Amor and Joaquim Conde bought a farm – and jumped into a very different life. Joaquim came to Canada from Portugal at 18, built his own automotive shop from scratch when he was 21 and ran it for 20 years. Amor studied architecture and worked in interior design for 20 years before growing disillusioned and turning to antiques, “because they made me happier,” she says, then adds cheerfully, “I never thought I’d be selling antiques out of my own barn, but here I am!”
“Priorities change in life,” says Joaquim. “I have always been an entrepreneur and I had become very interested in food, and how food is produced. I started to import olive oil from Portugal. I was spending a lot of time at farmers’ markets talking to producers – and I was gardening. It felt so good to have my fingers in the dirt, to help things grow.” In short, Joaquim was ripe for a move to The County!
Amor has family in Kingston and knew about Prince Edward County. They came to check it out. The first property they looked at was the old Grimmon farm, and they looked no further. They knew in their bones it was the right place. “This is a big project. I’d like to make this farm almost like it was in the 1800s,” says Joaquim. “Maybe we have bitten off a lot, but we are taking it steady. At first we thought we’d keep our house in Toronto and rent it out, but we knew the distance would not be good for us. We sold it to concentrate fully on this place, to put all our heart into it. We want to make a living from the farm. I think we can.”
They candidly admit they didn’t do much homework. “It was winter, everything was covered in snow, but it had good energy. It was a gut feeling. Yes it was our emotions over our heads, but we were sure we could make it work. I’m like that, always with my foot on the throttle, Amor is more sensible, she has the brakes. We work well together.”
If he could give advice about moving to The County it would be to realize you must be flexible. “Get rid of the idea that you only do what you do. Out here you must adapt, life is seasonal. Also whatever you know, whatever you have, is not worth as much as it was in the city. That’s just a fact. You learn to chop wood. I’m practical, I like the challenge of learning something new.”
Amor runs Amor’s Antiques from their spacious barn and has added re-upholstery, furniture consignment and interior design and decorating to her list of services.
Joaquim admits he thought he could finish the work needed much faster, but he’s accepted they won’t be fully operational until next year. On the other hand, their original plan has changed a lot. “Our plan was always to sustain ourselves from this farm, but honestly we are now on version 5.1 of our plan,” he jokes. “It’s morphing.” They opened The Local Food Shop in Spring 2016 selling their own produce plus meat and honey produced by their neighbours.
“We crowd-sourced to raise funds to build our farm store,” says Joaquim. Using only the Marysburgh Mirror, the little local newsletter for the South Marysburgh community, they raised enough to build a farm shop and stock it. “We offer 10% interest on investment,” he says seriously. “So if you invest $500 you get $550 worth of produce in return.” With succulent pasture-raised pork and goat meat, local honey, market garden vegetables and top quality organic olive oil and almond products, it’s hard to pass up!
Joaquim works with two farmers in Portugal to import organic olive oil and unpasteurized almonds – a commodity that has disappeared from North America. “I travel there yearly at harvest. My partners have their own mill, we can completely control quality, and it is so very different to what is available in supermarkets,” he says. “It is like an elixir.”
His fame is growing with local businesses like Jackson Falls Inn, Soup Opera, The Wilfrid and other establishments who scooped up his product. In fact he is referred to locally as “the olive oil guy.”
What else do they produce? This year, with the shop construction, it has been just olive oil but last year they produced pesto sauce and dehydrated apples, and Joaquim makes gorgeous almond nut butter, too. Small scale farmers have to be creative to survive and selling finished products gives higher return on labour. “We are working hard to have a good selection of ready-to-buy products to sell. That will help us extend our season, because we don’t want to be just a tourist shop, busy for three months.”
The Local Food Shop will stock fresh produce, bulk dry foods, bread, pickled and fermented foods, smoked meats and fish. Local suppliers also provide them with preserves, hot sauces, heritage grains, seasonal vegetables, cheese and charcuterie and sausages. “We will cater equally to passing tourists who want to take home a taste of the County, and local people looking for a dozen organic eggs.”
Amor and Joaquim have a mixed livestock farm. “We have a market garden and have started an experimental goji berry patch. If it’s a success we will sell the berries raw and dehydrated,” says Amor. “We’ll can and dehydrate as much as possible, which will also extend the season.” They raise their animals and birds on pasture to produce high quality meat and limit their inputs. “Right now we buy propane and fuel for our vehicles, we buy hydro and some groceries, but we are working to reduce our inputs as much as we can.”
“With integrated farming everything works together and depends on each other. Our livestock give us manure for composting,” says Joaquim. “We make our own fertility.” They are researching biodynamic farming. “We want to go that way, but, boy, it is not so simple. There’s a lot to it and I don’t want to go hunting for deer to get a bladder,” he laughs, referring to one of the more esoteric components of biodynamics. In the meantime they are completely organic and plan to become certified.
“In the short time we have been here we have met many people, made friends and found partners. We get beautiful pasture-raised goat meat and pork from Bob Burkinshaw down on Morrison Point Road, and Andrew Burkinshaw’s honey. Ben Cowan up the road supplies the organic grain for our birds. We prize the relationships of working with our neighbours. We want to provide another outlet for local artisans and farmers. If we can create a bit more economic activity in this area, if we can extend the season, we can increase prosperity for us all.”
There are interesting developments in the south end of The County. There have always been sub-communities. Towns and tiny hamlets have strong identities and newcomers are part of new developments in agriculture and new businesses. “If we collaborate and share ideas it might make it easier for people to stay here or come here to work. Yes, to work. Not to retire. We have friends who want to come but they need to work year round, and they are afraid to take a chance. I hope that we and other people starting new things and developing businesses can create employment and jobs.
“PELA CFDC has helped us to purchase a label maker and also a grinder to make our almond nut butter. We make small batches and we don’t want to ship things away for labeling and packaging. We like to do those things ourselves.” Amor also appreciated PELA CFDC’s small business information sessions and Grace Nyman’s Winter Survival Workshop. “I have to do bookkeeping and record keeping, so that helped me a lot.”
Joaquim and Amor are battening down for winter now, but they celebrated the work and achievements of 2016 by throwing a Harvest Dinner featuring chef Norbert Kouri. “That is another angle for our multi-faceted business,” says Joaquim. “Food events. The ultimate value of the food is when it comes to the plate! If you can raise the food AND serve it, that can be very good. It may only be a small operation but it’s what we want to do. We have our ducks and our birds. Over 80% of the Harvest Dinner food was raised and grown by us. We asked people to bring cutlery and their beverages so we had zero waste.” They invited their investors, suppliers and neighbours. “We kept it limited so that everybody would leave satisfied. It was about community.”
What about the future? It’s early days. “We will be looking for helpers next year,” says Joaquim. “We need some Woofers! There is much to be done, our grey water system, more infrastructure, we want to capture rainwater, have gravity storage systems. A lot of work to be done, and really good learning opportunities for them and for us.”
And wider markets? “Toronto is a big market,” he agrees. “Of course it’s tempting to take your goods to the city, but it’s not what we want. That is a big job, it’s a long trek, and really a whole other level we are not ready for. We called our farm shop The Local Food Shop because that’s what we want to be, local. With local customers.”
For startups or businesses looking to expand or re-locate to The County, you can fill out this Business Inquiry Questionnaire, and the Community Development Department will respond in 48 hours.