Bell's Edge
Mount Forest, Ontario

Vince Tkaczuk and Sarah Biancucci, Bell’s Edge Farm

By Melanie Epp

(Mount Forest) – Vince Tkaczuk and Sarah Biancucci are the proud new owners of a small, seven-acre farm south of Mount Forest. They bought the property in June of 2013, and in the process moved one step closer to realizing their dream of becoming farmers. The two have big plans for the property they’re now calling Bell’s Edge Farm.

As their slogan, ‘Innovation and Cultivation,’ says, the goal is to farm intensively, but as sustainably as possible. Starting a new farm from nothing comes with its challenges but as the couple’s story shows, determination and drive prevails.

Tkaczuk had no background in agriculture, but he does have a keen interest. In 2010, he had an opportunity to do an internship on an organic farm near Harriston. The internship motivated him to make the move, and after three years of research and planning, the couple finally felt ready to take the plunge. It took a few months of searching, but they were able to find a small piece of land that perfectly suited their needs. Their dream, though, has come with a number of challenges.

“Our situation, we now find, is unique in the sense that people don’t seem to recognize the ability to farm on a small plot of land and therefore don’t see our vision as farming in the “traditional” sense because it’s not done with a tractor on 50+ acres,” says Tkaczuk.

The farming process itself isn’t the challenge, says Tkaczuk, but navigating the requirements of government agencies can be difficult when you don’t fit the mold. That hasn’t stopped them, though. Their goal is to become recognized as a full-fledged farm that is able to produce product that is equal to that which a traditional farm up to 20 times their size would produce. And they firmly believe they can do this through intensive and efficient systems.

The pair plans to grow a diverse range of products, from greenhouse fruits and vegetables to berries and heirloom varieties of garlic. They even have a section of forest devoted to growing mushrooms on logs, which utilizes a drip irrigation system that takes water directly from the nearby creek.

“We hope to show people in similar situations to ours that you can farm and/or be extremely sustainable on what most country folk consider a tiny plot of land,” says Tkaczuk. “Above all else, our aim at the very least is to produce the majority of our own food. In our opinion, that would be the first successful milestone of this venture.”

Currently, garlic production is underway, as the two test some 20 or so varieties to see which ones best suit the land they’re on. It will be a year before the bulk of the mushrooms really start to produce, but once ready in the spring of 2015, each log will produce three harvests per year for four to five years at a half-pound per harvest.

The two also grow just over 1,000-square feet of fruits and vegetables in raised beds made of steel-insulated freezer panels. The panels are tough and will last forever, says Tkaczuk. “They’re insulated, they don’t rust and they don’t degrade,” he says.

Using a pump, irrigation water for the horticultural crops is taken from the neighbouring Saugeen River. To minimize energy requirements, they have installed solar panels that operate the pumps and irrigation controller. Without a permit they are allowed to use up to 50,000 litres per day. Anything above that requires a permit. Currently, they’re using just 2,000 litres per day, but that will increase with production.

While the fruits and vegetables they grow are currently limited by the changing seasons, Tkaczuk hopes to build a few greenhouses. Once they’re operational, they should be able to increase production and grow produce year round.

Even their fertilizer will be sustainably produced, as the pair plans on using Bokashi composting to amend and rejuvenate their soil. The process uses bran treated with microorganisms to turn almost any organic matter into useable compost in as little as three weeks.

As it stands, the only thing that’s keeping them from expanding is their requirement to achieve farm status. In order to be recognized as a farm, their operation needs to make more than $7,000. Since they are not yet recognized as a farm, they can’t erect any greenhouses without incurring massive zoning and permit fees from the township. This circumstance hinders their expansion plans and has them struggling, since their growing season cannot begin and end as easily as it would were they allowed to install a greenhouse.

Right now, they’re nowhere close to capacity, but the two remain positive and excited about the future ahead. They hope to be selling produce at farmers’ markets in both Palmerston and Mount Forest by next year, and they plan on participating in a local food co-op in Drayton where they’ve been volunteering. They’re also toying with the idea of doing their own small CSA that caters to clients year round.

The future looks bright for Tkaczuk and Biancucci. Despite the challenges, they’re excited to make their dreams of farming and living off the land a realization.

Tomatoes growing in raised beds made of steel-insulated freezer panels