NL·From The Ground Up

For homesteading inspiration, and year-round veggies, look no further than Flatrock

David Goodyear boosts Newfoundland and Labrador's growing scene with his backyard gardens and greenhouse.
These are David Goodyear's gardens and greenhouse at his homestead in Flatrock. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

From The Ground Up is a CBC series in collaboration with Food Producers Forum, looking at how small-scale growers are digging and dreaming agricultural innovations in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

No matter the month, David Goodyear has something growing at his homestead in Flatrock.

Peek in his greenhouse in mid-winter and you'll find salad-ready greens. Check back in June and catch ripe tomatoes heavy on the vine. The root cellar, too, holds his 500-pound potato harvest for a good chunk of the year.

While this may create some enviably small supermarket bills, there's more to it than money. Goodyear's also trying to sow the seeds of agricultural inspiration, and dispel ideas around Newfoundland and Labrador's growing potential that cling to the provincial consciousness like coastal fog.

"Over the past several years I've looked at the possibility of creating a model lifestyle. A model lifestyle that maybe other people can follow, and that maybe they can learn from," Goodyear said on a recent tour of his eye-poppingly green property.

2021 marks the fourth summer in Goodyear's quest for his family to become as self-sustaining as possible. They've been building up over time — adding a flock of chickens here, more rows of vegetables there — all motivated by the precarious food production of Newfoundland and Labrador, a province that relies overwhelmingly on imports to feed its populace. 

Goodyear, seen here in February 2020 with some green leafy vegetables, says his earth-sheltered greenhouse allows him to grow year-round. (Adam Walsh/CBC )

It's a situation that can at times seem overwhelming and unsolvable, but Goodyear tries to narrow his focus to his backyard, and hopes other people do too.

"I think that people have kind of realized that doing all this stuff on a really big scale is something that may not be achievable right now, but doing it on a small scale is," he said.

Not your grandparents' greenhouse

Goodyear's is an ambitious project, accompanied by ambitious infrastructure: he's tweaked many traditional ways of building to maximize the scarce heat and sun of the Avalon Peninsula.

A quick look at his earth-sheltered greenhouse, with its cherry tomato red siding, reveals the benefits of going beyond the norm.

"This is not the greenhouse of the past that everybody talks about," he said.

The highly insulated structure has glazing only on one side, to better capture the sun's rays without losing any heat at night or during the winter. Add in a fan system that helps circulate, heat and cool, and Goodyear can avail of salad all through winter, plus lend his tomatoes a huge head start on the traditional season.

It cost around $12,000 to build, but its annual electricity only comes to $130 or so, with Goodyear estimating it will have a payback time between five and six years.

A large part of the operation relies on passive building techniques, as does his house itself. The building principle requires up-front investments like triple-glazed windows and heaps of insulation, but in the long run means far less spent on heating and cooling costs.

"Not only do they actually minimize … the energy use and the drain on the grid, they also save the homeowner money. With the rising cost of everything, it makes sense to do it," he said.

By mid-June, Goodyear already had ripe tomatoes in his greenhouse. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

Root cellar revival

One passive technology that Goodyear champions is far from cutting edge: the humble root cellar.

"It's the best type of storage ever built. It actually amazes me that we've gotten away from it, because they're so effective," he said.

"I've had potatoes in here since last September, and they're still fine."

His seven-by-seven-foot space stores hundreds of pounds of root crops, from potatoes to rutabagas to celeriac, for months at a time. The earth's natural insulation keeps the produce from freezing, and a few strategic pipes and vents let wind flow in and out to keep moisture at bay.

He also tweaks harvest time, letting most of that food linger above ground as long as possible, to get the most out of the cellar.

"They all get pulled late November. So it's about leaving it in the ground, as long as you can so it's still alive, then storing it six to eight months in the cellar," he said.

Goodyear's root cellar holds hundreds of pounds of vegetables, and he would like to see more people use root cellars as storage. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

Patience, and time

A physicist by day, Goodyear realizes his investments aren't for everyone, and do require immense amounts of time.

"There's a lot of work. But you know, the work is worth every bit of it. I wouldn't change anything for the world," he said.

There's still more work ahead. The homestead is a work in progress, with new goals constantly being added to past successes. This year, Goodyear has gone all-in on peas and beans, planting rows about as long as four beds stacked end to end, in the hopes that harvest will bring about legume self-sufficiency.

Next year, a new goal will probably crop up, as Goodyear doesn't seem to be slowing down. Getting his hands dirty in his backyard has fuelled something of a cycle within himself — and he hopes it will for others, too.

"The connectedness that you have with nature, it goes beyond just going to the grocery store and picking up a banana and putting it in a grocery cart. It's an amazing feeling."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Lindsay Bird

CBC News

Lindsay Bird is the producer and host of Atlantic Voice, a CBC Radio 1 show showcasing documentaries and storytelling from the east coast. She is based out of CBC Corner Brook.

With files from Carolyn Stokes