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The Beginning of Small Farms Manitoba

- by Kalynn Spain

Back in the spring of 2013, Kalynn Spain decided to take a road trip across Manitoba with a small grant, a used car and connections with about 12 farmers who offered to host her in different parts of the province. Her goal? To develop as many more connections with farms as she could feasible create in the span of one summer. The result? The beginning of Small Farms Manitoba.

An except of Kalynn's first letter to farmers reads:

My plan for this summer is to embark on working tour of sustainable farms in Manitoba from May to October, exploring new and familiar farms with the following intentions:

  • Acquire through hands-on experience different methods of growing, raising and caring for vegetables, livestock, grains, bees and berries (with the ultimate goal of identifying more clearly for myself what type of farming I would like to pursue)
  • Meet new people and further develop my relationships in the small farm community
  • Learn about the types of local food markets that exist and are still being developed
  • Discern what terms like ‘sustainable’, ‘trust organic’ and ‘organically-grown’ mean to farmers who use them in their marketing strategies (and to those who do not!)
  • Gain feedback on the potential of creating an online database and network of sustainable farmers in Manitoba and discuss what this could look like

As an aspiring farmer, Kalynn was hoping to gain not only stories and photos from each of the farms for the website, but also experience working on these farms and learning about them in a hands-on way. While she didn't have a ton of time to dive deeper into projects, Kalynn learned a bit about how a wide variety of direct-marketing farms work, from fruit U-picks to grass-fed beef operations to organic grain processors to CSAs to apiarists - a little bit of everything that Manitoba has to offer!

Above: Locations in Manitoba visited by Kalynn in 2013

What she learned during this trip was that "small farms" have varying definitions for words like "sustainable" and "small" but that they all shared one thing in common: the desire to build relationships with eaters and with each other. The theme of relationships has emerged over the last two years as the community within SFM has grown to continue to help define what unites all of the farms.

"Direct-marketing" is a fancy word for "building relationships" - small farms are all working to develop deeper connections with their customers, through educational conversations, narrative packaging, environmentally-aware and often alternative farming practices, to name a few ways. Overall, these farms remain transparent about the production and management practices of their farms, and even encourage their customers to dig in, ask questions and get to know the who, what and how behind their food.

Below: Kalynn inside a combine on an organic farm near Treherne

The connections that Kalynn made on this road trip have lived on and still contribute to what is now Small Farms Manitoba (SFM), a directory of these farms and many more. Since 2013, over 50 farm and food businesses have joined SFM as members and we are all lucky to bear witness to them continuing to shape and grow the local food economy in Manitoba. We have learned about many new and unique farm products and hope to continue to learn about many more in years to come!