Pleasant Hill is one of the many farms planning to welcome guests on Open Farm Day Sept. 16. About a five-minute drive from Lunenburg County, Pleasant Hill Farm is at 5104 Highway 208.
This will be Blanchard and Rubinfine’s third year participating in the annual event.
“We market all of the produce that we raise direct to customers at two farmer’s markets, and a lot of times the customers express an interest in how we do things and why we do things the way we do,” says Blanchard.
Making a living from farming takes a lot of hours, he says.
“So we don’t have lots of time to give individual tours of the farm to people,” he adds.
Open Farm Day seemed like a good opportunity to invite those interested for a tour, Blanchard says.
People have come from as far as Halifax because they wanted to see an organic farm. According to Blanchard, there are just a couple of other organic farms that participate in the event.
Having a certified organic farm means Blanchard and Rubinfine’s practices are “verified by a third-party certifier.”
“Canada has a national organic standard, so it’s basically a set of rules that defines what inputs you can use and sorts of practices you can use and be an organic farm,” says Blanchard.
The third-party certifier makes sure Pleasant Hill Farm is adhering to the Canadian national organic standard.
During Open Farm Day, Blanchard and Rubinfine will give walking tours of the farm. Blanchard and his wife will explain to guests about some of the practices they use.
“It’s very much a free discussion. It’s an educational experience,” he says.
Blanchard and Rubinfine have been in the farming business since 1980.
“Neither of us comes from a farm family, although my grandfather had a dairy farm,” says Blanchard.
The owners of Pleasant Hill farm are originally from the United States and immigrated to Nova Scotia in 2007, which is when they bought their farm.
They’ve been interested in organic farming since the 1970s, and during that time the couple worked for other farmers learning the business.
In 1980 Blanchard and Rubinfine “took the plunge” and went into business.
“Although Queens County isn’t considered an agricultural county, really, we do have some really good agricultural soil up on top of the drumlins,” says Blanchard.
“Most drumlins aren’t very big; they’re just a few acres. So there’s never going to be really large-scale farming.”
Blanchard says it’s a great place to do small-scale, high-value farming, and that’s how Pleasant Hill Farm operates.
He says the two farmer’s markets he and his wife go to are thriving and seem to grow each year.
The connection to Nova Scotia was Blanchard’s ancestors who were Nova Scotian Acadians but were deported to Massachusetts in 1755.
“But there was always sort of a connection back to Nova Scotia,” he says.
Farming as work
It takes a lot of hours. Blanchard reemphasizes this when asked what being a farmer takes.
“Farming is not a particularly profitable enterprise compared to some of the other things that you could do.”
Many farmers make up for this, he says, by working long hours. At this time of year, that could mean 80 hours a week.
Though things slow down a little in the winter, Blanchard and Rubinfine, who have six greenhouses, farm all year.
“In the wintertime, we’re producing salad greens in those greenhouses,” says Blanchard.
Also working at Pleasant Hill are two employees interested in farming.
“We hire employees, we pay them, and we teach them as much as they want to learn, so it’s kind of like an apprenticeship program in that sense,” says Blanchard.
Day at Pleasant Hill
Some livestock on the farm is mostly for the family’s personal consumption. But there is a small commercial stock of laying hens, so Blanchard and Rubinfine do sell some eggs at the farmer’s markets.
After waking at about 6:30 a.m., the livestock gets tended to. After, over breakfast, Blanchard, Rubinfine and their employees discuss the day’s work. By about 8 a.m. the crew is out working.
On Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays the focus is on planting and growing in preparation for harvesting.
“Two days a week are harvesting,” says Blanchard.
They spend all day Wednesday harvesting for a Thursday farmer’s market, and all day Friday harvesting and preparing the produce for a Saturday market.
“Right now we have about 25 different kinds of produce that we’re taking to market – everything from baby-leaf Arugula to tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, beans,” Blanchard says.
Harvesting involves picking all those vegetables, and washing and packing them.
Farming in Queens
“Employment is obviously a huge issue in Queens County right now, and I do think that there is some economic opportunity for more small-scale, high-value farms like what we’re doing,” says Blanchard.
Blanchard and Rubinfine have a total of about two acres of vegetables. He says the crops are being used intensively but selling about $100,000 worth of produce off it.
This makes it a very different kind of farming to growing corn or soybeans, where there are 2,000 or 3,000 acres.
The winter farmer’s market in Lunenburg begins at 8:30 a.m., and Blachard says by 9:30 a.m. he and Rubinfine are often sold out of everything they brought.
“So there’s definitely room for more of that kind of thing,” he says.
He adds while money is much less than someone might make working at the mill, job security is excellent.
“During the depths of the recession in 2008-2009, our business continued to grow in sales right on through that,” Blanchard says.
And he names other advantages, such as working outside and being self-employed.
“It’s certainly not for everybody, but we’ve been doing it since 1980 and, although we haven’t got rich at it, we make a living, and we enjoy what we do, and we feel like we’re doing something worthwhile with our lives, which is really important to us.”