Tobin Baker holds one of the chicks of the farm's growing chicken coop. Photo courtesy of the Baker Family

The good Earth: Family protects creation with sustainable farming

  • June 14, 2018

The Baker family went back to land —literally — two years ago. Since then, they’ve met the challenges of sustainable farming and discovered the joys of guarding God’s creation.

Meghann Baker typically starts her day at 6:30 a.m. when the first of her five children crawl into bed to say good morning. Her husband Nic is usually the first to go downstairs to start breakfast while the children complete morning chores. 

Two years ago, the Bakers lived an urban life in Ottawa. But it wasn’t the lifestyle they wanted. Meghann, 34, said it was love at first sight when the couple found a 25-acre property with a four-bedroom home, a quonset and a woodworking workshop in Russell, Ont., 30 minutes south of Ottawa. 

They named it Fiat Farm after Mary’s fiat during the Annunciation when she said, “Let it be done.” Meghann says the farm represents their own “yes” to God to become stewards of His land. For her family it would be  “a place of rest and refuge, a place of physical and spiritual nourishment.”

They moved in during March 2016. In June, they adopted a small rabbit from a friend. Then they added a couple of goats and, by the end of that summer, added 200 chickens and a tractor. In the fall they planted an orchard of apple, pear and plum trees. Last summer, they bought pigs and soon may add cattle.

“I’m not sure when that exact moment of becoming a farmer was official, but that’s kind of how it happened,” said Meghann. 

Now they are part of a small but committed group of farmers who engage in a rural vocation that reflects Catholic values. At the core is family life, followed by a firm belief in a responsibility to be stewards of God’s creation while engaging in sustainable and ethical farming.

baker farmMeghann and Nic Baker and their five children have embraced their move to a 25-acre farm about 40 kilometres southeast of Ottawa. Below, the Baker kids help with seeding the garden. (Photos courtesy the Baker family.)

baker farm seeds kids

Farming and faith have always gone together in Canada. A 2011 Statistics Canada census found that 83 per cent of farmers reported a religious affiliation, with Roman Catholics (38.5 per cent) being more than twice as likely to live on a farm than people of any other religion. That same census revealed, however, that farms are getting bigger due to mechanized agricultural and the total number of farm families has decreased, resulting in the decline of many rural communities.

The Bakers wanted to move back to their hometown from the time they were married in 2006, but no home seemed right for their growing family. Then this large farm property went on the market and they leapt at the chance. Meghann laughs now saying she never imagined herself as a farmer’s wife, but Nic worked on farms as a teenager and always wanted a large property. 

baker farm schoolNic Baker leads the farm's woodworking workshop. 

Farmers like to say that God is in the details. There is something about living and working in nature that reveals how He works among the smallest of His creatures. 

“I just saw the abundance of His love through His provision,” said Meghann. “Even just watching the blades of grass come up in the spring and watching the wild turkeys eat those first blades of grass... Just watching Him provide for all of His little creatures and how much more for us.”

As they learned more about ecological and organic farming methods, a friend pointed the Bakers toward permaculture farming. Permaculture is centred around creating a harmonious and natural ecosystem that integrates crops and livestock into a single, holistic landscape in a sustainable way.

Chickens and pigs on Fiat Farm are grass-fed and grain-fed in movable enclosures that allow them to pasture throughout the field. The animals live a more natural life on the land as they till and fertilize the soil. A local beekeeper is setting up beehives on the property this summer which will help pollinate plants and produce honey. The Bakers are also partnering on a 10,000 sq. ft. vegetable garden.

“The ethics of permaculture is care for the Earth, care for people and redistribution of surplus, and that just seems like such a Catholic ecology,” Meghann said. “This is God’s design. Every little bit works together.”

Meghann said the philosophy behind permaculture is not only about sustaining an ecosystem for crops and animals but also creating an environment that welcomes the community. Fiat Farm hosts homeschool groups on tours of the property and has offered intern or co-op opportunities to students. Nic also runs woodworking workshops.

“We know that this place is a pure gift to us and we want to share that,” said Meghann. “We’re simply stewards of this land, of this place and it’s not only for us but for whoever God wants to bring here.”

That feeling of wonder and awe for Creation is something every farmer knows, said Heather Lekx, the farm manager at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph, Ont.

“Working in an agricultural ecosystem is really humbling when you’re open and listening,” she said. “You are doing a lot but there is also a lot which is just completely out of your control.”

baker farm chickensNic moves one of the mobile chicken coops on the farm.

The 600-acre Ignatius Jesuit Centre is both a retreat facility and working farm. Lekx manages 250 acres of agricultural land, including 20 acres for vegetable a garden, about 30 acres rented out and three acres of community garden plots. With so many people working the same land, Lekx said everyone from full-time farmers to part-time farmers to community gardeners to visiting retreatants have a shared experience of nature.

“Part of my role is I work to have as many people as possible come and experience the farming ecosystem,” she said. “There are so many bird species and plants and animals here that they don’t see in the city, and it creates this wonder and awe and appreciation and quiet.” 

Lekx said Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ really changed how Guelph’s Catholic community and non-Catholic community talked about caring for nature. She said it gave them a common language to talk about the Earth and our role in becoming stewards of the environment.

“It was an incredible invitation to the world, not just Catholics, to really look at how we care for the world,” agreed Elizabeth Stocking, who has been managing Willo’Wind Family Farm in Uxbridge, Ont. since 1983. “That came out in 2015 and it got a lot of attention and then it kind of dissipated because people don’t live in the farms anymore... But in a farm setting, I am constantly challenged to consider that teaching.”

Even before permaculture and sustainable farming was widely accepted, Stocking saw herself as a steward of Creation. What started out as a hobby farm with a few animals and a small garden has grown into 50 acres of sustainable and ecological farmland. After a 2011 solidarity trip to Paraguay with Development and Peace, she became more aware of food sovereignty and the right of all people to have access to healthy food. 

“I remember very clearly talking to a cooperative and he was on 50 acres and that’s the size of the farm,” said Stocking. “I’m standing there thinking we have one family taking care of 50 acres and we are feeding three (farmer’s) markets... and here, this cooperative has 50 families on it, working so hard just to create a living from that.” 

Stocking said the trip showed her the importance of making the most of the abundance God has given her. 

“I think as a farmer, we’re constantly humbled by Creation,” she said. “We went through one of the driest seasons we’ve ever had in 2016. In 2017, we went through the wettest season we’ve ever had. Now, we’re praying for it to even out.”

Fiat Farm has expanded so much in the past two years that the Bakers have begun to share in their abundance. This spring, a woman from Shepherds of Good Hope, which runs a soup kitchen in Ottawa, Ont., reached out to Nic. With Meghann, he developed a campaign that can be sustainable for them and the soup kitchen. They raised money to pay for 134 chickens, enough for about 1,200 meals. 

“There’s much more here than we need for ourselves and we want to share that with as many people as we can,” said Meghann.

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