A young female farmer is venturing out on her own this summer to offer fresh produce to the local community. Isabelle Rodé got into farming seven years ago after she graduated from Environmental Studies at Waterloo University. During her university career, she had the opportunity to participate in the co-op program, which allowed her to see what a career in the field would be like. “It was a really nice way to learn that I don’t want to work in an office,” she says. “That’s why, right when I finished university, I got a job at a farm and honestly thought it was going to be one year and then I would figure something else out; but here I am, all these years later, still doing it.”
Isabelle’s farming career has been varied, from her first job working on a farm on Howe Island, to a position in educational farming, and then out to B.C., where she managed a 15 -acre mixed-vegetable farm. “It was just a really incredible learning opportunity,” she says about her time in B.C. “I was able to really hone my skills and really envision myself having some kind of operation like that in the future.”
In B.C. the growing season is long, and there is already a lot of interest in growing and eating locally. Although Ontario is somewhat behind, Isabelle has seen momentum starting to grow for the local food movement in the province. “I really want to help create what we have over in B.C. over here in Ontario. So that is what kind of led me back over here to start my own thing.”
Having moved back east in April, 2020, she spent the summer working at a farm in Quebec. She was drawn to Ottawa for its diversity, and started looking for land for rent in the area. Isabelle was lucky to find a property in North Grenville where the owners were willing to rent out a six-acre chunk for small scale agriculture. “It’s pretty hard for a new farmer starting out these days to get access to land. It’s a huge problem for our generation of farmers actually, especially with the COVID market.”
Excited about her new venture, Isabelle moved to Kemptville in December and is starting to set the stage for her small-scale farming business, called Vintage Soil Farm. The piece of land she is renting is on County Road 20, and already has a little blue farm stand on the property. During the growing season, she is planning on using it as a location where people can purchase produce using an honour system, as well as a pick-up point for a small Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, where people can buy into the farm and get a weekly basket of fresh produce.
Isabelle’s business is unique, in that she will be using draft horses to work the fields. This type of farming wasn’t on her radar until she was introduced to it by a colleague in B.C. “That was kind of like a glass shattering moment for me, where I realized that there is a way that I could farm that was more in line with things that I was passionate about and had a different impact on the environment.” Although many farmers enjoy the time they spend on their tractors, Isabelle finds that using draft horses allows her to have a completely different connection to the land. She loves the partnership with the horses as she guides them through the fields, and being able to hear the birds chirping as she works. “It just makes you really in tune to everything that is going on, and I think it gives you a leg up. A lot of people think that it makes farming harder; but I think that we end up being the ones who get the advantage in the long run.”
Isabelle is proud to be one of the few single female farmers in the industry. “Most other farms that you see are either a husband and wife duo, or partners, or a male. It’s not very common that you just find a singular woman starting a business. Not to say that I don’t have a lot of help; but I am trying to be a face for a different way that we can grow food.”
With everything that is going on globally right now, Isabelle hopes be able to support the local community by providing them with a great option for fresh, healthy food. “I feel that, by farming and providing my community with good food, that is my way of having a positive impact on my local environment, which then has a greater impact overall.”
To find out more about Vintage Soil Farm and sign up for their CSA program visit www.vintagesoilfarm.com.