Despite dire predictions of the demise of family farms, there is a small but growing movement of millennials taking on the agrarian life with gusto.
John and Becky Doherty, first-year vendors at the St. Albert Farmers’ Market, have a fair share of challenges, but their lifestyle is one of contentment.
“I’m living the dream, my dream, my way,” said John Doherty at last Saturday’s market in between serving a stream of customers.
The Dohertys operate Stonepost Farms, a 320-acre sustainable operation near the hamlet of Wildwood about 120 km west of Edmonton. The couple raises free range and pasture fed chickens, turkeys, cattle and pigs.
“It’s more of a sustainable way of raising livestock. And it shows in the health benefits,” Doherty said.
In addition to selling poultry, beef, pork and eggs, the Dohertys care for an apiary where bees forage on wild flowers, clover and alfalfa that provides unpasteurized honey.
By the end of July, the Stonepost Farms booth will also produce homegrown vegetables: lettuce, beets, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, onions, squash, tomatoes, cukes, peas and beans.
Doherty’s call to the land came as a young child. He grew up on a small family farm near Glenwood, Alberta, a beef operation with about 90 cows. Becky, on the other hand, was raised in small town near Radium where her parents owned and managed a trail riding business.
“I always wanted to be a farmer. I like being outdoors working with animals. And I can be my own boss and make my own schedule,” Doherty explained.
And there’s the sense of accomplishment at the end of the day whether you’ve weeded a garden bed or cleaned out the barn.
John and Becky met at the University of Lethbridge where he was working towards a Bachelor degree in environmental science and she was committed to science degree in GIS and Geomatics.
While working at building their respective careers, the couple moved to a Devon acreage.
“Life was pretty good, but I always said I wanted to farm. I wanted to farm but didn’t know how we were going to do it,” said Doherty who is also an environmental consultant.
“I do work with well site reclamations. While driving home one day, I got tired of listening to the radio. I started listening to farm podcasts. One day I was listening to a YouTube video on a vegetable grower in Quebec and he was able to make a living on one and one-half acres. I came across the idea of regenerative farming. That’s farming in a way that enhances the soil and natural eco-system.”
By 2016, the couple was shopping for a farm and settled at Wildwood where bare land prices run at $1,250 per acre. The dream was turning to reality.
Even the moniker, Stonepost Farms, fell into place perfectly.
“During my first cut of hay, I kept hitting rocks. I remembered when I was growing up, my uncle would stick rocks on a post just to get them out of the way. I started doing it too. A friend took some pictures and he thought it would be a neat idea to use it as a farm name.”
The Dohertys firmly believe that treating livestock humanely and regenerative farming is the wave of the future.
“Our main premise is to raise free range. We want to provide a happy life for our animals and provide them with as safe a life as possible.
And as for customers, “Our food provides an excellent eating opportunity, and we want you to feel good knowing the livestock was well cared for and raised in as natural an environment as possible.”