they would not see much benefit of effort spent building soil; nonetheless are adding compost.
The land is basically open, with a gentle slope, without trees or other features. They have had to clear luxuriant weeds, including bindweed, (which they've done very effectively, without chemicals, by tilling twice and then covering the area with black plastic for a time to prevent regrowth - as at the left of the picture below). The planted areas are arranged in rows and rectangles, "traditional" to my uneducated mind, and very different from the other farms we saw that day that had crop trees when the current farmers took them over and have since developed incrementally over a number of years.
They follow organic practices and would like to certify (that process takes several years), and note that they put in the effort and dedication to organic at this point without the marketing benefits.
Before they became farmers Dan had construction and city jobs and Michaela was a plant science student at U. of Guelph and had worked with PACT Grow to Learn. Farming is a huge change in way of life for them but they seem to have the right temperaments for it. In their case, what is "right" has included arriving with an open mind, not too many expectations of how it ought to be, looking at all the many problems and things that need to be done as interesting challenges (that will sometimes be stalled in frustration), and accepting that some work will not have a professional finish. Their previous work and study, while different, or at a different level in Michaela's case, have proved valuable. After less than a year they are "over the hump" and can consider taking some off-farm work. That is no small accomplishment. I agree with visitor Agata's remark: "I love how you can just set up and grow - not without its challenges - but look what you did!”
Dan and Michaela have been able to start without much money and have improvised shelter (shed, and tent for summer), a produce cooler (trailer + air conditioner) and a seedling greenhouse with only $20 worth of new materials. Dan remarked at one point: “If you had all the money in the world it would just be boring. I think… you’d just make the easy choices”.
Healing Hands' contact with coyotes is that because a neighbour released pet rabbits into the wild there are now many of them and the green crops are just what they want; I hope some coyotes will soon see the opportunity here.