New Brunswick

Bathurst family pledge to go all winter without buying groceries

The LeBlanc family, avid homesteaders from North Tetagouche, N.B., have not made a trip to the grocery store in three months and don't plan on stepping inside a store for the entire winter.

The LeBlancs have been living off the land for 3 months and plan to continue until the snow melts

The LeBlanc family, from left: Charlotte, Rebecca, Rosalie, Melodie and Robin. As a family project, the LeBlancs will forgo trips to a grocery store all winter. (Submitted by Robin LeBlanc)

The LeBlanc family, avid homesteaders from North Tetagouche, N.B., have not made a trip to the grocery store in three months and don't plan on stepping inside a store for the entire winter.

While many Canadians grapple with the rising cost of groceries, the LeBlancs are completely unaffected.

"Someone told me how prices went up. We weren't really aware," said Robin LeBlanc.

LeBlanc and his wife, Rebecca, have been homesteading on their small farm near Bathurst for a decade, growing their own vegetables and trying to maintain a sustainable lifestyle.

But now they have tackled a new challenge with their three daughters under the age of eight: Melodie, Rosalie and Charlotte.

"We decided to do everything we can so we don't have to go to the grocery store," said LeBlanc.

They plan to continue throughout the winter.

The idea started earlier this year, when the family travelled to Halifax so Melodie could have surgery.

LeBlanc, anticipating complications, took a six-month sabbatical from his job teaching geography at a local high school.

He and his wife decided the break was a perfect time for a family project.

The LeBlancs are not new to the concept of living sustainably.

"We started in Moncton in an apartment. We actually turned the sod over and started gardening there. And I grafted my own orchard. When we moved, we had more fruit trees to move than things," he said.

Full-time job

In order to eliminate the family's need for groceries, Robin and Rebecca work overtime coming up with recipes and homesteading techniques.
Melodie and Rosalie snack on an after-school treat of homemade cottage cheese and fruit with their father, Robin (CBC)

"Cooking, to me, that's the reason I'm doing it." said LeBlanc.

"When I look at a recipe and I don't have something and I have to go to the grocery store to get it, I think, how can I grow this next year?"

Without a greenhouse, the family have had to come up with creative solutions to get their greens in the winter.

They grow Belgian endives in the cellar, since the vegetable flourishes in the dark, and they are able to grow kale year-round.

Otherwise, the LeBlancs rely on canned vegetables and frozen produce to get them through the snowy season.

Raising livestock

"What we did have before September was a cow," said LeBlanc.

"Moo-Moo," beloved by the entire family, is their only source of milk.
Robin, Melodie, and Charlotte visit Moo-Moo in the barn behind their farmhouse. (CBC)

LeBlanc milks her with the help of the girls and makes homemade butter, cheese and cream for the family every day.

"Socially, the kids kind of like it, and they're really attached. When they say they want a glass of milk, they say 'I want a glass of milk from Moo-Moo.'"

The LeBlancs also raised two pigs, which they slaughtered for meat. One 140-kilogram animal has already been consumed, but half of the second pig is left.

LeBlanc said his daughters took the slaughter in stride.

"The pigs had names. But [the girls] were there when we slaughtered, and they asked questions and they were just really open to everything."

Moo-Moo, though, stays.

"Rebecca said never. She can't be steak," said LeBlanc.

"She's going to have a calf, though, and the calf will be meat."

Community support

The LeBlancs' neighbours have also been a big help in their special project. 

A couple looked after the LeBlancs' cow when the family travelled to Halifax, in exchange for milk.
The LeBlancs' eldest daughter, Charlotte, helps around the farm feeding animals and assisting with cooking duties (CBC)

Instead of making a trip to the local grocer, the LeBlancs barter for anything they can't make themselves.

"There's a local guy here that does honey production. For rent, he gives us a big jar of honey," said Robin. 

"Our neighbours had a big box of peaches from Nova Scotia and they canned it. We thought, oh yeah, we'd like peaches."

The family traded a large piece of homemade cheese for the sweet treat.

The LeBlancs also receive support from the wider internet homesteading community.

'Living very well'

This special family project will not continue indefinitely, however.

"I wanted to see how far we could go. We're actually living very well," said LeBlanc.

He plans to go "back to normal" after this winter, since "extreme homesteading" is taxing with three small children, and the family would also like to travel.

But he said the experience has been valuable.

"To buy what we're eating, I think it would be very, very expensive, because it's all fresh," he said.

4 homesteading tips

  • The family love bananas in their smoothies, but can't grow them in the cold northern New Brunswick climate. Instead, they marinate tofu (from homegrown soy beans) in melon and blend the concoction.
  • Instead of buying tomato paste, or despairing over the lack of fresh vegetables in winter, the LeBlancs make ratatouille in the fall, and can the vegetable spread for later use on pizzas and in soups
  • Cheese is made with milk from the family's cow. To keep with their goal of living sustainably, LeBlanc wraps the cheese wheels in wax from local bees, rather than traditional petroleum wax, which he would have to buy elsewhere
  • The family sometimes miss sugar, but have come up with their own substitutes. In addition to honey, LeBlanc taps the maple trees around his property and uses the syrup for dessert recipes rather than store-bought white sugar.


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