Sustainability, stewardship at heart of fifth generation family farm

The Tyler farm family includes (from left) Sam, Jean, Joanie and Godfrey Tyler

(Haliburton Highlands) – If you take care of the land, the land will take care of you. That’s the philosophy of Godfrey and Jean Tyler who farm their family’s fifth generation century farm in the rocky Haliburton Highlands.

With no off-farm income, the Tylers use all four seasons to grow and sustain their small farming business.

“Our goal is to live simply and beautifully off the land and we are always looking for new ways we can create a livelihood for ourselves and our children,” says Godfrey. “For us, part of the equation is not to be in the commodity business; all of our markets are niche.”

The Tylers use bio-dynamic agricultural methods, which is a system of organic farming that seeks to create a diversified, balanced farm ecosystem.

The diversification of their 270 acre farm is core to their income and their farming activities are varied and spread throughout the year. This includes firewood from their sustainable wood lot first nurtured by Godfrey’s Great Grandpa Sam in the 1920s, maple syrup, lambs, beef cattle and a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) food box that includes 70 different crops and herbs.

“We just have a small flock of sheep and a small herd of cattle and we actually started raising livestock to have compost for our gardens,” explains Jean.

“In our community, many people think we’re a big league farm, but we’re a minnow in the ocean compared to the rest of agriculture. The priority to us is good stewardship of the land as we learn to make a small footprint on that land.”

“It’s a bit like fair trade coffee. You know the farmer and the processor are being paid fairly and getting a fair return on their capital,” adds Godfrey. “That’s the market place we’re seeking. What we do is a way of life and this is the core of our philosophy. We live from the choices we make with what we call “economics of the land”.”

Those choices have included taking a year sabbatical from farming in 2008 to spend some time travelling extensively around North America, and over the years, hosting international interns on their farm. The interns came from Africa, Japan, Australia, India, New Zealand and most European countries to stay for two to nine months to learn about a specific growing season or crop.

Now that the Tylers’ two children are teenagers, they’re reconnecting with some of these former interns to set up travel experiences for their own kids. “Both Godfrey and I travelled the world ourselves and now we’ll be closing that loop by having our children stay with interns we hosted on our farm when the kids were younger,” says Jean.

The Tylers are active in local community groups, including Taste of Haliburton where they’re part of day-long tour packages. Jean is also working on a prototype project to host school tours and “Art of Farming” events for all ages. This year marks the family’s 100th anniversary on the farm, a milestone of which they’re justifiably proud.

As they ponder the farm’s next century, they’re also looking at how their children might earn a livelihood on and from the land. “As farmers we work on a year to year horizon with crops and two to three year cycles with livestock. As loggers, we’re making decisions for the next 80 to 100 years. If you’re serious about environmental sustainability and soil health, you need to work on those long timelines,” concludes Godfrey.

“Stewardship of water, air, earth and its resources are vital to what we are about at Waverley Brook Farm. We love what we do and we’re passionate about agriculture.”

For more information, including purchasing products from the farm, visit http://www.waverleybrookfarm.ca/.

Note: This article is one in a series of profiles on Ontario farmers produced by Farm & Food Care Ontario and originally posted on www.caringfortheland.com

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