Just A Little Farm: Growing Produce the Natural Way

This being national organic week in Canada, I thought it was timely to pay a visit to a farmer who grows vegetables the natural way without chemicals. So, our visit today takes us to Just A Little Farm on the Green Road, near Bonshaw, PEI, where we meet farmer Jessica Vos.

Jessica Vos of Just A Little Farm in Bonshaw, PEI
Jessica Vos of Just A Little Farm, Green Road, PEI

When asked why she chose life as a farmer, Jessica explains that she grew up on a farm, worked in community gardens while in university, owned a landscaping business in Western Canada, is genuinely interested in food, and is happiest when outside working in the soil. Jessica has a degree in Human Ecology with a minor in nutrition and she is currently studying holistic nutrition.

View of part of the gardens at Just A Little Farm
View of part of the gardens at Just A Little Farm

It’s amazing how many varieties of vegetables and herbs Jessica grows. It would be a shorter list if you ask her what she doesn’t grow than what she does! In particular, Jessica grows a lot of lettuce and, by a lot, I mean a small field!

The Lettuce Field
The Lettuce Field at Just A Little Farm

All the lettuce plants are started in Jessica’s small greenhouse and then transplanted.

New Lettuce Plants
New Lettuce Plants

Throughout the growing season, she has an ongoing planting cycle of seedling plants one week and transplanting the next.

Lettuce Plants Ready for Transplanting Outside
Lettuce Plants Ready for Transplanting Outside

Jessica grows 5-6 varieties that have proven successful in PEI’s climate and she has fresh lettuce available until November.  How I wish we had access to this on PEI all winter!!!

Because she does not use any chemicals, I asked Jessica how she controls for weeds. She says she uses the old-fashioned method of weeding by hand and hoe. The other method she has found success with is planting the vegetables close to each other to suffocate the weeds.

There are challenges to any kind of farming, especially in the control of pests that also find the produce tasty. In particular, the cucumber beetle, cabbage moth, and slugs pose problems. Jessica has had success using netting to cover vegetables most often attacked by the pests.

Netting to control for pests
Netting to control for pests

This year, she is also using crushed up crab shell meal as a way to control for slugs.

Crushed Crab Shells
Crushed Crab Shells

Placed in proximity to the plants slugs like to attack (such as basil, for example), the rough shells are a deterrent for slugs which don’t find them very comfortable to crawl over.

Crushed Crab Shells to Control Slugs
Crushed Crab Shells to Control Slugs

Despite the challenges which Jessica jovially refers to as “part of the fun”, there are also sources of satisfaction she finds in her farming. As she says, when her produce grows well and her customers are happy, Jessica is happy knowing she has produced and supplied them with chemical-free, healthy and nutritious produce.

Look at these gorgeous, healthy basil plants!  I can attest they made some mighty fine basil pesto!

Love the dragon tongue beans on the right in the photo below!

A dragon tongue bean, anyone?

Jessica with her dragon tongue beans
Jessica with her dragon tongue beans

All of Jessica’s produce is hand-washed before leaving the farm.  Her new cooler storage unit is to the right in the photo below.

Jessica's Washing Station and Cooler Unit
Jessica’s Washing Station and Cooler Unit

Throughout the growing season, you can find Jessica’s produce in nearby local stores like Gasses General Store in New Haven and Harvey’s in Crapaud.

Every Saturday morning in July and August, Jessica can be found direct-marketing her produce at the small farmers’ market in the  seaside village of Victoria-by-the-Sea. She also supplies several local restaurants with fresh produce as well.

Jessica Vos at the Victoria-by-the-Sea Farmers' Market
Jessica Vos at the Victoria-by-the-Sea Farmers’ Market
At the Victoria-by-the-Sea Farmers' Market
At the Victoria-by-the-Sea Farmers’ Market

 

Like many organic farmers, Jessica also sells her produce through Community Shared Agriculture Boxes (CSA Boxes). This is where individuals (known as CSA members and sometimes referred to as shareholders) buy shares in her farm – i.e., at the beginning of the season, they sign a contract with Jessica and pay a certain sum of money upfront. In return, Jessica commits to do the best job she can to provide them with high-quality vegetables. Then, once harvest season begins, CSA members get a regular share of the vegetables from the farm as they are available. Currently, Jessica has about 15 CSA members who either receive a share of veggies weekly or bi-weekly. Jessica first tested the CSA method in the fall of 2013 and found a demand for it so this year, once a week, she fills her share boxes with whatever produce and herbs are currently available and heads to Victoria-by-the-Sea where her CSA members meet her to pick up their supply of fresh farm produce.

To contact Jessica and find out more about her chemical-free produce, visit Just A Little Farm’s website at http://www.justalittlefarm.com/

Earlier, I shared a recipe for Basil Pesto using fresh basil from Just A Little Farm. Today, I am featuring my recipe using pattypan squash from Jessica’s farm. This is a tasty side dish that combines pork sausage, mushrooms, basil pesto, and cheese with the pattypan squash.

Pattypan Squash and Sausage Casserole
Pattypan Squash and Sausage Casserole

Pattypan Squash and Sausage Casserole

Ingredients:

1 large sausage (e.g., Italian Sweet, Chorizo, Sun-dried Tomato)
2 tsp olive oil
½ cup chopped mushrooms

Apx. ¾ lb of small pattypan squash
2 tsp olive oil
2 – 3 tbsp basil pesto (homemade or store-bought)
2 – 3 tbsp grated mozzarella cheese
¾ cup fine bread crumbs
1½ tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1½ – 2 tbsp melted butter

Method:

Heat oil in frying pan. Remove sausage from casing and discard casing. Crumble sausage into frying pan and scramble fry over medium low heat for about 5 minutes. Add chopped mushrooms. Cook for 3-4 minutes.

page 1 - Sausage

Slice pattypans about ⅛” thick . Toss in a bowl with apx. 2 tsp olive oil.

In greased 8½“ x 6½“ pan, lay a layer of pattypan slices, overlapping slightly to cover bottom of pan.

Loosely dob about 2 tbsp basil pesto over the squash.

Spread the sausage and mushroom mixture over the squash.

Sprinkle with Mozzarella cheese.  Add another layer of squash, again, overlapping the slices to cover casserole.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and melted butter. Stir with a fork to mix. Sprinkle over squash.

Bake for approximately 35-40 minutes, until squash is fork-tender when tested.

Yield: 4 servings

Pattypan Squash and Sausage Casserole
Pattypan Squash and Sausage Casserole
Pattypan Squash and Sausage Casserole
Pattypan Squash and Sausage Casserole

 

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