environment

Green Tourism Canada Certification

We applied for Green Tourism Canada Certification this winter.

Green Tourism Canada Certification

Our bluffs by Lake Ontario

A branch of Green Tourism International, Green Tourism Canada promotes ecotourism by :

• Encouraging tourist-oriented organizations to examine and improve their carbon footprint.
• Helping eco-minded travelers locate and choose their destinations.

The Canadian organization, http://www.greentourismcanada.ca/, is determined to create a sustainable industry that welcomes visitors across the country.

Topsy Farms worked with Green Tourism Canada for a few months, supplying initial data, participating in telephone interviews, then providing documentary and photographic proof of claims.

Green Tourism Canada Certification

Young flock moving to new pasture

There were 5 required criteria:
• Sustainability commitment
• Risk management standards especially regarding disposal of toxic substances
• That we know and evaluate our energy consumption, waste disposal, water use, and money spending patterns
• That we establish a Green Policy regarding environmental, economic and social issues
• Creation of a Green Management file, documenting problems and solutions

Green Tourism Canada Certification

Syrian Visitors with 2 Canadian babies

There are 140 possible measurements of strengths and problems, but the evaluator applied only about 60 appropriate ones to Topsy Farms. We were scored 0 – 5 on each to be evaluated for Green Canada Tourism certification.

WHEW !

The interviewer was supportive and encouraging. The 5 to 6 hours of interviews by phone were both stimulating and exhausting, with a free flow of information both ways.

The staff at Green Tourism Canada was impressed by many things already happening at Topsy Farms:

Green Tourism Canada Certification

Our ancient, prolific pear tree

  • commitment to permaculture with the land
  • efforts to assist Syrian refugees, First Nations healing, local schools
  • support of our local community, including the donation of a lambskin to each Island newborn; producing the Amherst Island newspaper, The Beacon, for over 30 years; participation in First Response since inception; gathering fresh food from Island gardens for Kingston shelters
  • welcome extended to the public to visit our shearing and foster lamb operations, educating families about eco-farming practices
  • recycling materials used on the farm; repurposing others. (One example: 7 miles of wood retrieved from a derelict grain elevator we took down built the second floor of our barn – now our shearing floor.)
  • support of our environment with gardens, Monarch Way Station certification, raising bees and producing honey, mulching with belly wool.
  • no chemicals at all are used in the production of our roving, yarn and blankets.
Green Tourism Canada Certification

Spending pattern in 2016

We learned a great deal about ourselves as well as developing ideas for improvement.

We were fascinated by the exercise of drawing a geographical chart, showing where our money was spent in 2016. The pie chart summarizes our proud results. Topsy paid 72% of last year’s goods and services within Ontario, mainly locally. Only 5% was spent outside Canada and we hope to reduce that!

We received a report suggesting areas of vulnerability, making practical recommendations, and stimulating new ideas.

We are proud to announce…

On Earth Day, Topsy Farms was awarded the Gold Classification for Green Tourism Canada.

It is the highest possible standard that a tourism business can receive regarding ecological sustainability.

Of 110 businesses classified in Canada, Topsy Farms is the FIRST farm – one of a very few agribusinesses including vineyards – to receive Green Tourism Canada Certification.

We are deeply gratified that our efforts, our values have been acknowledged. Our wool products are the most sustainable, environmentally friendly anywhere.

We can also clearly see new ways to improve our practices to be even more ecologically friendly.

Do walk or cycle this pathway with us.

Pure Wool Dryer Balls

Pure Wool Dryer Balls

Pure Wool Dryer Balls

Our popular pure wool dryer balls have many uses. When a person puts 3 in the dryer they will:

  • fluff up laundry
  • avoid the use of somewhat toxic dryer sheets
  • reduce or remove static cling
  • shorten dryer time, thus
  • save you money

David Suzuki recommends pure wool dryer balls as a means to reduce dryer time for up to 30%.

They are environmentally, ethically sound, using only the renewable resource of wool, to significantly reduce electrical energy and costs.

