Patricia Bishop and Josh Oulton are the partnership behind Taproot Farms, located in the heartland of the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia. The dynamic duo, who both “learned to farm, talk and walk simultaneously” share deep roots in agriculture. Where Patricia can trace her lineage back to the original New England planters who settled the region in the mid-1700s, Josh’s ancestors introduced the Charolais breed of beef cow to Nova Scotia from France in the 1900s. Indeed, the virtues of the farming lifestyle will be passed on in this family. In addition to being full-time farmers, Patricia and Josh are parents to three children who are all involved in their family farm lifestyle.
Making the decision to end a teaching career in B.C., Patricia moved back east in 2004 with Josh and their first-born, Izaak. Distracted by dreams of establishing a farm school, Patricia veered away from her involvement in a traditional teaching setting. She envisioned a school where winters would be off and the spring and summer months would be filled with rich streams of diverse curriculum, centred on a farming environment.
Shortly after their return to the Maritimes, the family purchased a 144-acre non-organic vegetable farm in Canard, Nova Scotia. Although Patricia and Josh were committed to farming, the wholesale market for conventional vegetables was not reaping enough benefits, and the couple saw an increased need for a local organic food supply, tied in with the need to make it accessible to a wider population.
In November 2007, as the family bought 23 acres of certified organic land in Port Williams, Patricia drafted a business plan and Taproot Farms was born. While the initial year featured some wholesale distribution and a farm stand based at the end of their driveway, it didn’t take long for production to get underway and dreams to grow!
Currently, Taproot Farms is successfully maintaining a CSA in Nova Scotia. With 400 members throughout Halifax, Dartmouth, and in Kings and Hants counties, Taproot is committed to providing bountiful, quality food throughout its 52 weeks of service. With their soon-to-be-certified commercial kitchen, preservation has taken an important role on the farm to continue a supply of Taproot-grown foods during the colder months when fresh produce is less abundant. Some of the delicious items featured in the initial and final weeks of delivery include frozen pesto, canned salsa, pickles, jam and fresh sprouts – made year-round. Greenhouse production ensures that members will receive fresh greens early on in the season, while the field production offers strawberries and raspberries shortly thereafter.
During the warmer seasons, between the farm stand and CSA, Taproot features a long, extensive list of fresh, nutritious produce, ranging from asparagus, okra, hot peppers and various greens to 15-20 types of tomatoes – which Patricia chooses mainly for heirloom varieties. Transparency is vital to Patricia. While the produce grown on Taproot Farms is certified organic, with interest in offering a diversified selection of local produce, some of the items included in the CSA box may be sourced from farms that are not. In each weekly newsletter filled with recipes and farm news, Patricia clearly indicates the range of farming practices connected to each food item. Taproot Farms’ commitment to integrity and consumer responsibility, so often unseen in the industrial food system, sets a precedent for the ideal form of food access and is greatly valued by their supportive community.
Community involvement is a primary consideration for Taproot Farms, and one that is achieved through several means. Beyond the four-to-nine-person farm crew that works on site, Patricia and Josh invite CSA members to come and participate in farm labour in exchange for discounted shares. Taproot also offers bean-picking jobs for young folks in the community, recognizing the importance of engaging young people with agriculture.
“We would very much like to increase the amount of nutritious food that families living in low income situations in our community have access to,” states Patricia. Besides regular deliveries to the local food bank, Taproot Farms offers a donation option for those interested in supporting and/or subsidizing a CSA share for families with a more compromised income.
Prizing self-sufficiency whenever possible, some soil amendments are made on-site, with Taproot’s manure source conveniently found in the neighbouring sheep and beef farm. Recently, Patricia and Josh have acquired two Berkshire pigs with the intention of breeding a small herd for pig-ploughing the fields.
Another nourishing feature of this highly productive farm is the Swallows Nest Agriturismo/Farm Stay, a rental option for those in need of a rural getaway with an agricultural connection. A large, private house including a sauna, fireplace and two-person Jacuzzi, this soothing environment comes with a daily allotment of fresh farm produce, fresh eggs, and baked bread.
After three years of business, Taproot Farms has much to celebrate. In 2010, Patricia was the recipient of the Spirit N.S. Local Food Award. She was also recognized as a member of the Distinguished Young Alumni of the NSAC. Additionally, Patricia and Josh have been recognized as Outstanding Young Farmers of 2010, one of seven partnerships awarded in Canada.
With plans for an eight-year crop rotation and a continuously expanding acreage of certified organic land, Taproot Farms is well underway with a promising future.
“Taproot Farms’ commitment to the local food movement only begins by providing fresh, delicious food to your homes. The responsibility extends to being active in the community and welcoming you and your family to experience farming first hand.”
Patricia Bishop – Taproot Farms