For the Harris family, living on the land is a way of life.
“Our perspective is that it’s an agricultural ecosystem,” says Beth Harris, shepherd at the Harris Family Farm.
“We’re part of it, and that means we can either be a detriment or part of its overall health. We do everything in harmony with the land.
“It sounds a little romantic, but you want to farm your land in a way that’s beneficial to the insects and other species to reduce your impact,” says Harris explaining why their farm operations are conscientious about the ground-nesting birds that find habitat on their land.
The farm harvests their forages each summer after the bobolink, meadowlark, wild turkey, green heron, and American bittern have fledged.
Restoration agriculture is something that Harris and her family have been practising. The goal is to regenerate healthy topsoil while increasing biodiversity and climate change resilience through conscientious land management.
According to Harris, a lot of farms have these kinds of sustainable practices. The farmers simply either don’t discuss it, or are not sure how to let the public know.
“Working with your land makes your farm healthier. It makes the land healthier, and it makes everything easier,” says Harris.
That’s partly why the Harris family chose Katahdin sheep. Sheep handle the sandy and rocky soil at their farm on Brunelle Side Road in Midland. They graze, and do well on forage.
A U.K. study found that 80 percent of greenhouse gases produced in farming grain-fed lamb came from the energy it takes to produce feed.
The food industry is responsible for 26 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and much of that figure is a result of the resources and energy required to feed livestock.
With a changing climate and the difficulties presented by the coronavirus pandemic, it’s been a challenging couple of years for food producers.
Change is not a foreign concept for farmers, because the climate’s “always changing — every season and every year,” says Harris.
However, those fluctuations in rainfall and dry spells create a chain reaction that can impact a farmer’s ability to feed their livestock. That is to say nothing of the potential impact that a coronavirus could have on livestock.
This year, in particular, the farm reduced its flock of ewes from about a hundred to approximately sixty due to the changing climate. Conditions were not quite right to produce the amount of hay required to keep their flock well-fed.
That meant that some mature ewes were sold to other farms. Despite that slight reduction in the flock, Harris expects about 120 lambs next spring.
Producing food that’s farm to table is central to the work of the Harris family.
The average meal travels 1,200 kilometres from the farm to plate, according to the David Suzuki Foundation.
“Buying locally produced food is one of the best ways you can reduce your impact on the environment,” says Harris.
Another way the farm works to reduce its environmental footprint is by having animals that help out around the farm. The chickens and Muscovy ducks on the farm are free-range and help with pest control in the garden and in the barn.
“Chickens eat the cut worms in the garden, and the Muscovy ducks eat an enormous amount of flies.”
Everything on the farm and how it affects the soil, the animals, and the crops in the garden is carefully considered.
For Harris, local production is key to sustainability.
“If you’re an educated consumer, you know where your food is coming from,” says Harris. “Look for food that’s grown responsibly. Know what you’re eating and do the research.
“Look to local farms first. Especially now, because the last couple of years has presented a lot of change for everyone.”
Farm-fresh eggs are available on the farm, and Muscovy duck eggs provide an alternative for people with sensitivities to chicken eggs. The Harris Family Farm sells whole and half lambs, and breeding ewes and rams. They also offer up the garden legumes and vegetables.If you’re interested in learning more, and supporting a local farming family, click here, and make an appointment to visit the farm on their contact page.