Feature: Catena Farm
Summer’s here and that means farmer’s market season is in full swing… or as I call it, my weekend happy place. Having visited the local farmer’s markets over the last couple of years, I am always so impressed with the vast selection of beautiful produce, meats, eggs, and everything else that our local farmers bring for us to enjoy. I had the chance to chat with Chris and Jennie of Catena Farm to talk farming, veggies, and why they love what they do.
Chris and Jennie are both first generation farmers, who both grew up as city folk in Ottawa. Both, however, share fond memories of their grandparents in their gardens, and attribute their farming lifestyle to a seed that was planted by growing up and watching them nourish the soil and feed their families. Chris and Jennie did not always have the dream of being farmers though. They both graduated from university, Chris in integrated science, and Jennie in environmental studies. Chris has spent the last 17 years working at the Ottawa Hospital Cancer Center as a physics technologist in the radiotherapy department, while Jennie has had various jobs in local coffee shops and farming gigs.
Neither Chris nor Jennie knew exactly what they wanted their end goal to be, but since they first met over a decade ago, they have adopted an environmentally conscious lifestyle, and really got into DIY hobbies. They started toying with the idea of how they could make a difference in the world while also finding satisfaction in their work. They both love being outside and were aware of the broken food system that exists in the region. They felt they could change that aspect of their lives by starting a little garden; and that’s exactly what they did.
That little garden started about 8 years ago in the backyard of their rented downtown apartment. The first year was a huge success and they quickly outgrew the space they had. Their search brought them to a community garden in Ottawa, where they rented three 25x50 foot plots side by side, tilled it, and started making raised beds. They stayed at that plot for 7 years and with every year, they learned how to grow more food in a small space, and also improve the quality of what they were growing. Eventually, friends and family started asking if they could buy veggies from their gardens, so Chris and Jennie figured out a way to cram even more veggies into their little garden!
By the end of 2018, Catena farms was holding an annual garlic sale, seeding sale, taking custom weekly produce orders, and running a small trial CSA (community supported agriculture) food baskets. Not bad for a couple city folk who started with a small garden behind an apartment. Chris and Jennie’s dream of having their own farm was now in full force, and it was time to take the plunge. They named the farm, registered the business, and started planning.
Last year’s goal was to find a permanent piece of property to live on and farm, but so far, nothing has panned out. In the meantime, they have rented a one acre piece of land in Shawville, Quebec, which for as long as anyone can remember, has been a field of grass and wildflowers. As soon as the snow melted this spring, they got to work tilling, building raised beds and planting. This was the official birth of Catena Farms.
Catena is the Latin word for “chain”. They liked the sound of it, and brought it forward with the concept of the link between the sun, air, water, soil, bacteria, and people, and how important that connection is. They consider themselves cultivators of that link in their farming and work toward a symbiotic relationship where all those aspects of the environment are cared for.
Catena Farm is currently offering over 35 varieties of vegetables, herbs, and mushrooms, and as they continue to grow, so will their list of offerings. Once they are able to expand into a permanent space, they plan on offering fruits and perennial vegetables as well. While they are currently full for the 2019 season, Catena Farm offers weekly CSA food baskets as well as market credits.
Chris and Jennie are big supporters of the environment, as you’ve read. One of the issues they had with farming before was the amount of waste. Farming is heavily into single use plasticulture where convenience stands before environmental impact. However, there are a lot of valuable small scale farming aids that are made of plastic. Our local farmer’s markets would not have would not have as much available in May if farmers did not have greenhouses. Knowing that becoming farmers meant becoming part of the of the system Chris and Jennie decided to actively try to mitigate the amount of waste created from their farm. They have created a zero waste stream through the farmer’s markets and CSA food baskets. They don’t offer plastic bags, and ask customers to bring their own or take one of their paper bags, which are made of recycled paper, soy-based ink, and are fully compostable. Catena Farm also doesn’t use elastic bands to bunch their produce, but instead use natural jute twine, that can be composted. At the beginning of the season, when they offer seedlings for sale, they are sold in peat pots, which are also compostable.
Catena Farm is located right beside a highway, and often have people stop in and say hi, and see what Chris and Jennie are up to. They love the interaction with the community, and, have met some wonderful people! They invite you to go visit their farm, but just give them a heads up to make sure they’re there and not out delivering their goodness to their customers! And when it comes to community, while they have been incredibly busy this season, they look forward to community initiatives in the coming seasons, so be sure to reach out to them.
One thing that caught my eye on the Catena Farm website, was their recipe page! Be sure to check them out as they are made with the produce grown on the farm and look delicious!
A big thanks to Chris and Jennie for taking the time to give us some insight on their journey, and the creation of Catena Farm. Be sure to check them out on weekends at the Ottawa Farmer’s Market at Lansdowne Park, as well as the Old Chelsea Market, in Chelsea, Quebec.
You can also follow along with the farm’s growth, as well as all the successes and funny failures by checking them out on social media and their website www.catenafarm.ca
- The Kid.