Young Agrarians Dispatch from Fresh Valley Farms, Armstrong BC

Posted by Sara Dent on February 07, 2014 6 Comments

Nearly one long and eventful year has passed since Steve posted this article on the Young Agrarians blog. Since starting farming Steve Meggait has made some good progress and he thought it was about time to share some stories with the ever expanding network of young agrarians that might be interested:

For me, 2013 started out with a big empty house, a big empty pig barn and a big empty pole barn on 150 acres of land in desperate need of some drainage and cattle fencing. After attending the first Young Agrarians mixer in Kelowna I came home to the farm with renewed inspiration and hope for the prospect of making a living off the land I was lucky enough to call my own.

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After posting the YA article I got lots of response from young people interested in helping me get started. Susan Cousineau ended up being the only one who actually ended up living and working on the farm for the whole season, along with over a dozen volunteer farm workers we connected with through other internet sites.
We started with Chickens. My family has been in the beef industry for so long that I thought it was time to try something new. So we set out to produce pastured chicken. Knowing that organic feed prices were at an all time high we knew that we weren’t going to make much money at it in our first year, but we forged ahead because we had to start somewhere and raising a few chickens sounded like fun . I decided to build a brooder barn so I could start my own chicks. Instead of just a room with some insulation and heat lamps I decided to install in-floor heat connected to our outdoor boiler system, low pressure nipple drinkers and an automated feed system. With plans to install a high tech heat recovery ventilation system that I just finished a few days ago for the new batch of chicks. Almost all built with salvaged and donated used materials.  I may have gotten a little carried away.  We ended up contract raising chickens for Rosebank Farms. Everything we produced was pre-sold for a decent price and in the end it we did pretty well.
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In partnership with my dad’s farm and Rosebank farms we managed to get together a rag tag feed mill set up that got us through the later half of the season without having to pay as much for feed. Since then I’ve managed to put together a half decent electric hammer mill that’s fed by 4 hopper bins and runs at about 4 times the speed of what we were using last season. I plan to grow most of the grains and peas that we will use in our feed next year.
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At some point during the early spring a neighbour of mine lost his farm to the bank. While I was helping him get his stuff off the property and liquidate what he could, he asked me if I wanted his pregnant sow. I said “sure, why not.” The next day I put together a basic pen in the old pole barn and he dropped off this sow that was about one or two weeks away from farrowing. I should probably mention that I’d never even seen anything being born before, so when the big day came I was a little nervous. “Ashley”  started farrowing at 11 pm and I think she finished at 4 am. I was there the whole time, cleaning each piglet and keeping them from getting squished. She had 12 piglets and we finished 12 pigs.
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We raised them all inside movable electric fence. We put them in a small draw that the previous owners of the farm had used as a dumping ground for old metal and other scraps we would have never been able to clean up on our own. As the pigs rooted through the pasture we would go in and pull out the stuff they exposed. By then end of the season we had pulled out at least 3 tons of scraps and we’re now ready to develop the area into a park like garden we plan to share with the new neighbours. Who happen to be some of my oldest friends.
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When we first plowed the main  20 acre field on the property we got stuck in the mud more then once and it was at a dry time of year. It was a bit of a surprise because the field is on a gentle sloped hill side anyone would assume has great drainage. But It turned out to be a gravel seam that carries the ground water out to surface in the middle of the field. So, My dad and I decided to put in drainage. And did we ever put in drainage. By the time we were done we had over a kilometre of pipe in the ground and countless loads of our own four inch clear rock wrapped with landscaping fabric. We figured that instead of just dumping the water we would put in a system to tap the water like a horizontal, gravity fed well. It was a bit of an experiment, but we ended up with a system that will be able to supply low pressure, high volume water to a drip line and is already well filtered. It should run even when our primary irrigation from the creek dries up. We might not ever use it, but our philosophy on the farm is built around an un-predictable future.  We try to anticipate any problems changing weather patterns could cause.
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In late August a woman who raises weaner pigs came to me trying to sell out her whole business. I think the initial offer was 12 mostly pregnant sows and a boar or two. It seemed like a bit too much to take on at once so I decided it would be a good idea to divide it up with some friends of mine who were interested in buying some sows.  Three of the sows were days away from farrowing when I got them. I bought some fence panels and made a temporary shelter for them while I worked on the main farrowing compound. We had no way to contain the piglets so we just let them run wild around the yard. It was pretty funny to watch all 35 piglets run all over the yard, moving like a school of fish. By the time the deal was done I had 6 sows 2 gilts and a boar. I guess I’m in the pig business now, although I never really set out to be. It’s kind of funny how that works.
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It became evident pretty early on that farming alone wouldn’t pay the bills. Let alone pay a decent wage. So I decided the next logical step was to start a marketing company. Through a lengthy process of having partners, not having partners, and eventually having an unofficial partner farm, I’ve managed to start Fresh Valley Farms. It’s still in it’s infancy but it’s gaining momentum quickly. It’s hard to say what the scope of the business will be at this point. Just developing a name and a brand has opened up a whole new set of possibilities. I’m starting to believe that I might actually be able to make a living at this. It’s not that I didn’t believe it before, but I was completely naive in thinking that I could produce something and people would just want to buy it. Now that I have a bit of a grasp on the whole agriculture business, I see that it’s just as competitive as any other business. It’s not like the days of our grandparents when you could produce something, go to town and someone would be waiting to buy it from you. You have two options as a modern farmer: You can become a large scale producer and  play the commodities market. Although being the one producing goods doesn’t give you much advantage over the people buying and trading commodities. Or you can make a product targeted at a niche market that the large scale producers, distributers and marketers will deem too minor to infringe on. In the later you have to be innovative, creative, and adaptable enough to stay ahead of the mass production market. But in the former you might as well just play the stock market. And it stinks less. Either way you have to work your ass off day and night and you still might fail.
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For me, farming about investing my time and energy in a future I want to see for my (maybe) children and my friends children. It’s about developing a way of living that doesn’t deplete all of our resources and contribute to rampant carbon emissions. Of all the hundreds of lessons I took from my first full year of farming, the most valuable was that there is two sides to the the over used, buzz word “sustainable”: Economic sustainability and environmental sustainability. And unfortunately one doesn’t exist without the other.
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I’m having a bit of a party and mixer at the family farm on June 14th-15th. It’s at the old cub camp where we have a big camp kitchen and out houses and lots of space to set up tents. I think we’ll have room for about 80 people so there should be enough room for everyone who wants to come. Message me at freshvalleyfarms@live.com if you don’t hear about it through the YA network. I hope to see some of you there.
Sincerely,
     Steve Meggait
    Fresh Valley Farms, Armstrong, BC
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6 thoughts on “Young Agrarians Dispatch from Fresh Valley Farms, Armstrong BC

