OWNER, ALABASTER ACRES
FARMER, SHARER, REFORMED CITY SLICKER
Aimee owns and runs Alabaster Acres, “a place to come and learn about life on the farm,” as well as purchase eggs, organically grown heirloom produce, livestock and more, and enjoy workshops and farm stays. She lives in Caledon.
On your website, you wrote about wanting to change things up, to create “a slower more fulfilling life.” But from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t look slow.
It’s not slower, but it’s a different kind of busy. It’s a fulfilling busy.
What we found before all this, in the corporate world, was that you can become so busy with things that don’t matter. And a few years ago we sort of stopped and said, what are we doing here? We seemed to be getting busier and busier, we didn’t feel like we were getting anywhere in our lives, and we didn’t want to teach our children that that’s something they should be striving for.
It was a very empty way to look at life, and I know that a lot of people live that way, so I certainly don’t want to slight other people that are content in that life. But at the end of the day it didn’t matter. We were busting ourselves to keep up with the big machine and it felt very hollow.
So we thought: if we could change this, if money was no object and bravery was no object, how would we change our lives to live a better kind of life for us? And change it so that our children could understand more about the world, be more in touch with the world… so that we didn’t raise them to be landing in the life that we were trying to get out of?
That’s a big moment. But it seems that it could have pointed you in a lot of directions. How did you choose the one you did?
I read a thing many years ago, that you should strive to live a life that you don’t need a vacation from.
That was a big part of it. A lot of people want to drop everything and run away, and they can’t wait to get to their next beach vacation. I don’t live that way. I love my farm, and when I go down to my big thousand foot driveway and I get home, it’s a life that I love. It’s a life that I’m evangelistic about because I think it’s so good for the planet, it’s so good for the people and it’s so good for our community. So I don’t ever have those aspirations of trying to run away from it.
If anything, I’m trying to bring everybody else to it. So yes, I could have gone a thousand ways. But I didn’t want to come up with a more temporary solution of the life I wanted to live, by saying I’m going to take a year off and do X,Y or Z. I wanted to recreate life in a way that I wanted to live it long-term.
I can just hear the TED Talk. So how did this lead to… chickens?
From the beginning it was about trying to be more self-sufficient, more in touch with our world and trying to make the world a better place. From that we thought, OK: how could we make changes in our everyday lifestyle to accommodate that? How do we put one foot in front of the other here, to get there?
We thought that in a few years, we would try and buy some property up north and build this farm. I’m a very big dreamer. I believe that with a little ingenuity there is nothing I can’t accomplish. So I thought, this is kind of the shape of the life that I want to live… this is how I’d like to end up… how do I get from here to there? And I was wise enough at the time to say, maybe I should try this on slowly. We’ll start small and see if this is the right fit. Because going from a corporate environment to this is a big change — and often, concepts can sound better than reality. So the first step was going into a homestead that we rented in Brampton. We had an acre property, and it would be our test. So we started with rabbits and chickens.
It has to be an all-in, family commitment, too.
That was another thing. The kids were still young: were they going to find this interesting? Were they going to want to be involved in it? Or was it going to be a big pain for them? So we built a bunch of raised beds in the back, we grew a hundred types of food, all experimental. Heirloom varieties of all kinds of stuff that you can’t buy at the grocery store, and tried all kinds of gardening methods and techniques to see if we were any good at it. Because before that, me personally, I couldn’t even keep a house plant alive. I had never been taught that, never had any luck with it. So after this enormous amount of research and experimentation, that changed. And now I can grow just about anything.
So you’re a city slicker!
I was born in Mississauga and traveled quite extensively, but I identify as being born a city slicker. I had no farm experience. We didn’t even have pets growing up. I grew up in a corporate family and that was the only way I knew how to live, so this was a huge departure for me.
So a hundred species of plants and vegetables later, what happened?
Basically, my ambitions outgrew that property. Once you have chickens and turkeys and rabbits, you start thinking, well, it would be really nice to get a milk cow, or to raise my own pigs to get pork, so that I could provide meat for my family, steers to provide beef. I wanted control over what my kids were being fed so there was no hormones or steroids or antibiotics. And those kinds of things are so expensive to buy in the store, so I thought, you know what, I could totally do this.
That’s how I approach everything in life: I can totally do this, you just gotta figure it out. I had ambitions that the property couldn’t support or wasn’t zoned for, and that’s when we started to hunt. And we came across this 100-acre farm. We’ve got fields that we cultivate, livestock, barns, and this great 1870’s farm house that we live in.
This is all about being self sufficient isn’t it?
It is, yes. It’s not like we’re full-on preppers! But if anything bad happens, your grocery store is going to run out of food. With rural living, when we lose power at the farm we lose our well pump, so there’s no water, no hydro, no nothing. So we have to live in a way that allows for some sustainability on our own, under our own steam.
That’s very much part of our daily living now, but even prior to that we wanted to live a life where we had a little bit of breathing room. There were some pretty good storms that we lived through in the last few years, ice storms and such, and thankfully we had the wherewithal to have enough food and water in the house. We were actually the people that other people would come to in moments like that, and we just felt that was a really good way to be set up. So why not embrace that life more fully. This way if anything goes wrong, I have beef, I have pork, I have poultry, I have eggs — all this stuff that is available on my land that can support my family. That gives me peace of mind, that I’m not bound to other peoples’ sense of obligation or anything like that. I don’t know if that makes sense.
Lots of sense. But you’re not keeping it to yourself: your workshops and demonstrations, you want people to know about this.
There’s a quote I once read: when you find in life that you have more, instead of building a higher fence build a longer table. That’s the way that we want to live. Part of that is the workshops and experiences we offer, where we’re encouraging other families and people who want to learn things to come to us. We’re happy to sit down, we could talk your ear off and teach you what we’ve learned.
Who comes to the workshops?
It really depends on the workshop. You get people who have no prior knowledge whatsoever, you get people that want to expand their understanding of certain things. It’s more individuals and friends, people that are sharing like-minded interests and things.
This year we’re trying to spin it slightly to make it less about doing the farm stay. A lot of people were finding that that was a bigger commitment, so we’re really trying to focus on the day experiences. Come up from Toronto, come learn something. We’ll do a workshop in the morning on a Saturday, have lunch, and then we’ll do a workshop in the afternoon, so come for the morning or the afternoon or both. That seems to be more what people are wanting.
Are the kids old enough to know that their lives have changed, or are they just kids, who just go with whatever life is?
They go with it. I don’t think that they have any idea about the opportunities they’ve been afforded, or how different their lives look. But they are equally exuberant about it. They invite people from all over the place. They’re proud of knowing how to do things and they want to teach their friends. That’s one of the other options that we’re looking at for this summer as well: kids’ workshops specifically taught by kids, with assistance of adults.
So, last question. You were born a city slicker. But now… ?
I would never go back. Never!