When we’re talking to folks about what we do—usually over a sausage at The Sheepdog Grill—we’re often asked why we chose the name Flat Earth Farm. Is it a philosophical statement? Is it evidence of a general skepticism, or our membership in a very specific Society? Or is it a comment on the topography of the farm?

And while we have a lot of fun and good discussions with these questions, the short answer is, in the tradition of The True Levellers, we try to farm as if the earth was flat  —  metaphorically speaking. What does this mean, in the 21st century? It means recognizing that our society, and the systems and structures upon which it relies, pays scant attention to notions of equality of opportunity.  

It also means recognizing that we rely on and benefit from the ecological interrelationship between our farming system and our ecosystem, and that mining those resources or severing that interrelationship denies equality of opportunity to those who follow. It means being aware of just how fortunate we are — and the debt of gratitude that we owe — to those who’ve helped us grow and learn along the way, and to those who have provided us with this opportunity. It is our role to repay that debt to those who have not shared our good fortune, and to future generations who deserve the same opportunities that we’ve had.

What does this mean in practice? It means mentorship  — working with and learning from other farmers who are on a similar path, and making space on your path for others who are keen to learn beside you. It means providing opportunities for others to begin their own journey, through access to land or animals, recognizing that it is now more difficult than it has ever been to start that farming journey. It means always remembering that we are borrowing the land that we farm from future generations. And finally, it means walking with light footprints across the farm, maximizing the utilization of naturally regenerative resources, and adding complementary forage, crops and species that promote a circular farm economy. 

And we say: “…we try to farm as if the earth was flat…” because farming in the 21st century is a difficult gig. Our first priority must be to make sure that the farm generates sufficient funds year-to-year to remain viable; it’s hard to farm with intent if you have no farm. Off-farm expenses relentlessly increase in price, siphoning any increases in farm profits. And our products are competing with industrial retail food markets built through a half century of food and farm policy based on a ‘cheap food’ mentality.

We have found that it’s possible to bring our farm enterprise into balance, and farm “as if the earth was flat”, by adjusting our expectations and priorities around sufficiency. We find sufficiency in four ways: 

* First, where possible we avoid off-farm inputs and expenses  — a philosophy employed by the massive Zero Budget Natural Farming movement in India.  

* Second, we transform our product, adding artisanal value that elevates the special to the exceptional.  

* Third, we sell our product directly to people who value top quality food, produced by local farmers who they know, using practices that they support.  

* Fourth, most often we sell our product fresh off the grill, capturing an additional slice of food service revenue. 

We call this Mixed farming 2.0. 

As we say on our farm website (http://flatearthfarm.ca/farm), this approach uses farm practices that will feel familiar to many, as they rely on core principles of balance and sufficiency that have been the foundation of mixed farms across generations, cultures and millennia. In this new version, we modify these practices with reason and experience, stay open to new ideas and changes in science and technical adaptations, and constantly experiment to find the most effective way to meet our changing needs and expectations.  

Practical Biodiversity 

Mixed farming relies on biodiversity. Producing the bulk of the household diet on the farm – vegetables, fruit, meat, eggs, honey, etc. – is one way to reap the benefits of mixed farming, as the animals provide all of the fertility required by the crops and pastures, whose diversity in turn supports and benefits from the pollinators, and feeds the livestock, whose reproduction feeds our farm enterprise. 

We fell into sheep farming accidentally, when we volunteered to care for a neighbour’s flock in our empty barn, while he underwent surgery. In return, he gifted us a starter flock of female lambs. Since that day, we have not stopped learning. Our ‘starter’ lambs were a combination of British breeds (mostly Suffolk) and Dorper, a meat sheep. Over several generations, we have introduced Katahdin genetics  —  a breed known to reduce the impacts of parasites and, similar to the Dorper, also a ‘hair’ sheep raised for meat production. We have stayed with Katahdin because they grow quickly on pasture, they shed their winter wool every summer – without having to be sheared – and they maximize the use of our farms’ natural biodiversity.  

Experimental Agroecology 

The farm property is split between perennial hay fields and pasture  —  the latter in scrubby shape after decades of minimal grazing, mostly by deer and turkeys. We debated how best to tackle reinvigoration of the pastures, and released our flock into the scrubland while searching through the latest research. We were intrigued by the prospects of ‘silvopasture‘, the integration of livestock into a treed landscape, to the benefit of both.  


As it turns out, our Katahdin sheep are silvopasture specialists. They are not only great at turning forage into top quality, healthy meat (with no woolly flavour), they also prefer a mixed salad bar of grasses, forbs and tree leaves when grazing. This makes them a perfect complement on a property where old pasture land has been reverting to bush and tree cover. Rather than clearing these pastures, our task has been to create grazing areas within and beside pockets of bushes and trees with the leaves that they favour  —  some of which are higher in protein than alfalfa!  

Resourceful Collaboration 

While we have years of experience with livestock, we have been helped along this new pathway by the resources, insights and advice of many shepherds. Our pathway requires that we also find ways to work with others, to share what resources we can, and assist with insights and advice where practical.  

We have worked with Just Food, Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario, and other farmers in the local chapter of the National Farmers Union to address some of our shared issues and protect shared interests  —  such as farmland preservation and land access. With land prices driven to absurd levels by speculators, farming is no longer a simple field to enter. In fact, even finding land to farm can be a challenge. We have worked with the incredible folks at the Just Food Community Farm, one of Ottawa’s hidden gems  —  a working farm providing opportunities for training and incubation of food production enterprises. 

We have also provided opportunities at our own farm, whether to WWOOFers or youth looking for farm experiences, local residents looking for shared space for food production, or new farmers looking for a succession pathway (https://www.findfarmland.ca/).  

Finally, we have sought out new and young farmers who are looking to take the first step down the mixed farming pathway—in order to provide them with a starter flock, and someone to talk to about their experiences. While mixed farming encourages integrity, and a low-impact, resilient style of farming, it is not a way to make quick money. But it is a way to continually challenge yourself to centre your life around core principles of balance and sufficiency.   


Phil Mount and Denise Bonin-Mount 


Osgoode ON  

Farming Philosophy from Flat Earth Farm
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One thought on “Farming Philosophy from Flat Earth Farm

  • March 29, 2024 at 8:13 am

    What a great introduction to Flat Earth Farm and its philosophy. It’s inspiring! I’m looking foward to a visit to the Sheep Dog Grill! Thanks, COG, for this and other farmer feature stories.

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