EVE-LYNN SWAN The Standard
There are many clichés describing the joy of returning home because it is a universal theme used in storytelling.
If home was a great place when you left, it’s even better to come back. Phil and Kate Collins are very happy to be back at Foggy River Farm.
Kate, who grew up in Toronto, explained “I went to university for business administration and was working downtown Toronto at a brand strategy agency, when I quickly realized it didn’t fit my personal value system. I wanted to be doing work that I felt really good about, but I didn’t know what that looked like, so in 2012 I quit my job and went to work at Everdale Organic Farm in Erin, Ontario.”
The drastic change of scene reminded Kate of how it felt to be on a farm. “Several months after that experience, we bought this place. It was a giant leap of faith.”
After earning a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture, from the University of Guelph, and becoming a fully licensed member of the Ontario Association of Landscape Architects, Phil co-founded Fresh City Farms, in Toronto, which is Canada's largest urban commercial farm. He uses landscape architecture as a tool to create healthy, food producing ecosystems on his farm, and on client properties. As an educator, Phil taught in the Food & Farming program at Durham College and speaks to community groups in an effort to help people grow their own food.
Championing the province’s Green Belt Plan, as a way to preserve agricultural land, feels bittersweet to the new father, as he recalls how his parents were unable to sever a retirement lot and sell the original Foggy River Farm to their son and daughter-in-law. March, 2013 found the couple driving the concession roads of Brock Township, looking for land they could afford, within an hour’s drive of Toronto, home to Kate’s parents. “Kate saw this place,” recalls Phil. “The 12 acres were snow covered, but the south-facing slopes and three ponds connected by creeks were key for me. It was a permaculture dream with a resilient backbone of a system.” Home again.
With land of their own, the Collinses started farming, permaculture-style, embracing the philosophy’s basic principles of working with nature, rather than against it; using thoughtful observation rather than thoughtless labour; asking each element to perform many functions and remembering everything is connected to everything else.
Cash flow being an issue for the new farm, they also grew and sold annual vegetables, and held odd-farm jobs at the same time. Stress from the new business mounted, and soon Kate experienced some health issues, eventually resolved through the use of herbs. This inspired the next stage of the farm. Kate explained “For both of us that really sparked a bigger interest in plant medicine. Realizing that so many of these plants with amazing medicinal properties [were] either just growing on this property by themselves or could be great additions to the permaculture landscape made us shift from vegetables to herbs. We both feel passionate about connecting people to these beneficial plants that can grow in the Ontario climate, and over the past two seasons we’ve made some investments to become a full-fledged medicinal herb farm.”
Foggy River Farm’s herbs are made into tea blends and body care products, both of which are sold at the Uxbridge Farmers’ Market, at retailer Savon du Bois in Uxbridge, and EcoPort in Port Perry. Noting, packaging for the teas is “backyard compostable,” Kate said “There was a lot of irony for us, trying to be sustainable, and then selling tea in packaging was opposite of that. We found a wood-fibre based bag that biodegrades upon contact with soil.”
Beautiful red hibiscus blooms grown in 2018 were sold to The Second Wedge Brewery as a thickening and colouring ingredient, in a beer made without hops, called gruit. Aptly named “Foggy Water,” the first batch sold out on International Gruit Day in early February, but more will be made. Durham Distillery, Pickering, will make gin using 8 plant varieties grown by Foggy River Farm this year, too.
Both Kate and Phil enjoy interacting with customers at farmers’ markets, but their daughter’s arrival has prompted them to launch a Kickstarter campaign this spring, to help create an on-farm marketplace and educational workshop space, so they can move production out of their house. They will utilize a 24 ft by 24 ft outbuilding on their property which will become The Herbarium--an off-grid, multi-functional space.
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