Nova Scotia

COVID-19 prompting interest in local food movement, say Cape Breton farmers

Smaller farms in Cape Breton are looking at ways to shift their business models and take advantage of opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemic is making some farm owners rethink how they do business

Kailea Pedley tending kale on her farm in Margaree, Cape Breton. (Submitted by Keilea Pedley)

It's shaping up to be a banner year for Thyme for Ewe farm in Millville, Cape Breton. For the first time ever, the small farm has been completely selling out of its pork.

"We can't keep up with demand," said Estelle Levangie, who co-owns the operation with her husband, Tim. The pair raise pigs and chickens, and grow organic vegetables and herbs.

Dozens of customers have called up over the last several weeks, with some ordering up to $500 worth of meat. It's growth the couple has been trying to tap into for years so they can expand their operations.

Levangie believes people are recognizing the value in local food suppliers.

"We're hoping the trend continues," she said.

It's a sharp contrast to issues facing many large pork producers. Temporary shutdowns of major processors across the country have led to backlogs. Some farmers have resorted to euthanizing pigs to avoid paying the costs of feeding them for extended periods.

Levangie said because of that, she's been offered piglets from producers.

Nova Scotians looking to help out

But the pandemic isn't without its challenges. Smaller farms often utilize the work of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, a network of organizations facilitating homestays on farms. In exchange for room and board, volunteers from around the world work on farms, usually to help support their travels. With travel restrictions in place, those volunteers are less accessible.

But Kailea Pedley, co-owner of Patchwood Farm, said she's seeing an increase in more local volunteers. Both Levangie and Pedley have received multiple requests from Nova Scotians looking to help out.

Patchwood, which is located in Margaree, Cape Breton, also relies heavily on a local farmers market to sell its vegetables. It's uncertain if the farmers market will be able to open this season, which has made Pedley and her husband, Andy, rethink how they do business.

"The pandemic is providing us with an opportunity to explore some new opportunities we're actually pretty excited about," said Pedley.

Estelle Levangie on her farm in Millville, Cape Breton. (Submitted by Estelle Levangie)

Pedley said they're trying out a community-supported agriculture program, which involves customers buying a share in the farm's harvest at the beginning of the season. That move will provide the couple with a guaranteed market.

"That way they share in both the risk and the bounty of the food production," said Pedley.

It will mean an adjustment of what they plant, as they'll have to diversify their crops. Customers will get a tab and choose what plants they want each week and pick up food directly at the farm.

Pedley hopes the pandemic sparks a larger conversation around local food production.

"Inverness County used to be net exporters of food, but likely less than 10 per cent of our food is grown here," she said.

Pedley said she'd like to see more government support for small farmers and farmers markets.

MORE TOP STORIES

About the Author

Brittany Wentzell

Current Affairs Reporter/Editor

Brittany Wentzell is based in Sydney, N.S., as a reporter for Information Morning Cape Breton. She has covered a wide range of issues including education, forestry and municipal government. Story ideas? Send them to brittany.wentzell@cbc.ca

now