St. Phocas Community Farm
What began as a small organic garden has become a working farm, and is now a center-piece of the Refuge. Our St. Phocas Community Farm offers produce for those attending our programs, for donation to those in need in the local community, and for sale where possible as a means of raising funds. We have vegetables galore, lambs, chickens providing fresh eggs, a prairie garden, fruit trees, and a native-species nursery.
For more than ten years, St. Mary of Egypt Refuge has worked to develop a part of our acreage into a sustainable, fruitful organic farm. This farm is worked with and for those in our community, rural and urban, who most need access to good, healthy food. We partner with drop-ins in Toronto and Ottawa to bring fresh food to the city, and to bring those desperately in need of fresh air and healthy food to the country for nourishment and education. We work with children, families, newcomers, and those who find themselves isolated and alone whether in the city or in the country.
Working closely with the earth and listening to its wisdom, our head farmer Don Julio meets modern scientific farming methods with traditional South American expertise, to transform a pre-Cambrian sandy-bottom lake into a fertile, lush farm. This small farm with greenhouse is well-established and produces superior vegetables, with crops for summer and winter use, irrigated from the Refuge’s pond.
Since 2012, we’ve sold food from our property at discount prices, and marketed through urban partners. During the pandemic in a hard-hit rural area, we’ve provided fresh-food boxes, for those who can’t afford the price of good food, or lack capacity to work with produce to create healthy meals. At present we’ve some 65 families in our database, all of whom we have spoken with in person, and heard their needs. We’ve made connections with local service organizations, to work with the existing local wisdom and better understand these needs. In this area of Hastings County, with its mix of long-term residents and ever-growing number of new arrivals from other counties and other countries, there’s no substitute for the careful work of building relationships and trust. This we’ve been doing here since 2004.
The Community Farm is a core element of the Refuge’s mission of reaching out to the marginalized and isolated. Going out to meet them (ourselves, or through partners), bringing them to this magnificent spot in rural southeastern Ontario, we educate and are educated. Working together with those we meet, we cultivate food from start to finish: tilling, planting, nurturing, culling, harvesting, preparing, preserving. And eating, and then starting again.
As a grassroots organization, we work to our own capacity, meeting people in small numbers but in depth, and developing long-term relations. Our network of dedicated volunteers brings their understanding and wisdom to food-growing, food-preparation and food-preservation. As one of our skilled volunteers remarked recently, while teaching children how to pickle and preserve: “I realize how much my grandmother taught me, and how important her knowledge was.”
Finally St. Mary of Egypt Refuge through its St. Phocas Community Farm is a ‘Good Food Organization’ associated with Community Food Centres Canada.