The Moore Farm – Outaouais New Urban Farm & Eco-Education Center
The Moore Farm (La Ferme Moore), an ambitious agricultural, ecology, education center with a built-in farmers market and farm-to-table bistro, set on 88 acres of heritage farm land in the heart of Gatineau. It’s new, groundbreaking and incredibly exciting to watch unfold, right here in my neighborhood.
Since moving to Aylmer/Gatineau six years ago I’ve driven by the property at 670 Alexander-Taché Boulevard thousands of times looking for signs of life. I once boldly ignored the ‘private property’ signs, trespassing up the long gravel drive to enjoy the magnificent view and dream for a moment of what could be.
150 Years of History
Willed to the NCC (National Capital Commission) in 1973 by Virginia Parker-Moore the property was once home to a thoroughbred farm. The Farm’s deeper history is linked to Philemon Wright, the founder of Hull who owned the farm from 1824 – 1872, making it a unique piece of Canadian heritage. It’s been sitting vacant for decades, even after the NCC’s recent $5.8M restoration to the 115-year-old stables.
Last fall the ‘for lease’ signs went down at the Virginia Moore Farm and the place began to come alive. Fields were mowed and hay was harvested. I watched as plows and planters arrived before the snow fell and the pasture fell dormant once more. As spring arrived something very different began to happen. Work began to break ground, plant seeds and soon things began to grow.
Last week the boulevard was lined with signs saying ‘Farm Market’ and ‘Fresh Vegetables’. Taking this as an invitation, I drove up the hill up to the big, white barn through the hive of activity on what is now – The Moore Farm (La Ferme Moore).
Planting for the Future
Director Francois Desormeaux walked me through the future of The Moore Farm in the National Capitol Region. Owned and operated by a Co-op, The Moore Farm is a not-for-profit organization whose prime focus is urban farming and ecotourism with the emphasis on learning, research, growth and community support.
A place to discover, love and respect nature, The Moore Farm features four buildings with the stunning Queen Anne style stables at its hub.
Home to the Café/Bistro/Boutique the offices and meeting space for rent, the stables are a remarkable example of architecture and craftsmanship circa 1901. Meticulously restored the building now boasts Geo-thermal heating, skylights, suspended walkways, open post-and-beam construction and a soaring atrium. The Bistro opens onto a terrace overlooking the fields, the river and the city beyond – it’s a warm welcoming space.
The wood-sided riding arena (a re-purposed cow shed) will soon house the expanded Farmer’s Market and kitchen studio, complete with cooking classes and a television production. The 1920’s Ice House currently serves as a makeshift greenhouse for tender sprouts. While the small farmhouse, scheduled for renovation, is earmarked as the future site of The Farm’s administration offices.
The Moore Farm Community
True to its farming roots, the property hosts a new three-acre community garden with 100 plots for lease – currently at full capacity. The main field supports the just-opened Farmer’s Market offering a variety of food stuffs for sale over the course of the season. The Farm also provides fodder for the newly opened Bistro/Boutique with plans for a line of goods from their storefront which also promotes and sells local Outaouais products.
Currently under construction is the four-part Ecology Garden – featuring 160 varieties of indigenous, medicinal, ecological and botanical plants as part of ongoing educational programs.
In all ten acres, for years left fallow, are under cultivation at the moment with another ten in transition. That’s a stunning accomplishment in just a four months. Particularly when you consider that there’s no irrigation system. That means watering is presently done… by-hand.
“It’s amazing what we’ve accomplished since March. Over 100 volunteers put in hundreds and hundreds of man hours to make all this possible. Without their assistance we would have never seen this type of ramp-up so quickly. They wanted it, and they got it. Officially we only have 3 paid gardeners; one master gardener and two students. The rest was done with volunteer labour from the community.” – Francois Desormeaux, Director, The Moore Farm.
Community support for this project is deep, and the commitment to solid environmental practice benefits both the neighborhood and The Farm. One of the first community projects to get off the ground was a composting agreement with the residents of the condo tower adjacent to the property. That food waste, once destined for the city’s waste management program, now fuels the next crops at The Moore Farm.
A Million Bees & Counting
After navigating through a sea of red tape The Moore Farm is now home to an urban apiary housing one million bees. The first licenced, legal beekeeping facility in the City of Gatineau, this effort could lead the way for other small honey operations throughout the city.
The bee program is lead by keepers with Apicentris, whose host of volunteers are onsite daily to tend and maintain the hives. Pablo Berlanga and Daniel Hamelin were my knowledgeable guides through the maze of the 17 healthy, thriving hives of ‘rescued’ bees.
“When a hive reaches a certain capacity the queen will produce a second queen and the hive will split, looking for a new home. Sometimes they end up in people’s bran walls, in a tree in the backyard, or as a swarm on someone’s patio. If you see one call us and we will give them a good home!” – Daniel Hamelin, Apicentris Volunteer
Moving slowly, we walked untouched through the bee farm, complete with bee watering stations and new tree trunk ‘natural hives’. Docile and gentle, the bees were perfectly at peace as they briefed me on the basics of new, experimental environmentally sound beekeeping practice. (Classes in beekeeping at coming to The Moore Farm in February, in both official languages.)
For those with a love of the little honey makers; the best time to chat with beekeepers at The Moore Farm and learn about their natural beekeeping practices is in the morning and over the lunch hour. It’s a fascinating discussion. (More on this coming soon on Food Gypsy.)
