Kevin and his new friend

Pregnant goats and giving young farmers their start

In the early 1990’s, despite growing up and starting a family in Toronto, Richard and Karen Cook began to feel the call to sell everything and move to the country. They fell in love with the people and rural lifestyle of Athens. In 2005 they were bitten by the farming bug and bought land in Plum Hollow that became Aman Farms. Their goal was to be good stewards of the land, while providing healthy food for themselves and others.

Richard and Karen…

It all started with laying hens – the entryway drug for farmers! They are the perfect animal for homesteaders – eggs followed by a soup chicken retirement. That is how it all began for us.  But of course, what are eggs without bacon? The first pigs arrived, unnamed (because that’s what you do at first). Making homemade bread was always something we did.  

One day a friend said, “Why are you doing all that work and not sharing with others?” We took up the challenge and plunged headlong into commercial, certified organic farming. It was a steep learning curve but this year, 8 years later, we produced 1,500 meat chicken, 30 pigs, 30 sheep, 1,500 loaves of bread, and about 600 bales of hay required by our sheep. All our meat and bread is sold directly to our customers, 95% of which is picked up at the year-round, weekly Ottawa Organic Farmers Market.

Being a certified organic producer of animals who live the best life we can possibly give them is incredibly satisfying. But now that we have far exceeded the average age of farmers in Ontario (it is 55 years*) we see that, although our farm could be environmentally sustainable well into the future, we will not be physically able to keep it sustainable for many more years. Given our commitment to our land and to our customers, that becomes a problem. Who will take over to feed people and steward our land and animals when we are no longer able to? 

For several years we had been toying with the idea of allowing a young farmer to work portions of our land that we do not use – to partner with them, assisting them by sharing infrastructure and land. Last winter Kevin Sammut contacted us through an agency called FarmLink. This organization joins wannabe farmers with farmers willing to share, sell or lease land. Kevin’s farm plan lined up perfectly with ours. He is an incredible young man, full of commitment, energy, ideas, skills, knowledge, paired with an amazing work ethic. We gave Kevin our four pregnant goats to get him started. That was the beginning of Four Goats Farm.

Kevin started rotating the goats and their new babies through the brushy area of our land. Much of our land was cow pasture that hadn’t been grazed for over 25 years. The result was tons of prickly ash, buckthorn and other invasive species – things goats just LOVE! Goats will even climb into a sapling, bending it down to allow others to eat the leaves.

The goats were followed by pigs. Pigs are nature’s plowmen. Using their tough snouts and strong neck muscles, the pig’s job was to “root-o-till” their plot of land. Kevin gave them some waste hay in addition to their grain and the shoots, roots and greens they forage. The hay missed by the pigs became wonderful carbon mulch. In short order the paddock was tilled and the pigs were moved to the next area. 

On the freshly root-o-tilled area Kevin followed, planting a custom forage seed mix designed to put down roots, add nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil, create a green mulch and provide a nutritious grazing area for next year.

Kevin…

I started my journey towards regenerative agriculture through food. I started working in a restaurant after finishing high school and began pursuing a career as a chef. I ended up moving to Australia and working in a farm-to-table, fine dining restaurant. During this time, I discovered permaculture and some of the incredible farmers spreading their knowledge about ecological farming and regenerative agriculture.

After 5 years of working in kitchens, I realized that this work environment wasn’t the type of life I wanted and found myself being drawn more and more towards the production of food and the amazing impact it can have on the environment. I started looking for an opportunity to start something of my own.

It can be very difficult to get started in farming, especially as a young person without much capital or resources. I knew buying land, especially with the current cost of farmland, was out of the question for someone in my position, so I had to look for another arrangement. I ended up finding Karen and Richard through FarmLINK | Connecting Farmers and Farm Seekers.

After some months of communicating, I went to visit the farm and meet them in person. We talked about the plans I had for my business and their plans for the land and how the arrangement was going to work. In December of 2020 I moved to the farm to start Four Goats Farm full time.

We didn’t start with a formal agreement or lease, as neither of us really knew what to expect. We decided to try it out before formalizing our arrangement. We decided on what parts of the land it would be most beneficial to have animals on and specific areas I would target with my farm enterprise. The plan was to restore fertility and abundance to otherwise marginal land, using regenerative and organic practices.

We decided on an overgrown, brushy area that had not had any animal presence in many years. With the limitations of the land in mind, I decided on goats and pigs as the enterprises I would focus on. These animals are the pioneers of the livestock world. Their browsing and tilling are very effective in clearing brush and disturbing a dormant pasture to promote more diversity and fertility.

The area of the farm I am using is quite remote and the dense brush makes it difficult to take feed and water to the animals, especially during the wet seasons of spring and fall. Good goat management also requires moving the goats (and their fences) every day to fresh forage, a challenge on brushy land.

Despite these challenges, I have seen some great results after just one year. Portions of the land that were just brush and pine needles are now lush clover and alfalfa patches. I hope to expand both my pig and goat operations next year. I have started a monthly CSA and also sell to some restaurants.

Being able to share the land and infrastructure while trying to start my farm business has been a huge help. Richard and Karen’s support and knowledge has made it possible for me to get started without major capital expenses, allowing me to focus on growing my business and improving the land.

Richard and Karen can be contacted at info@amanfarms.ca

To reach Kevin  fourgoatsfarm@gmail.com

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* A Statistics Canada study found last year that the average age of Canadian farmers had reached 55 after rising for decades, and 92 per cent of farms had no written plan for who will take over when the operator retires. It also found there were more farmers over age 70, than under 35.  Aging farmers with no succession plans put future of Canadian family farms at risk | CBC News

Sharing the Land