How opening a bakery is helping sustain this homesteading farm
Bryson Family Farm has added a Bryson Family Bakery to its Iona property
An Island couple is taking their homesteading farm to a new level — Katherine and Matthew Bryson have just opened Bryson Family Bakery on their small farm in Iona, P.E.I.
The Nova Scotia couple purchased the farm in 2014 and began raising chickens, pigs and sheep and growing vegetables, working toward complete self-sufficiency while selling surplus produce.
"One of the biggest factors in our decision to leave a full-time job and work for myself has been the lifestyle change," said Katherine.
"The farm and now the bakery has never been about getting rich but instead has always been about being happy and loving what you do."
Busy, busy life
Katherine worked night shifts at the Atlantic Vet College as a veterinary technician and Matthew works at an agricultural pharmaceutical company.
They also have two children: Henry is three and Sibyl is one.
"Working night shift, it just wasn't working with our lifestyle — needing to be awake during the days and do farm chores and look after the kids," Katherine said.
'Never really considered it as a profession'
The couple brainstormed a side gig for Katherine that would allow her to work from home and bring in some extra income and that fit with the couple's interests in creating high-quality food, being happy and loving what they do. So while Katherine was pregnant with their second child, they researched what it would take to open a bakery, and decided to go for it.
Katherine isn't a formally trained baker or cook. But she's passionate about food.
When she was on maternity leave with Henry more than four years ago, she watched every cooking show on television, and a light bulb began to glow.
"I never really considered it as a profession, but I got really interested in it and I found I was really good at it," she said.
The proof is in the pudding: Katherine's rolls and cinnamon buns won first-place ribbons at 2018's Dundas Plowing Match fair.
Now, Katherine is home and plans to bake full time, and will be able to keep an eye on the farm animals too. The kids will split their time between daycare and Matthew.
Creating a destination
Don't think the farm is going to get left in the dust, er, flour.
The couple is doubling down on creating a destination out of the farm and bakery that would someday see guests visit the farm, see where their food comes from, and sip locally-made coffee while they nibble fresh baking.
Two years ago was a rough year on the farm: a fox killed off all their turkeys, ducks and some chickens.
But rather than throw in the towel, the Brysons are expanding. They're raising double the number of pasture-raised meat chickens — 120 or more instead of 60. A local restaurant is interested in buying the meat, and now with a provincially-inspected commercial kitchen they can butcher the birds themselves.
They also purchased and bred two breeding ewes.
"In less than a month we're going to have little lambs jumping around, which is going to be really exciting," she said. They also have layer hens for eggs, a few geese and a horse and pony that are pets.
"It certainly has its ups and downs," Katherine said. "Raising the kids here on the homestead has been absolutely fantastic. Henry is three-and-a-half — he knows about life and death, he knows where babies come from and it's just normal for him.
"He's proud to tell you, it's really funny. We sold lambs to a guy last fall and Henry comes running out and he's like, 'Those are my baby sheep! Those are very tasty!' And he was so excited that the guy was going to take them home."
'Want to focus on local'
"We really want to focus on local products — it's a huge movement, especially now. People want to know where their food is coming from," said Katherine of the bakery.
They will use their own eggs, and flour milled on P.E.I. as well as local berries and honey from a farm just down the road.
"Overall it's just better quality," she said.
The couple is excited and nervous, she said, because leaving a good career and embarking on a new small business is "scary and daunting."
Katherine is taking part in a provincial government Skills PEI program that helps subsidize and train first-time entrepreneurs. It tops up employment insurance while making sure participants have solid business and marketing plans.
"It really opened my eyes a lot and helped a lot," she said.
Baking up ideas
Custom cakes are a hot commodity, including wedding cakes, and Katherine said there is not a lot of local competition. She plans to have a menu with basic items like cookies and bread, and also French pastries like croissants and macarons.
For now she's making products to order, but is planning a roadside stand in summer. Soon Katherine plans to bake and post products online, and customers can message her and pick up.
She also plans to sell at a new farmer's market planned for Montague this summer, and will be a vendor at Etsy markets, she said.
The Brysons renovated their basement over the last year into a commercial kitchen, doing most of the work themselves and investing about $15,000, she said.
They are hoping to eventually hire employees and someday build a cafe on the farm.
"We want to bring something sustainable to Belfast, because there certainly aren't a lot of places where you can get full-time, year-round employment here in rural P.E.I. so if we can help with that we would absolutely love that," she said.