by Chelsea Laskowski
Two decades after moving onto a farm from the big city, Hélène Tremblay-Boyko still considers herself a hippie.
“I was very much impressed, psychologically, and emotionally by the whole movement. I have always known I wanted to live on the land. I had a different notion of what it was going to be, but I came with some pretty romantic ideas of what farming could be,” she explained.
Love brought her and her husband Alvin Boyko from Calgary to Alvin’s hometown of Canora. In 1989, the couple bought and converted his parents’ farmland into an organic farm.
Today Tremblay-Boyko, her husband and another couple are the driving force behind BreadRoot Farms, a company built on land full of organic grains, cattle and vegetables.
Her business maintains the ideals that brought her to rural Saskatchewan but it hasn’t always been easy. The last three years have been lean. Major flooding in 2010 kept them from planting seed, and ground conditions since have been poor.
Luckily, Tremblay-Boyko and her husband had the foresight to purchase pasture land and cattle in 2008. When last year’s oats went into the soil too late to be sold for profit, they became bales to feed the cattle instead of going to waste.
According to Tremblay-Boyko the diversity kept their farm from going too deep into the red.
“Organic farming without livestock, it’s crippled. It’s on crutches. It doesn’t perform the way it should. But organic farming with the livestock, is incredible.”
Tremblay-Boyko is one of many entrepreneurs in the province pursuing environmentally-friendly work. Green careers vary from organic food producers, to innovative gardeners, to good teachers. These types of businesses are only just starting to become mainstream in Saskatchewan.
Stacey Tress knew there would be a learning curve in her landscape design and sustainable gardening business when she moved to Yorkton from Guelph, Ontario three years ago. While well-received in Ontario, her ideas were unfamiliar to people in her new home.
She is introducing Yorkton residents to the concept of permaculture, an environmental design that involves planning gardens and agriculture by recognizing “patterns in nature and applying those to your designs.
“We felt you could do the greatest good in a smaller area. Feeling more like you’re a trailblazer, setting the way, blazing your own path rather than catching up to the wave,” she explained.
Local farmers’ markets, seed exchanges, and community events have helped her slowly build a client base. She’s seen increased interest in her services, which include growing local produce and selling it in bundled food baskets and teaching permaculture, composting, and food preservation workshops.
But it’s not always smooth sailing.
“I’ve done workshops where no one showed up. So you just take that with a grain of salt. You know you’re building on something but it’s not an instant success by any means.”
Tress learns more each season. She discovered that bad weather and busy schedules make winter a bad time for workshops. She uncovered social media’s ability to drum up business.
Paying attention to the community’s needs are key. Nothing exemplifies this more than Tress’s realization that a large number of people in Yorkton with celiac disease were looking for ways to remove breads, grains and other gluten-laden food from their diets.
“It just sort of hit me. I can make things for them, inspire them and educate them. I gobbled up a whole bunch of customers that way.”
Tress, who has a young daughter at home, accepts that her business alone can’t support her family.
“We’re just not ready for that,” she stated. “I do know people that are involved in permaculture that are making complete livings off of it and one day we’d like to be there.”
Meanwhile, Tremblay-Boyko is convincing people that her goals are worth reaching for. She first encountered resistance to organic farming long ago with her husband’s father.
“(He) was convinced we would lose the farm and he had no trouble expressing that. It was very hard for that first year until he realized we could do this.”
Since then Tremblay-Boyko says she’s changed a lot more attitudes towards organic. A neighbour recently commented that despite spraying his crops three times in a year, he was still left with more weeds than Tremblay-Boyko’s un-sprayed crop.
And each new customer is a sign that her romantic ideas weren’t so unrealistic after all.