From the Suburbs to the Farm
From the Suburbs to the Farm

From the Suburbs to the Farm

3 min read
Written by Judy Paul

One Family’s Adventure in Growing Their Own Food

In 1992, Kevin and Susan Shields bought a home in the suburbs where the backyard had three spindly trees. More trees were planted, and since eating good food was a priority, they added vegetable plots. Kevin is a homeschooling dad and he and his son Andy started growing trees from seed. When they moved in 2007, their suburban backyard had 68 trees and shrubs, which they naturally dug up and took to their new home 15 years later.

The Shields are a family of five and they value eating organic, unprocessed, cooked-from-scratch food and lots of physical activity. Cross-country skiing, running, soccer, and biking are some of their passions. As their desire to grow more of their own food became stronger, the Shields started to think about how nice it would be to have more space. They wanted property that was close to the city to accommodate Susan’s job, but there were few affordable options. They almost gave up; but a piece of land tucked into a curve in the river in the city of Cambridge became available. While the house and the land needed some work, they took the plunge.

At first the move to their urban farm was about having more space to grow food for their family and to provide interesting “projects” from which their kids could learn.

Everyone contributed their labour in the first year to create potato beds and a “sun” shaped garden. By the end of the year they had 300 pounds of carrots and 100 pounds of rutabagas! With no storage they wondered what they were going to do with this bounty.

An organic vendor at the Cambridge Farmer’s Market approached Kevin to offer him their stall. One year later, the Shield’s family begins the steep learning curve of producing food as a business. Kevin attended some workshops with “Farm Start” and was advised to focus on a few crops. They chose carrots, onions, and rutabaga as well as earlier crops such as lettuce and spinach. They built their own cold storage facility, which was essential if they were to move forward. Then they needed a trailer and a tractor as they scaled up. Andy, the oldest, was most interested in the food business and he set up systems for washing produce and for storage. Their time commitment grew as they supplemented their own products with produce from local farms to sell at their market stall.

What began as a fun and interesting family pursuit had become something more serious with the pressures that come from running a business. The Shields experienced what probably many people in farming face, the unexpected costs, the need to expand, and time commitment. In a family that loves to play and be involved in various sports, the farm demands cut into their leisure time.

Looking back Kevin talks about the highlights of their adventure. He enjoyed exploring new foods and helping his market customers broaden their horizons regarding what they eat. Kevin appreciated his customers and how they were committed to eating seasonally.

For now, the Shields are going to grow garlic for themselves and let the land rest while they pursue other things. Kevin is off to Thunder Bay with son Gavin to coach cross-country skiing for the upcoming winter season. Susan, Hannah and Maggie the dog will stay behind at the cozy little farm where the view of trees, fields and open sky makes you feel that you are miles away from the city.

If you like hearing about people starting farming, you might like the following:

The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food and Love, by Kristin Kimball.
“To Make a Farm”, (documentary film)