The working Localmotive

They say that on the path of life, you often end up back where you started.  In the case of Jody Nelson, that’s very true.  The former Albertan started her life on a farm, moved to get away from it, and now finds herself with her hands in the dirt once more, albeit this time in Nova Scotia.  Nelson and her husband, along with their two kids – run Localmotive Farm just outside of Stewiacke.  In between picking food for their CSA and running a farm, Jody sat down to talk to Passable.

Squashes from Localmotive website

What is your connection to farming?

I grew up on a small, family beef farm in Northern Alberta. As a little girl, I knew that the best tasting carrots were the ones that still had a bit of fresh dirt on them. In my youth I spent many years getting far, far away from my hometown. I never imagined that I would end up where I started: at the end of a gravel road, on a little farm built out of nothing.

How does it feel to come full circle?

Pretty startling. The older I get , the more I realize how consistent we all are. Not to sound cliché, but you can’t escape who you are or where you come from. It has been a full circle, but this farm bears no resemblance to my family’s farm. For one, I am far away from my extended family, which can be pretty isolating. I grew up among a throng of cousins. That just doesn’t exist for us here. We are also smaller and more intensive than my family’s farm. We are only using one acre to supply a 53 member CSA, a small farmer’s market, and us. The “us” has gotten much larger these days, which is also a difference from my roots. We have taken on many WWOOFers (people who Work World Wide On Organic Farms) and apprentices over the last couple of years. I have loved opening our doors to all sorts of interesting people. It sort of compensates for the lack of family nearby.

How did you end up living in Nova Scotia?

I came here for adventure. I did some camping, I did some WWOOFing, met some great people….one great person in particular…Keith, AKA, my husband.

Your husband and partner, did he grow up farming?

Keith had no connection to farming, but he has a passion for this lifestyle.

What has the transition into the world of farming been like for him?

When I met Keith, he had a little veggie growing project in pots on his balcony on Creighton Street in Halifax. Once we had the corner apartment, I added to the collection and before long, our balcony was a little oasis of Scarlet Runners, tomatoes, and herbs. Keith works as a musician, so this lifestyle gives him a lot of balance. He goes to work in a loud, bright, intensely social environment, then makes the long drive home in the dark so that he can wake up to the clean air and space out here. It can be pretty hectic around here too, but in such a different way than the music scene. The farm is also such a great environment for writing and recording music.

I am the grower on the farm, but Keith handles many of the millions of miscellaneous tasks the make this place tick, the greatest task being the care of our 2 boys. Grady is getting old enough to be out in the field with me, which is already lightening the load.

What is it like to have kids on a farm?

My children inspired me to dive into farming as a business – I was content to mix subsistence farming with some sort of job in agriculture, but as I was finishing my degree, my first son came along, and everything just fell into place. I wanted to be home with him. Now, the boys are surrounded by so much enrichment. The garden, the forest, the chickens…at age 3, Grady is a budding biologist. He makes me see every insect and what it is doing. He asks me questions that I do not have answers to, so we go look it up. I love it! There are also a lot of helpers coming through the farm (apprentices, WWOOFers, customers, friends, family…) that create this wonderful extended circle of people for the kids to learn from. It compensates for the isolation of living way out here.

What do you grow?

Anything we can grow with our climate and resources. We have a teensy greenhouse, which keeps our aspirations humble. For the CSA we really try to grow a large variety of veg so that we always have enough to offer. It think it is important to balance favorites with new food experiences – we offer recipes on our blog whenever the CSA bags contain something less ordinary, or when there is an overabundance of something. I love color. I sell at the Musquodoboit Harbour farmers market – I only take up table but it is usually overflowing with color! Summer squash of all shapes and colours, baby eggplant, heirloom tomatoes, peppers, greens of all sorts, sunflowers, etc.Like many emerging Farmer’s Markets, they are very eager to have a new produce vendor. I think I fill a nice little niche there. Musquodoboit Harbour is a tight community – I see the same faces come through there every week. Some traditionalists think that my colourful heirloom tomatoes are just under-ripe! Others are pleased to be able to buy something novel. I find that market customers are seeking an experience – they want to know all about us, they want to chat about the veg and how to prepare them.

What kind of relationships and reactions have you gotten/gained by creating a CSA in your area?

People are very curious. They think it is a great concept, but I don’t have many customers in the area. This is a very rural/agricultural region and most people who value garden vegetables grow their own. What is interesting to you or I and what is interesting to a new CSA customer, are pretty different things. Things people don’t know what to do with: fennel, winter radish, rat-tail radish, kohlrabi, mustard greens, choi, tatsoi, tomatillos, sorrel, patty pans, broad beans…perhaps there are more.

How many members do you have in your CSA?

Fifty, plus a few bartered memberships.

What do you barter for? Do you prefer it?

We have bartered for a beautiful hand-carved farm sign, publicity for Keith’s album, graphic design, massage…anything we need but don’t have the income for! I love the idea of bartering, as long as it is for something we truly need.

By what means do you grow your produce?  Are you taking a more sustainable approach, biodyanmic, organic, or conventional?

We are not certified organic but we value organic principles. We grow with an emphasis on biodiversity, we have a five year crop rotation based loosely on plant family, we do a lot of underseeding with clover as a green manure, we use compost and manure for fertility, along with other natural ammendments…we try to focus on soil health as the foundation of plant health. We grow quite intensively (each bed is planted from 1-3 times), so a lot of bed prep is done with a hand tiller, and weeding/harvesting is done with hand tools. This minimizes soil compaction and fuel use. To further reduce our carbon footprint, we have purchased a diesel van (Mitsubishi Delica) that we will be converting to waste vegetable oil (WVO) so that our CSA deliveries can be done without fossil fuel.

You studied agriculture from an academic and scientific perspective. How has that helped you in day to day farming?

I think it taught me the value of experimentation, record keeping, the sharing of knowledge, literature searches, and seeking mentors. I enjoy academics. I expect I will go back to complete my Masters once the kids are a little older. Why not, right?

What is it about farming that keeps you going?

I love running my own business, I am addicted to the learning process of growing – every year my knowledge increases exponentially and I still feel like I know nothing! I think the experimentation and learning could get me up eagerly every morning for many years to come. I also feel like I am making a valuable social contribution – I am continually astounded by the outpouring of gratitude from customers for what we are doing.