Roots, Shoots & Winter Greens

Jess Weatherhead and Robin Turner started Roots and Shoots Farm on a plot of land south of Ottawa about four years ago. Since then, they have been steadily growing, and just fulfilled 250 CSA shares for the season, with a waiting list already for 2014.

I was particularly excited to get to Roots and Shoots Farm because I went to university with Jess several years ago.  Prior to our visit, my only connection to the farm was through my computer screen, where I applauded the many accomplishments and gawked at the beautiful farm photos posted. 

Jess was born into farming; she’s a phenomenal cook, and a staunch advocate for local food.  Find her in a field of flowers, busting a watermelon over her knee, or tucked into her home art studio, Jess is a powerhouse of talent when it comes to working with her hands.  Robin has a background in environmental science, a degree in Sustainable Agriculture, and extensive experience managing organic vegetable farms.  It was incredible to see what the two have built in just a short amount of time.

They have about 25 acres in total, with four greenhouses, honeybees (managed by her beekeeper sister, Mel), a patch of wild flowers, and a few new barn kitties to complete the idyllic picture.  The farm was at various levels of production when we walked through.  The seed garlic was hung, waiting to be planted for next years garlic crop;

onions sat on tables, waiting to be sold in markets or distributed in CSA shares;

and harvested fields had already been replanted with cover crops to feed the soil.

This particular greenhouse was transitioning into a winter greens (spinach, kale, lettuce) production.  Previously it brimmed with cucumbers, yielding nearly 600 pounds of cucumbers every couple of days.  By planting early (mid-September), the greens have time to bulk up enough to withstand the winter freeze.  The plants are covered for added warmth and only harvested on days when the temperature in the greenhouse is above three degrees celcius.  Their method of growing winter vegetables, without heating the greenhouse, just won them an award through the Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence program (the texas long horn ranch we visited, YU Ranch, also received an award for their innovative green transportation).

To contribute to the community, Roots and Shoots has committed a full acre of their land to growing veggies for the Ottawa Food Bank through the Community Harvest Program.

Jess and Robin also run internship and volunteer programs from the farm.  Interns work 40 hours a week from May to October in exchange for fresh veggies and a stipend.  The internship delivers extensive instruction on organic vegetable farming, pest management, and monthly visits to other area farms to provide knowledge outside of the Roots and Shoots production.  If you are interested in farming, but can’t quite swing a full internship commitment, you can commit 1 day per week for 8 weeks to volunteering on the farm.

We have been consistently amazed at the innovation and hard work of the farmers we’ve met across the country, and Roots and Shoots was definitely no exception.  Jess and Robin, you two and your team are utterly impressive.  Thanks for being such an inspiration, for cooking us a great farm dinner, and sending us back on the road with fresh veggies. 

Find Roots and Shoots Farm at the markets in Ottawa, Kanata or Manotick and check out their CSA information.