  1. Great blog Steve. You’ve worked very hard and deserve success. Keep up the good work and have a great party & mixer in June.

  2. Steve is such an inspiration! We have a freezer full of pork from Fresh Valley Farms and he’s provided homesteading land for our friend to establish her own tiny home: a Mongolian Yurt that is being restored right next door to the chickens! We moved to the Okanagan a couple of years ago and are PROUD to call it home because of neighbours like Mr. Maggait. He oozes MOXY and fuels my own creativity and entrepreneurial spirits. Fab blog post!

  3. After buying some of your lovely products at the Coldstream Market yesterday, I headed for the Internet to check out more about your farm, because – well you seem like such a nice guy and I wanted to know more about the farm..
    I have to say, I got all teary-eyed (in a happy way) reading this blog. It just makes me feel GOOD about the world – which is sorely needed at this point in time! Thanks Steve for this blog and for your efforts and heart! Write more. It makes me smile. 🙂 And keep producing ethical products, whatever direction it takes you.
    Blessings

  4. Hi Steve, so glad I looked up your blog, very interesting read. I picked up your brochure at the Farmers Market on Saturday and came over today to check out the chickens, how they are cared for, and I got a full tour of the farm. So glad I did. Impressive what you have done in a year. I live just down the road and am glad to have you in the area. I had met your great grandma Meggait when I was a teenager, what a neat lady, and a wonderful family you are from. When I found out who owned the Valley Farm, I definitely was more interested in it. Keep up the good work and continue to do your family history proud. Great job. Loved the pigs. I know families with young kids who might want to come to the farm just to see the piglets and see a working farm. Could be an educational aspect to this plan of yours once it is set up more. I am getting some chickens from you on July 29th and am wondering if you are planning on selling eggs as well. well, keep up the good work.
    Lynda

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