“You do have to be committed to make it work, but we both enjoy it.”
An off-farm job can seem to be the only way to keep the bills paid, but one couple has found an alternative – an on-farm job.
Both Norm and Heather Dodd were working at off-farm jobs, but it wasn’t what they wanted. “It seemed we were doing chores in the dark, before or after work,” says Heather. “We weren’t enjoying our own place. We’d always enjoyed our garden and animals, so we thought we’d give this a try.”
“This” is growing and marketing fruit and vegetables as well as beef, turkey, chicken and eggs. Selling farm produce direct to consumers is not new, but the Dodds live just off a secondary highway between Glenwood and Fort Macleod, quite a distance from any big town. Also, the climate in the Pincher Creek area doesn’t make gardening easy.
The Dodds’ garden and orchard cover about 2.5 acres with raspberries, strawberries, hardy cherries, saskatoons and rhubarb as well as cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes in the greenhouse and lettuce and vegetables outside. They grow all sorts of vegetables, from onions and zucchini to the always-popular pumpkins.
The weather doesn’t always co-operate, so the Dodds are often hoping for enough heat to bring on fruit.
“A couple of years ago we had a wonderful crop on our Evans cherry trees,” says Heather. “There was so much fruit they sagged to about half their usual 12 to 14 feet high. But the last two years, we’ve had no cherries or saskatoons because of late-spring frost.”
Strawberries are usually more dependable. The Dodds have both June-bearing and day-neutral types. The Junebearing berries are bigger, but the day-neutral berries are much more flavourful. The Dodds start plants early in their greenhouse, so they have vine-ripened tomatoes starting the May long weekend.
Meat and poultry
The Dodds sell meat as well as produce in their farm store. They raise three batches of broilers and a batch of turkeys each year as well as keeping chickens for eggs. They also feed out and sell beef from their purebred Simmental herd.
After 10 years of running their farm-produce business, the Dodds have developed some steady customers. Some people coming from as far away as Calgary, have discovered Dodds’ farm is only a brief diversion on the way to and from holidays in Waterton or Crowsnest Pass. Customers can pick their own fruit, or by calling ahead they can have produce picked for them. The Dodds also have frozen meat, vegetables and fruit.
Norm usually stays home, picking and preparing produce for sale or doing other chores, while Heather takes care of marketing in nearby towns. She has a stall at farmers’ markets in Pincher Creek and in Cardston during the summer. She also delivers eggs and other produce every week to regular customers.
As a small hands-on operation, the Dodds have to charge higher prices than supermarkets, but most people are happy to pay the price because of the
quality of the produce. “We do our very best to make sure everything is fresh and flavourful,” says Heather. “You can get a cheap tomato, but it probably tastes like cardboard.”
The Dodds say all their fruit and vegetables are pesticide free. The chickens and turkeys are fed organic grain and the beef is fed mainly on forage.
“We get a lot of satisfaction from the pleasure we give people. I think Norm and I get the most pleasure out of watching people as they taste our produce for the first time, or for the first time each summer,”says Heather.
The work of this business never seems to end, and they can never go away in the summer, says Heather. “Even in the winter, as soon as calving is finished, we have to clean up the greenhouse and then start our seedlings. You do have to be committed to make it work, but we both enjoy it.”
The income from their garden and farm gate marketing doesn’t quite replace the Dodds’ off-farm income, but their expenses are lower, says Heather. She and Norm figure the enjoyment of being on the farm, gardening and selling their own produce, make it a much better option for them than working off the farm.
Farm Fresh Alberta advertises Dodds’ Room to Grow Farm as well as other member farms on its website and through other media. The Dodds also have their own site