Cultural Events, Classes, Camps, Courses & Studies
A series of five classical music concerts are scheduled for Sunday afternoons throughout the summer in The Moore Farm Bistro. A nod to Virginia Parker-Moore who was herself a patron of the arts and classical music in particular, tickets are just $20, and they sell out fast.
The Farm’s Grand Piano was donated by le Conservatoire de musique de Gatineau. It’s sound resonates through the open wood beam atrium, mellowing it’s tone in the serine setting. Each concert is accompanied by herbal tonics and teas brewed by Master Botanist Majella Larochelle with farm fresh herbs for a truly terrior experience.
The first in the series, taking place this Sunday, is already sold out. Tickets for the next concert August 14th are available online and sure to sell just as quickly. Check The Farm’s Calendar of Events for more information.
The Farm also hosts outdoor yoga classes at sunrise (6:30 am) and in the evening (6 to 7 pm) on the grounds. With classes in urban farming, beekeeping, the culinary arts and candle-making as well as ongoing studies with local universities launching soon.
Summer Day Camps designed to educate and nourish young minds and bodies are currently under way. It seems kids are delighted to have permission to get into the dirt!
Kid’s Camps (ages 6 – 12) are largely food focused with emphasis on where food comes from, the cycles of nature and farming. Campers learn what plants need to thrive, they thin carrots and make their own snacks as they learn about urban farming, at the source.
Those 13 to 16 can enter into The Farm’s Summer Teen Training Program and participate as a member of the farm team to keep things growing. For three hours a day these students join staff and volunteers in the fields to seed, feed, water, rake and hoe – rain or shine. If needed, they even pick rocks to clear the way for new plantings.
As a farm kid myself I can tell you that learning first hand, how much labour goes into your food will impress upon you just how precious food is. (Personally, I believe picking rocks should be prerequisite training for all humans.) Summer camp goers also eat straight from the land. Lunch and snacks reflect the daily harvest, along with proteins from The Moore Farm’s carefully chosen list of Outaouais suppliers. As kid’s meals go, this might be the freshest, most nutritious day camp meal, ever.
In August sites on the grounds will be spiked for the first in what will be a series of archaeological digs in conjunction with the NCC. Two sites, one where the old farm house once stood and another in the back acreage will be open to curious kids, of all ages.
Next month is also the launch a series of tasting events featuring local producers hand-picked to match The Farm’s direction. Largely organic and natural method farmers, most within less than the 100 mile radius that denotes ‘local’. This is not just local, it’s LOCAL local — as in just minutes away.
The Farmers Market is about to boom in the next week as they begin to harvest legumes, leafy greens, roots, and tubers. At the moment you’ll find garlic scapes, a variety of new potatoes, summer squashes, kohlrabi, green onions, radishes, several types of kale, char, herbs and lettuce as well as some truly gorgeous beets and (an overabundance) of fresh garlic. It seems the first crop of garlic has been (ahem…) something of a success.
Is The Moore Farm Organic?
Not yet. It takes three years to be a designated organic and that it in the works. Keep in mind that this land has been untouched for more than 40 years and, as per their mandate, The Moore Farm operates without herbicides or pesticides. Instead you’ll see a examples of companion planning and natural methods you can use in your own garden to help fight pests and invaders (both flora and fauna).
This is a project in its infancy and as such, the Café/Bistro/Boutique doesn’t even have a kitchen yet. At the moment they’re operating with a Panini press, a barbecue, an induction burner and a whole lot of chutzpah! I implore the foodie nation to tread lightly with this in mind as they get going. (They don’t even have an oven for Pete’s sake!) Let’s champion their efforts. Enjoy lunch, or a light bite. Go knowing that the current menu is tightly focused on what’s fresh and making the most of what they’ve got, with more to come. Much, much more.
Getting There & Away
Less than a 15 minute drive from downtown Ottawa and only minutes from central Hull, this is a rare facility in any urban center. Just two minutes off the Champlain Bridge, past St. Raymond Blvd. – you’ll see The Moore Farm up the hill on the left, with plenty of free parking in the back. Even for those without a car it’s an easy trip, only a quick detour from biking trails along the river and on St. Raymond. The Farm is also on a major bus route(s) with a stop a few meters from the gate in either direction.
No Cost for Admission
Buy tickets for The Farm’s music and tasting events or book a space in their yoga class on line, through their e-commerce friendly website. Other than the ticketed events, camps and classes, there’s no price for admission. You can enjoy the grounds, ask questions, take guided tours and explore the natural diversity of the farm, on nothing but a whim.
In a world where almost everything taxes your wallet, this is a free space that encourages you to escape the city and relax. If relaxing means getting dirt under your nails then you’re welcome to lend a hand in the fields, as one of their army of volunteers. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been on the business end of a shovel in your life – learning is the whole point. The Moore Farm is your farm, in the city.
“The Co-operative de solidairité de la Ferme Moore is a not-for-profit organization. This project is not about shareholder dividends. Any monies made go directly back into the project, funding future developments and programs. We have big plans; this is a place to dream, and we dream BIG.” – Francois Desormeaux, Director, The Moore Farm
Open seven days a week from 9 am to 6 pm (with field work starting at 8 am), they welcome you – at any time.
For my money, a morning at The Moore Farm sure beats the hell out of a trip to the grocery store! Go, get your farm on.
The Moore Farm
670 Alexandre-Taché Boulevard
Gatineau, QC J9A 3G5