Organic farm educates by serving up fare

SCHOMBERG, Ont. — The YMCA Cedar Glen Outdoor Education Centre’s addition of an organic farm and greenhouse is helping its urban visitors learn more about food production.

“They come here to be in nature, and food is a part of it,” said Melisanne Loiselle-Gascon, the farm team leader.

“Most visitors, youth, are from the (Toronto area), concrete places. It’s about having a chance for people to see the farm and make the connection between farm and the food they eat.”

She called the farm experience positive for the 120 young campers who came to the Schomberg site this past summer.

“Hopefully it was a bright light moment for their summer,” she said.

“Who knows what it can do.”

The four-acre certified organic farm was established to educate visitors about sustainable agriculture and farming but also to provide food for the centre’s dining hall.

The fields, which grow about 30 vegetables and fruit such as ground cherries and sunberries, can supply as much as 60 percent of the greens in the dining hall salad bar when in season.

Excess produce is sold at a farm stand on site.

No synthetic chemicals are used on the farm, and weeds are re-moved by hand to reduce the need for tractor work. Staggered planting times and insect netting are used to control bugs.

The farm also offers a community supported agriculture program, in which members pay about $120 for weekly seasonal box deliveries.

Loiselle-Gascon uses the greenhouse to start seedlings that are transplanted to fields, including those grown under row covers.

Composted waste from the centre is combined with wood chips, turned, kept warm to break down and then used in fields and the greenhouse.

“We keep our nutrients on site and add it back to the farm, and the farm feeds the kitchen, so it’s really a closed loop,” said Loiselle-Gascon.

The farm was set back by a drought this year that prevented many plants from germinating. Drip irrigators could hardly keep up, and a pump was installed to increase water pressure, she said.

The 1,000 sq. foot greenhouse remains operational from March to December and is heated by wood from the surrounding forests in a wood-fired boiler, she said.

“It’s not worth it to heat it up when it’s super cold and super dark.”

Loiselle-Gascon said the farm is funded from various sources, including camp fees and produce sales, but money is not the only consideration.

“Making money is important, but we do a lot of things that are contributing to a broader picture.”

About the author


Stories from our other publications