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Farmer Stories

Windy Heights Farm

Anita and Gerard Walsh, and their son, Gerry, run Windy Heights Farm on the Northeast Avalon Peninsula, NL. We talked with Anita about their growing enterprise and specialty products.

Tell us about your farm:

We purchased the 400 acre farm in 2018. It had been in sod and hay for a long time; we’re slowly transitioning to an active mixed farm with crops and livestock and a specialty mushroom operation. In the cold and foggy NL climate, we figured it would be a good idea to have some year-round indoor production so we’ve been putting a lot of energy into getting the indoor mushroom space upgraded. Gerard and Gerry fabricated some of the materials and we’ve been teaching ourselves about mushroom production. Once the expansion is complete and we’re fully up and running we’ll have capacity to grow 1000 lb of mushrooms per week. We’re also looking at processing the medicinal properties of lion's mane and slower growing red reishi into powders and tinctures. 

In the fields we’re expanding the pastureland so we can do more intensive rotation to build the soil and sequester carbon. We raise Belted Galloway cattle and Mangalitsa pigs (a.k.a. Lard pigs), both are heritage breeds adapted to colder windy climates. We also raise small flocks of Bresse chickens which are favoured in restaurants. We’re slowly expanding the market garden. The soil is pretty rocky and shallow so we’ve been working to build it up with animal compost and mushroom block compost. In some places we’ve now got 6-8 inches of soil where there was mostly gravel before. We’ve started to grow vegetables in a caterpillar tunnel. Our greenhouse was destroyed in Hurricane Oliver but the tunnel seems to do well in our windy conditions.

Why did you become certified organic?

We aren’t certified organic but we follow organic principles and regenerative practices. We found that our NL customers aren’t necessarily looking for organic certification. With so much work to do with getting the farm up and running - building soil, running livestock, the new mushroom operation - we haven’t had time for paperwork and bureaucracy. Once things get established, we may look at certification for exporting our mushroom products. 

What’s been your biggest challenge?

Politics! From neighbours questioning our regenerative methods to provincial funding timelines that are unrealistic for working farmers. Red tape that slows us down is definitely a challenge! 

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Working with family, working the land, working independently, doing what we care about and what we believe is right. Also, we need to feed the chickens!

Where to buy:

We sell through a CSA that combines produce from three farms in the area. Right now we’re  supplying mainly mushrooms but we also contribute vegetables as they become available. We also sell through the Killick Coast Food Hub, a new online collaborative marketing initiative.  

You can find out more on the Windy Heights Farm website or listen to a podcast about the farm on Fit to Eat: the NL Farm and Food Show, Fit To Eat S3E31 Windy Heights Farm