By Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
Tom Trick’s approach to farming is to try and run an environmentally beneficial mixed farm in a landscape of intensive agriculture and urban influx.
Mixed farms are rare these days and Trick’s passion for his endeavour was evident in a talk on The Perspectives on the Future of Agriculture hosted by the Water Protection Steering Committee in November. Curious about the farm and Trick’s goal to “inspire a bit of thought” I visited the farm shortly afterwards to see how the Trick farm operates. I discovered a farm that was once a gravel pit, and is now being regenerated with beef cow manure, forestry and farming practices that honour the soil and provide Trick with a variety of tasks that suit his approach to life.
“I try to fit the operation to the land, rather than fit the land to the operation,” says Trick as we wind down a long lane that takes us from his house near Bayfield Road between Clinton and Bayfield, past the chicken tractors (moveable pens), to a pond and creek that powers the generator, which powers his parents’ house back behind the woods. In between there was beef pasture, acreage for edible beans, beehives, newly planted trees and a beef barn. There’s a sawmill on this property too which was once a profitable business for a pioneer of old, as was the grist mill that once ground grains by harnessing the water’s energy. It’s a gorgeous farm and Trick said he loved growing up here.
As a child, he lived in both houses. His parents, Bill and Thea, liked the off-grid home down the winding lane but it's far from the road so when Tom and his siblings went to school, the family moved into the house by the road. Tom, his wife Cherilyn and three children live there still while Bill and Thea, now well into their senior years, moved back to the off-grid home. They still like to help and Thea is always busy planting trees.
As a child, Trick loved to have friends over. “If I went to visit a friend in town, we’d often play crappy video games but there was such a variety of things to do on the farm.”
That “variety” is something Trick still loves and craves. He’s not one for “bowling alley” fields and he finds field work tedious, though he loves to work. “I don’t mind having a lot on my to-do list. The thing that frustrates me is that the end of the day comes too soon,” he says.
There is a lot to do between all the farm’s income streams. Because he’s committed to clean water and ecological ideals, he wants the land to dictate how this 100-acre property should be farmed. Since the soil is gravelly and sandy, it's not a place for cash crops. Acreage that was cleared and worked in the past has since been reforested to keep the soil that was there from blowing away. There are quite a few pastures for beef cattle to graze on, allowing Trick to sell grass-fed beef at both farmer’s markets and the farm gate.The beef herd started primarily as Dexter cattle. Then Trick bred in some Lowline Angus, added a bit of Wagyu (which was not successful for his operation) and is now breeding Galloway genetics. The 40 cows and calves are stout and provide nicely marbled meat.
“Ruminants are a critical choice. They are best for the property in terms of soil, water and labour,” he says. Plus, cattle are such a wonderful species. “They are very hardy and their diet means there is no need to grow high-input annual crops with impacts that are not positive. They allow the farm to be in perennial pasture for years on end and enable long rotations for cropping that make organic farming realistic. These pastures have lower capital costs, low diesel consumption and are beneficial to wildlife, soil, water and air. The pasture double duties as an environmental habitat.”
Trick also sells eggs, pastured broilers and honey and cash crops a small amount of edible beans, which is quite profitable but since he only grows 7-10 acres at a time, it’s not enough to sustain the farm. It is the bush that makes the most money on the farm as Trick fulfills custom sawmill orders.
It’s all the parts working together, plus a business in town and Cherilyn’s teaching income that give the family a good living and allow Trick to live his vision for Trick’s Creek Acres. His parents also had professional careers and did not depend on the farm for their income. Trick recognizes the farm, due to its size, and broken up by a creek, pond, bush and winding laneway is not conducive to aggressive farming. Instead, it has a romantic appeal and his next venture will be building and renting cabins for urban dwellers to experience life in the country, if only for a weekend at a time.
His thoughts meander like the laneway, dwelling on many ideals such as respect for land and neighbours. “When I think of buzzwords to describe what we do, I use the word respectful. I like to be respectful to myself, my family, my neighbours, the community and the land. As soon as you put business ideas through the filter of being done respectfully, it knocks a lot of potential ventures out of the contention.”
He likes to ponder the question, “Is more better?” Trick wonders about farms that keep putting up barns and adding acreage. How will families be able to transition these operations, worth millions of dollars, to their kids? Will the next generation ever be able to afford it? Does it really improve the farmer’s way of life?
“My personal view is that farm aggregation has led to undesirable outcomes. I think enabling severances of smaller acreages would be a big benefit for rural residents and small producers,” says Trick. He despairs when a farmer buys the neighbour’s farm and immediately rips out the fence lines and windbreaks to make one big field. “It’s not for me to say what they can and cannot do but I think it is not proactive.”
Overuse of drainage and its effect on rivers and streams is a concern, as is the effect of agriculture intensification on water quality. “We’ve got two creeks and the farm is on the Bayfield River so water quality is a high priority for us. We like the idea of having a lot of the farm in grass. When I spread manure, it's a great way to make sure the manure stays put.”
Trick says he uses sustainability as a guideline when making decisions. “When you are using a finite resource, you kid yourself to think you are sustainable. My goal is to reduce the use of finite resources as much a possible.” As such, they generate electricity for one of the houses with water power, heat their houses with wood (while replanting trees) and use the manure from cattle to fertilize their soils.
Trick welcomes visitors to the farm, which is why he enjoys farm gate sales. “There is significant value to actually meeting a customer in terms of legitimacy, real time for questions and trust building.”
Having a been a visitor myself during a month of awful weather, where mud is a fixture on all farms, I’m keen to return in the spring, where, as Trick says, it's a place “That puts a smile on someone’s face with the trees all green, the birds chirping, the cattle happily grazing in the field.”
You can read more about the Trick operation in the Perspectives on the Future of Agriculture story in this issue of The Rural Voice. ◊