ICE LAKE – Manitoulin Island is set to welcome Three Forks Farms, a thriving Northern Ontario organic food-producing enterprise that will add capacity to the Island’s local food supplies and also boost home and community gardening efforts through its sales of regionally adapted seeds for a variety of plants.
“We’re really excited to be on the Island and really grateful that there’s been such positive reception on us coming. We’re hoping we can contribute to the community in a meaningful way and hope to help feed people on Manitoulin Island,” said Peggy Baillie, who owns and operates Three Forks Farms alongside husband Eric Blondin.
Three Forks Farms is a certified organic producer of a variety of fruits, vegetables, seeds and poultry that has been operating in Warren since 2015. The couple have each been working in the food sector and as farmers long before they began Three Forks.
The name is a reflection of the purpose and presence of their business. The first fork is a dinner fork, representing their production of food for human consumption. The second fork represents a pitchfork, signifying their use of traditional organic methods. The third fork refers to the geography in which they grow, such as the forks of rivers and streams that surround their farm.
Mr. Blondin has family connections to Manitoulin and moving to the Island has long been part of the couple’s long-term goals. At the end of last year they decided to expand their business, and instead of growing in Warren they vowed to start fresh to the southwest.
They found a hobby farm in the Ice Lake area and assumed the property in May. Although Ms. Baillie said moving a farm is a massive undertaking, she said they were excited to be making it to Manitoulin.
In addition to vegetables, the farm specializes in regionally adapted seed varieties—specific strains of vegetables, fruits and flowers that are adapted to the climate of Northern Ontario and will generally thrive better than a generic seed variety. Three Forks produces more than 50 kinds of seeds and 20 vegetable varieties.
Their seed offerings in particular drew the attention of Tehkummah Seed Exchange organizer Anastasia Eranosova, who agreed to let them come and discuss their products and techniques at this year’s exchange held in February. Ms. Baillie said she was enthralled by the positive growing community on the Island.
Ms. Eranosova told The Expositor that having an organic seed producer on Manitoulin would be a great benefit for all Islanders.
“Growing regionally adapted seeds will allow people to grow vegetables more easily because those varieties work better here than others that might not have succeed. Many people will find growing vegetables is not so hard when they use these varieties,” said Ms. Eranosova.
Three Forks also has an artisanal chicken producing licence that allows small farms to produce up to 3,000 chickens per year, though Ms. Baillie said her output is likely to be a third of that as they get settled into Manitoulin. Their chickens are pasture-raised and Three Forks has been raising them for four years.
Manitoulin Island provided a much better location compared to Warren for the farm’s seed production especially. Comparatively, the Island gets much less humidity and precipitation in August (a key month for seed development) and the growing season is longer.
For seed production, flora has to be planted in isolation from other varieties to prevent cross-pollination and preserve genetic diversity. It also has to remain in the ground much later until the seeds reach their peak.
Part of the business expansion that was well-suited to Manitoulin was their shift to more year-round production. Three Forks will be building a 3,600-square-foot (335-square-metre) greenhouse on site for cold-hardy greens in the winter and heat-loving plants in the summer.
“That will help us provide more stable employment year-round. The seasonality of growing can be really hard on staff,” said Ms. Baillie. She said they would be hiring three farm positions for this season, possibly more depending on the applications they receive and the availability of the workers.
Three Forks has begun talks with The Island Jar in Little Current, which is excited to host their produce. Its offerings will also continue to be available at the Thursday farmers’ market in Sudbury and are expected to be featured in Island farmers’ markets as well as possibly other grocery stores.
The couple runs sales from their farm directly, including through an online store on their website. They launched a membership program this year which allows them to build a deeper connection with area residents who are passionate about where their food comes from.
By purchasing a pre-paid card and sharing an email address, customers get early notifications when certain products are going to be ready to harvest, member pricing and exclusive offers. Their membership fee takes the form of a pre-paid card that can be used for purchases throughout the season.
“This program allows people to get food when they need it, rather than having to be in a certain place and a certain time to get it,” said Ms. Baillie.
At her seed exchange events, Ms. Eranosova has noted a substantial interest in community-supported agriculture (when consumers join programs similar to the membership model to receive regular fresh food and more directly support agricultural operations) on Manitoulin Island.
“I’m really happy that they found their farm and are settling in. I’m sure people will show great support and great interest,” added Ms. Eranosova.
Local Food Manitoulin project manager Kristin Bickell said she was excited to have Three Forks Farms on Manitoulin Island.
“(Ms. Baillie’s) enthusiasm for fresh, locally grown foods was contagious. There was a buzz at that seed swap with people talking about how excited they were that Three Forks Farms was moving to Manitoulin,” said Ms. Bickell.
“It’s pretty meaningful to have young, enthusiastic growers coming to Manitoulin and planning to be a part of our farmers’ markets and local food events,” Ms. Bickell added. “It’s just another opportunity for people to access fresh, organically grown food on Manitoulin.”
For more information about Three Forks Farms’ offerings, visit its website at ThreeForksFarms.com. Ms. Bickell is working with the farm to share details of what it will bring to Manitoulin; those details will be shared at LocalFoodManitoulin.com.