Burkinshaw Farm – Living off the Land

Written by Janet Davies

Prince Edward County has several multi-generational farms, but Burkinshaw Farm is a little different. This one is a new one. The elder Burkinshaws, Bob and Sheila, moved from Abbotsford, BC to The County in 2015 with the dream of developing a sustainable farm with their two sons. One son lives nearby in Toronto, the other, Andrew, drove from his home in B.C., four days cross country in May 2016, with his wife Colleen and their four children packed into their Pontiac to start a new life in The County. It’s a settlers story for the 21st century.

Andrew is a beekeeper. He still maintains 180 hives back in B.C. while he makes the transition to  The County. “We bought a handful of hives when we arrived, and we were surprised, and pleased, when they produced an unexpected batch of honey. It gave us some revenue to get started.”

Burkinshaw Farm is on 60 acres on Morrison Point Road in the south end of The County. “My parents were looking for farmland online and my mum saw this property’s dry stone wall,” said Andrew. “That got the ball rolling. She said This could be the one.” It was  the one and here they all are. The family is tight-knit, enthusiastic and hardworking, and they share the story of building their farm in a lively blog. They are starting slow. It’s a mixed farm, and they aim to be as near self-sufficient as possible. They raise pigs and goats organically and on pasture, using mobile electric fences to move the animals to fresh pasture every week or so, depending on the richness of the paddock. “The animals eat whatever they find, and we go in afterwards to reseed if there are things we particularly want to grow in each area. The pigs do a nice job of digging the ground! It’s great to see animals in their natural environment,” said Andrew. “It’s good clean meat, and we are really proud of it.” The pasture-fed pork is very popular, and the goat meat is selling surprisingly well. “Our goats are kiko boer cross and we have a buck on loan for a month to breed. Actually a month is long enough. He’s pretty gentle, but he stinks.”

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Andrew is a veteran beekeeper but cheerfully admits to being new at livestock farming. “We’ll see how it goes. If we do well with the goats and pigs we will get more. We are talking about getting some cattle, too.” The animals all use the land differently, chickens, goats, pigs, cows. In June, the Burkinshaw blog shared the fun news that “livestock” numbers had increased overnight from 48 to about 1,400,000. What? Andrew had acquired more bees. “Farming this way, our costs are low,” he said. “With bees, they feed on nectar, and, best of all, you don’t have to shovel manure! In fact we don’t have to do that much with the animals, we keep them moving. The pigs till the land, the goats eat bushes.” On our visit, the beasts we saw snuffling, strutting, clucking and just hanging out in the quarter acre farmyard looked pretty darned happy.

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“We have also planted three acres with a permaculture orchard,” said Andrew. “It doesn’t look much yet, but we plan to grow berries and fruit trees and offer people the kind of permaculture crops that are a little hard to find. With luck it will be an edible food forest in three or four years time.”

Since the Spring Andrew has grown his handful of hives to 60 and is delighted with production. “The County is a really good spot for honey, so much grows here for bees to feed on. The farm is 60 acres but of course the bees have much more land, they fly where they please. Some of our hives are on other people’s property, some down in Waupoos.” Honey can be found at Vicki’s Veggies, Cannery Row and our soon to be built farm stand at the end of my folks driveway on Morrison Point Road. They also sell their honey and meat at Joaquim and Amor Condé’s Local Food Store where Andrew’s parents were part of the crowd-funding effort that raised funds to open the store. Now they have a very useful store credit for fresh and preserved food, olive oil and more.

It’s an interdependent farm in an increasingly inter-dependent area of The County. “There is a good density of people down here,” he said, referring to the Black River, South Bay, Milford end of the island. “Vicki’s Veggies is like an anchor point, but the new agriculture and development is  growing wider. We were working with Black River Cheese, before they were bought out. Now we go to Glenn Symmons at Lighthall Vineyards for his whey. He makes excellent sheep milk cheese and our pigs just go nuts for the whey. We get Glenn’s leftovers and if he ever messes up a batch we get it all for our animals.”

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WHY THE COUNTY?
For Bob and Sheila Burkinshaw, the move to Ontario brought them closer to family in Toronto. For Andrew and Colleen it was Colleen’s family in upstate New York, but Prince Edward County itself ticked a lot of boxes as the right place to develop their farm. “It’s a much better honey place, I think, than where we were in B.C.,” said Andrew, “and it is affordable. There is still so much opportunity here for small farmers like us. “We are not commodity farmers, we are not going to make much money at it, it’s hard to find a place where you can afford to buy so much land.”
He is pleased to find such enthusiasm for local food and products in The County, too. “People are willing to pay for quality produce here. There’s a big market for good local grown produce. Word of mouth is very strong. When people buy our honey we let them know about our meat, too, and what they can find at Joaquim’s.

dsc01353While Bob Burkinshaw still works part time as a professor in Ottawa, and Andrew’s brother still lives in Toronto, Andrew and Colleen are here lock stock and barrel – and chickens and goats and pigs and bees. “It has been a really good move for us,” he said. “Our twin girls are five years old, one son is three and the other is one. The kids like it here a lot, and it’s getting better and better as they make more friends. We have water access which is fantastic. I wear a full body suit a lot with the bees and it’s wonderful to get it off and jump in the water when it’s hot.”

Colleen was a nurse before opting to be a stay-at-home mum and, in fact, they are home schooling their children. “Yes, it can be chaos around here,” Andrew said laughing. “There is a good home schooling group starting locally which we’re excited to be part of. The Picton Library organizes some of it. We did it in B.C. last year, and it’s our choice. We really need that flexibility right now. “When they do get time to take a breath they have been amazed at all the events that happen in The County, from markets to shows to festivals. “We’ve already been involved in lots of things, and every time we look in the paper there’s something else we missed. It’s slowing down a little, now, but we’re thinking Okay! Next year we’ll be on it.”

They’re confident they can make it all work. There is strength in their family, they are meeting new people at events and at their church, Bloomfield’s Emmanual Baptist Church, and they’re  discovering a community that is turning out to be an old-style, mutual support system. It’s a bonus they didn’t expect but one they are thoroughly enjoying.

 

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