A Move to Regenerative Farming Rooted in Community

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Four years ago, Anahita Belanger and her husband, Paul, were living in Toronto with their three sons, working 70-hour weeks at their corporate jobs, and asking themselves some hard questions. “Why are we driving consumption? What are our dreams and deepest desires? And why aren’t we acting on them?”

It quickly became clear to Anahita — who holds a science degree and has nurtured a lifelong passion for biology — that she wasn’t comfortable raising children in the city.

So they found a farm. “Or, rather, it found us.”

Since 1945, Paul’s family has operated Belanger Organic Farms, in Hillsdale, Ontario. While visiting the farm, Paul and Anahita learned that the adjacent property was for sale. The couple ran the numbers, decided that it was 10 years too soon in terms of their finances — and then took the leap anyway.

Anahita now spends her days tending crops, chickens and hogs, planting fruit and nut trees (“like crazy — we’re trying to build Canada’s largest forest farm”) and building connections between local farmers and markets. She has partnered with several farms to supply her community with local whole food — everything from organic heirloom vegetables and maple syrup, to sustainably raised meat, butter tarts and cheeses.

For Anahita, the partnerships are a win-win situation: increasing revenue for local family farms, providing frazzled families with healthy meals, and maintaining acres of productive land using soil-friendly farming practices.

Regenerative farming is Anahita’s real passion: “My focus is on increasing soil fertility. I’m wrapping my head around all the latest discoveries to hopefully improve the pasture and increase our topsoil.” She recalls reading in Scientific American that if soil degradation continues, the Earth can sustain only 60 more years of farming. “That [article] lit a fire under my ass, because we can change that. If we converted just 10% of our agriculture to regenerative practices, we could suck all the excess carbon out of the air. It’s possible. It’s so simple. Nature is so beautiful, and the solution lies in the soil — we just need to work with it.

“The only sector in agriculture that’s growing right now is regenerative. Anything I can do to support farmers creating change, that’s my mission.”

The Hillsdale farmhouse isn’t quite habitable yet. So for now the family lives in Barrie, Ontario, where the kids go to school and Anahita commutes 20 minutes to the farm. Her sons, now 16, 14 and 12, are adjusting well to change of pace.

“They take pride in seeing the rows of food, the wealth of it. We started raising hogs last year, and they were astonished by the animals’ intelligence. The boys are becoming respectful of how we treat the food that we eat and produce. We’ve dramatically decreased our waste. I think they feel very lucky to have access to that kind of food, and to see it emerge from a seed.”

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Life has changed dramatically — for the better — since Anahita and Paul made the leap from city to farm. The learning curve, she says, has been humbling. “What gets me out of bed each day is knowing that I am helping clean our air, soil and water, and offering clean food to a community that I love. The more you get in touch with your values, the easier the minutiae of life — all the little annoyances — become. They become smaller because you’ve got a bigger mission.”

Organic produce 2018

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