Written and photographed by C️atherine Bernier
"To me, in many aspects, farming, particularly small-scale farming, is pure rebellion. It’s the way I can do it and survive in this system. I am part of it, but I don’t give in to it."
Surprised to locate their market stand on a winter’s day, the samples of Sarah and Jamie’s flavorful vegetables and sauerkrauts satiated my palate. In the midst of many exchanges with others, they kindly took the time to explain the basics of fermentation to me and instantly, I became hooked. Fascinated by these snippets of knowledge that detail the important role of probiotics as a beneficial way to support the health and evolution of our species, I excitedly left with my sauerkraut jar under my arm and knew I’d be back to see these talented farmers again. The following week, on an eagerly awaited winter swell, I ran into Jamie while surfing at a local beach. With a big red beard that emerged beyond his neoprene wetsuit, he was hard to miss.
Unsurprisingly many of Sarah and Jamie’s customers are also fellow surfers who enjoy the bounty produced from their small seaside farm. Over the years, I have passed by Off Beet Farm many times but never stopped, accumulating bits of information from mutual friends that only heightened my curiosity about what they were up to. Eventually, our paths finally crossed for a proper meeting amidst their vegetable beds and I got to hear their story firsthand.
In 2009, Jamie and Sarah moved to Cow Bay, a suburb on the outskirts of the province’s capital city, Halifax, that overlooks the ocean, with the idea of starting a farm with two objectives for proximity, it had to be near a farmers’ market and also close to the ocean. Driven by their shared mission to produce quality food while symbiotically rejuvenating the soil, air, water and people they encounter along the way, in 2011, they bought a house with a yard and turned it into an experimental garden where vegetables, fruit trees and flowers grow in abundance. The additional 3/4-acre plot that they rent, just a stone’s throw away from their property, is where they produce most of their vegetable crops using practices that foster living soil. Due to its optimal location—only 20 minutes from the city—the farm has become a place to connect with all generations, including surfers and non-surfers alike.
Sarah and Jamie spend most of their time in the small community. They don’t feel the need to get away too often as Cow Bay is where they want to be from summer, when they farm, through to the winter, when they regenerate. However, just like their sauerkraut, these two are far from ever being dormant. When the snow falls, Sarah enjoys spending time reading books about greenhouse production by the fireplace. She also takes on a few contracts in her field of academic study, graphic design, to help other local businesses make the transition from concept to reality. Sarah has a good eye; from the labels she created for their kraut jars to the layout of their market garden, I must admit I am charmed by the visual universe of Off Beet Farm.
For Jamie, surfing is a hobby he pursues as much as he can, which requires thick wetsuits during the frostier months. While surfing in the winter may seem counterintuitive for what constitutes relaxing “downtime”, it is the perfect combination for Jamie. “Surfing and farming work so well symbiotically,” he says. “Both are the most difficult things I’ve done in my life. Surfing is so unpredictable, and farming is too. I can surf at the same location every day, and it will still be different, depending on the tides, wind, people and board I choose. There are so many variables. With farming, it’s the same thing—though the practice is the same, the outcomes are different every year, influenced by the weather, environmental conditions, pests and more.”