Nova Scotia

Cape Breton farm survived pandemic and pests, only to be hit by a fire

The owners of Pebble and Fern Market Garden narrowly escaped from a fire at their farmhouse 11 days ago.

Pebble and Fern Market Garden struggling to survive after a difficult 2020

Firefighters from Isle Madame knocked down a fire inside a Little Anse farmhouse. Business owners say that most of the contents of the home were ruined. (Submitted by Ciaran Llachan Leavitt)

It's been a tough year for business, and now a Richmond County, N.S., farm is having to overcome fire that gutted their production space. 

The owners of Pebble and Fern Market Garden in Little Anse awoke to smoke inside their basement 11 days ago. 

Ciarán Llachlan Leavitt, the farm's manager, said food production was already compromised by the pandemic and a difficult growing season. 

Leavitt runs the farm along with Xennie Wight and Claire Drinnan.

Pebble and Fern Market Garden is shown after a Nov. 10 fire that gutted the production space and home of its owners. (Submitted by Ciaran Llachlan Leavitt)

When the fire broke out, Wight and Drinnan were sleeping upstairs. "If they hadn't gotten out exactly when they did, and if the fire department from Isle Madame hadn't come when they did, it would have been a lot worse," said Leavitt. 


Fortunately, for the farmers, no one was hurt. Known for its bright colours and whimsical decorations, Pebble and Fern describes itself as an art garden. 

Leavitt and Wight started a garden in Richmond in 2014. After a season growing more than enough produce they then began selling at the Mabou Farmers' Market. 

The Isle Madame business saw a cluster of troubles this year. They say much of their sales come from local markets that were shut down for months. 

"We depend on markets for most of the yearly income and they just didn't happen this year, or if they did happen they were very scaled back," said Leavitt. 

Online hub helps

Leavitt praises the Cape Breton Food Hub — an online marketplace for members  — for helping keep their business going. 

"They really scaled up their efforts, going to weekly deliveries for all areas as far back as March," she said.

Food vendors were expected to finally return to the Cape Breton Farmers Market on Saturday after a seven-month hiatus. 

Alicia Lake, food hub executive director, said farmers face unrelenting hurdles. 

"This year happened to be a lack of rain in the growing season, other years it's too much rain," she said. "We always end up with different pests that are an issue. This year was the year of the slug."

Many of the farms in Cape Breton are small in scale and some are disappearing.

"We've been losing farms every year, so there's less and less people trying to grow more and more food," Lake said. 

Buying global

In Cape Breton, households rely heavily on products from all over the world. Food co-op members say a positive outcome of the pandemic is people are now starting to seek more local products. 

The owners of Pebble and Fern say they now must look ahead to what the future holds. They are not sure if their home and business space can be salvaged. 

"We can't really do anything," Leavitt said.

"We've lost not just where we live, but all of the bottles and packaging we've gotten. Any base ingredients that had been harvested and were ready to be turned into pickles and beets and yarn that Clair had processed and spun from the sheep ... It's going to be a long, painfully slow process to rebuild."

 Leavitt said there was no insurance on the building that burned. 

Friends and customers of the farm have since set up an online fundraiser to help the partners get back on their feet.