Determination and values keep new farmers on their path

Townships’ Farmers – By Scott Stevenson

Meagan Patch 10 years after starting business on her family’s old farm

Local Journalism Initiative

Against the advice of their elders, a new generation of Townships’ farmers is adopting their vocation specifically to help protect our land, animals, and food. Brome Village’s Meagan Patch, 39, represents them well.

In her five-generation farm family, she was not encouraged to study Agriculture or to become a farmer. She studied Education and became a teacher instead.
“I’ve always loved children, but I really wanted to farm,” she said during an interview in her home office last week, as a storm stirring outside began burying the farm’s old machinery deeper in snow.

When her father died in 2012, Patch took over the cow-calf herd, downsized, and added meat chickens, laying hens, and pigs. She was taking the farm in a new direction—“trying to build up the business using regenerative practices.

“I’ve always been more of an environmentalist,” she said. “I knew that farming had to change.”

That meant getting her animals out of barns and stalls and onto the land to help build and regenerate soil and to play their natural part in an ecosystem that in turn provides healthy food for farmers, their communities, and beyond.

Patch self-financed her endeavour until recently, making it a long, slow road to the farm as it is today, 10 years later, and still not enough to provide Patch with a living.

She has 40 head of Simmental and Black Angus cattle, close to 100 laying hens in summer, a new artisanal quota for 2,000 meat chickens, and 30 pigs last year—all raised on 70 acres of productive grassland on a farm of nearly 300 acres. She also grazes neighbours’ fields, helping maintain their land while supporting her livestock.

A walk-in freezer stands just outside Patch’s onsite farm store, which is next to the home office. Beyond the freezer is her “eggmobile,” a laying hen coop on wheels that rotates around the pasture when the snow clears.

Across the driveway, next to the disappearing farm machinery, is a large old Townships’ barn that’s giving way to the toll of time and change in farming.
Across the street, in the heart of Brome Village, is her winter chicken barn, her yearling cattle out in the snow, and her beloved horse Lightning Jack. Her mother Audrey Boutin and partner Bruce Giddings also live across the street, helping with bookkeeping and other farm jobs.

Patch describes her small, mixed farm selling directly to customers as a “near impossible feat” that requires creative thinking and outside-the-box solutions.

Perhaps her elders might have warned of that, at least—but they lacked the mentors now on the side of Patch’s generation: the Salatins and Maloneys in rotational grazing, the Colemans and Fortiers in market gardening, the Kimballs in mixed, low-tech farming.

On Patch’s road to achieving a “half-decent lifestyle,” she’s doing plenty of creative thinking. During our interview, she frequently turned to the enlarged satellite photo of her farm on the office wall, pointing to the woodland, marsh, and other features and musing about what she could do with them.
In 2017, she helped found the Terroir Solidaire cooperative in Brome-Missisquoi, offering services to farmers, consumers, and restaurants. “One of the most valuable offshoots is the peer support,” she said, lamenting the mental and physical challenges of a self-employed farmer’s work, including social isolation.

But, 10 years along her new career path, Patch’s list of reasons for wanting to farm is considerably longer than her list of the challenges: “I watched farms go fallow and the knowledge lost… The last thing we need is more corporations making decisions for us… I really wanted to run a successful business… Also, because I care so much for the environment. I just knew it’s possible to farm in a way that’s healthy for the environment.”

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