Peterborough This Week Column: Part 2 of a Series on Young Peterborough Farmers

Deep roots 2 fixedThe print edition of my Peterborough This Week Farm to Table column is out today. Here’s a link to the online edition.

This time around, I feature Greg Roy and Anna Petry of Deep Roots Farm. It is the 2nd of a 2 part series on young farmers in the Peterborough area.

Deep Roots Farm Harvests a Healthy Quality of Life

This is the second of two features on young farmers in the Peterborough Area. I’ll be doing another series on multi-generational farms in the near future.

Visiting the home of farmers Greg Roy and Anna Petry is like experiencing the eye of a hurricane. There is evidence of chaos just passed and evidence of chaos to come. In the present, though, there is quiet calm and contentment.

As I walk up their drive, I can hear some of this joyous chaos: two dogs barking, a naked toddler squealing with laughter and making a break for freedom, and the loud clatter of a kitchen that is in the process of processing enough canned tomatoes to last a years-time.

Everywhere I look there is evidence of bountiful harvest. It’s like the wind has blown in a storm of food.

“Come on back,” calls Greg from the backyard of their East City house.

It is here that I should point out that, while Greg and Anna are farmers, they currently don’t own land of their own.

What they do have is a desire to live off the land, a strong sense of what it takes to survive the demands of small-scale family farm agriculture, and a belief that their quality of life depends less on what they have than on what they grow and how they live.

They also have 7 seasons of farming together – as Deep Roots Farm – and a business that continues to expand.

What’s more, they have the generous use of a few acres of cultivated land on an old farm in the Warsaw area to keep them going until they find the perfect place of their own.

“Access to land is definitely a barrier to many young farmers,” explains Greg as he offers me a chair and explains his and Anna’s decision to live in town. “Not only is land expensive, but finding land close enough to your market is a full time job. There isn’t a lot of it to be had.”

Thankfully, there are people like John and Joan Smith, owners of the land that Deep Roots is currently using to grow their produce.

“They’re pretty inspiring,” says Anna. “They’ve spent the past 47 living off that land. They do mixed farming, with cows for milk and cheese, orchards for fruit and cider, gardens for vegetables.”

“They’re doing exactly what every farm in this area used to do,” adds Greg. “Enough of everything so that your needs are met.”

When I point out that it must be a tough way to make a living, Anna replies that this scale of farming isn’t necessarily about money.

“You’re not going to make a fortune,” she says. “You’re probably not going to make much money at all. But I look at people like John and Joan and see that their quality of life is just amazing. Where they live, what they eat, the way that they live. I mean they’re rich. Not in a monetary sense. But they’re rich nonetheless.”

Anna first experienced the relationship between living off of the land and quality of life when she was in Ecuador, taking part in International Development Studies and working with farmers who were eking out a living on farm plots carved from the jungle.

“60 percent of the people there are peasants. They live in what we would see as poverty. But they eat incredibly well. And so many of these farmers are really empowered. Proudly passing on their stories and skills to the next generation. It’s hard to call a lifestyle like that ‘poor.’”

“It’s an uncomplicated life,” she adds. “And that is something that really appeals to us as a family.”

Uncomplicated, maybe, but definitely hard work. Particularly when you aren’t living on the land that you are farming.

“It would probably be a lot easier if we weren’t a half-hour away,” admits Greg. “The little bit of leisure time that we do have would be amidst our crops and fields. I mean, if we were sharing a glass of wine, it would probably be in our fields and I’d be able to absorb what was going on with the plants, what needs to be addressed. Heck, I could be irrigating the crops while we had this interview. As it stands now, we have to hit the ground running each and every day, spending every moment at the farm in high gear.”

While things have quieted down for the interview – the dogs are curled by the chairs, their toddler, Reese, is looking sleepy, and the adults are sharing a short sip of wine and a bit of conversation – you know that the morning hours will whip things up once again. There are tools leaning against the pick-up truck, just waiting to be loaded. That truck leaves pretty early for Warsaw.

In the meantime, evening is falling. On the clothesline, farm clothes and diapers flutter on the gentle breeze. I can smell canning tomatoes wafting from the kitchen.

The weather is fine. And everyone is smiling.

Deep Roots Farm offers a variety of organically grown vegetables and herbs, specializing in heirloom and unique vegetable varieties, as well as culinary and medicinal herbs. You can find them at the Peterborough Farmers’ Market.

In keeping with the theme of simplicity offered by Greg and Anna, and because we are at the height of tomato season, I thought I’d offer a simple late summer tomato recipe. Why not pop by the Deep Roots stall and pick up some tomatoes for this summer salad?

Heirloom Tomato and Basil Salad

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp grainy mustard
½ tsp local honey
a few grinds from your pepper mill or a good pinch of black pepper
2 pounds local mixed heritage tomatoes, in largish, bite size chunks (around 4 cups)
½ pound of good mozzarella – either cut from a very soft mozzarella ball, or from small pearl mozzarella balls (ask at “Chasing the Cheese” in downtown Peterborough)
½ to ¾ cup of fresh, torn basil leaves (available at Market right now)

Mix vinegar, mustard, honey, and pepper. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, while whisking, until it emulsifies (stays together). Add remaining ingredients and toss until covered with dressing.