It’s been a tough year for business, and now a farm in Richmond County, Nova Scotia is struggling with a fire that has ravaged their production space.
The owners of Pebble and Fern Market Garden in Little Anse woke up to smoke in their basement 11 days ago.
Ciarán Llachlan Leavitt, the manager of the farm, said food production was already compromised by the pandemic and a difficult growing season.
Leavitt runs the farm with Xennie Wight and Claire Drinnan.
When the fire broke out, Wight and Drinnan were sleeping upstairs. “If they hadn’t come out exactly when they did, and if the Isle Madame firefighters hadn’t come when they did, it would have been a lot worse,” Leavitt said.
Fortunately, for the farmers, no one was hurt. Known for its bright colors and whimsical decorations, Pebble and Fern describes itself as an art garden.
Leavitt and Wight opened a garden in Richmond in 2014. After a more than adequate production season, they started selling at the Mabou Farmers Market.
The Isle Madame business has experienced a series of problems this year. They say much of their sales come from local markets which have been closed for months.
“We depend on the markets for most of the annual income and it just didn’t happen this year, or if they did, it was very much reduced,” Leavitt said.
The online hub helps
Leavitt praises the Cape Breton Food Hub – an online marketplace for members – for helping to keep their business going.
“They have really stepped up their efforts, making weekly deliveries to all regions starting in March,” she said.
Food vendors were expected to finally return to the Cape Breton Farmers’ Market on Saturday after a seven-month hiatus.
Alicia Lake, executive director of the food hub, said farmers faced relentless obstacles.
“This year it turned out that there was a lack of rain during the growing season, the other years it was too much rain,” she said. “We always end up with different pests that are problematic. This year was the year of the slug.”
Many of the farms in Cape Breton are small and some are disappearing.
“We are losing farms every year, so there are fewer and fewer people trying to grow more and more food,” Lake said.
In Cape Breton, households rely heavily on produce from around the world. Members of food cooperatives say a positive result of the pandemic is that people are now starting to look for more local produce.
The owners of Pebble and Fern say they now have to look at what the future holds. They are not sure that their home and work space can be reclaimed.
“There’s really nothing we can do,” Leavitt said.
“We lost not only where we live, but all the bottles and packaging we got. All the basic ingredients that had been harvested and were ready to be made into the pickles, beets and threads that Clair had processed and spun from the sheep … It will be a long and painfully slow process to rebuild. “
Leavitt said there was no insurance on the building that burned down.
Friends and patrons of the farm have since set up an online fundraiser to help partners get back on their feet.
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