The organic apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in the Clouston family.
Instead of partying and hitting the beach while spending her final summer of living full-time with her parents, Sarah Clouston has been spending her time growing organic vegetables on her family’s 52-acre farm near Alfred, before she heads off to the big city and university classes this fall. With harvest now underway, Sarah and her father John Clouston can be found most Saturday mornings manning their Souliterra Farms booth at the Vankleek Hill Farmers’ Market. The opportunity to spend such quality time with her father – who himself has been an organic grower for almost half a century – was an unexpected treat in what could have been a long summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At the beginning of spring I still had some high school work, but it was all online, so I was spending a lot more time at home,” recalls the 18-year-old graduate of École Le Sommet in Hawkesbury. “My dad and I have had a garden in previous years, but because we had so much more time together this spring we wanted to go bigger.”
The father and daughter duo set to work expanding their garden space – a difficult task because the soil on the property is composed primarily of hard clay – “It’s great soil for growing, if you know what you’re doing,” notes John Clouston. Once the planting was complete and the Cloustons were surveying their work, it quickly became obvious the amount produced would be more than they required as a family.
“We knew we were going to produce a lot more than we could consume, or give to our friends and family, so we thought it would be a nice opportunity for us to try to sell some of our organic produce and provide it for a wider market,” says Sarah Clouston, who has greatly enjoyed getting to meet new people from the region where she has grown up. “Most people I’ve seen at the market are people I’ve never met before and – especially right now, during this (pandemic) – it’s been really nice to just see people and talk and interact for a few minutes. It’s been great to see the faces.”
Sarah’s father provides the property and some guidance, but notes the 2020 organic produce project has been his daughter’s baby.
“She’s started all the seeds, transplanted the tomatoes – this is all her project,” says a beaming John Clouston. “I’m extremely proud of my daughter, for so many different reasons and particularly now that we are doing this project. She’s shown me some disciplines that I just don’t have.”
The proud father commented that organic farming has come a long way since he first became interested in the concept almost 50 years ago, when he was not much older than his daughter is now.
“I was way out in left field when I was doing organic stuff in the ’70s – nobody thought about that,” Clouston remembers, adding he was the first person to grow soybeans in the region. “Look at agri-business now: soybeans are everywhere and organic farming is seen as the future.”
Sarah Clouston will be heading off to the University of Toronto this autumn to study engineering science and notes that while her summer organic gardening project fits in with some of her career objectives, she does not see a life of farming in her future.
“I really want to be doing stuff with the environment, sustainability, or the development of renewable energy. My dad has had a long history with organic farming so it was a really nice opportunity to spend a lot of time with him and learn from him and what he knows. I’m not closed off to it in the future, but maybe something more along the lines of engineering and not direct farming and agriculture.”