Pure wool dryer balls come in a convenient home stitched bag (from repurposed cotton sheets) with a cute lamb photo, for pleasurable gift-giving or handy storage.

The package of 3 dryer balls, information sheet and gift bag cost $25 at https://topsyfarms.com/wool-shed, or by phoning 888 287-3157. There is presently such high demand that they are not yet available on our website store.

And as this 8 second video shows, they can be fun too!

Surviving a Drought Year on Amherst Island

Most of our 41 summers farming on Amherst Island have been dry. The summers of 2008-2011 were a pleasant exception – no Islanders could remember 3 green summers in a row and 4 in a row still seem miraculous.

For us, the driest summer was in 1988. We had to buy some poor quality hay and quite a bit of grain to get the sheep flock through to the next spring.

It was a near squeak that year to pay the bills.

Once again this year we have had a tough spring/early summer with high temperatures and very little moisture.  The August rains enjoyed by some have managed to miss us almost entirely.  But we are in quite a bit better position than we were in 1988.

Our equipment isn’t quite so ancient and is less prone to breaking down when urgently needed.  Hay can be made more quickly. We now have the equipment and experience to make baleage early in the Ontario growing season which enables us to harvest good quality forage while encouraging re-growth for pasture, and at least slightly reduce our dependence on increasingly expensive grain. The sheep are rotated from pasture to pasture.  We try always to trim the completed pastures to remove plants that the sheep didn’t eat.  (We don’t want the least favourite to reseed, coming to dominate the pasture.)

Topsy Farms

Christopher, wrapping a baleage bale.

High soil quality helps the farm through drought.

We roll the hay out in the fall and winter, spreading it on the ground.  That is the most efficient way for all sheep to have equal access to the fresh hay.  It also leaves tiny hay fragments which, combined with the sheep droppings, increase the organic matter in the soil.   We have less manure to spread as we now use the barns less, but still stockpile the barnyard gleanings and spread on the fields when we can. This increases the ’tilth’ of the earth, draws earthworms (which add their own castings) and other small organisms, which helps hold moisture if we do get any rain.  The first year we unrolled hay on poor pasture, we could clearly see the green stripes in the ground, where the more lush grasses were growing thanks to the increased organic matter.

Topsy Farms sheep

Don unrolling hay to newly shorn sheep, early spring

Last year was a good year – we harvested as much hay as possible and were able to build up a surplus – called ‘drought hay’ – which we are already feeding during the weaning process (5 large round bales/day plus supplement).  Last year we made over 1700 round bales and didn’t start feeding until November; this year, we were able to make just over 1100 bales, and have had to start feeding during the summer.  That is a big difference.

Topsy farms bales

Ian loading bales onto wagons for transport

Consequently, culling animals that are not productive for the farm is a much higher priority this year.  A first year ewe-lamb who didn’t get pregnant is unfortunately sent to market.  Older ewes unable to raise lambs once more would normally be culled in the fall, but this year, they are going in the summer.  We just can’t feed them.

Tough decisions.  We need to enhance the core of our flock, feeding them well, rather than giving everyone skimpy rations.

So, now our soil is improved.  Our techniques are improved.  Equipment is in better shape.  We just need to perfect our rain dance techniques.

Maintaining a Tradition


When Jacob was three years old, I took him out in my lovely canoe along the shore of Lake Ontario. He wore his life jacket and his hat, and was eager and interested and already showing his great knack for balance. We went out a few times that summer, and he gained a sense of how to hold the paddle and the basic idea of paddling. The next summer, we’d barely launched when he pointed out with excitement that a huge hunk of the rock wall nearby had fallen over the winter. I carry lovely images of my son when he was older, out alone at sunset, peaceful with his fishing rod.

When Kyle was three, he had his first experience in the canoe too, following tradition. Also a natural athlete, his balance was easy, and both boys learned quickly to alternate sides, watching for fish or interesting lake bottom items. We tried fishing from the canoe that year and the next few – not entirely a success, as one or the other line constantly needed untangling. When Jacob hooked a big one, I insisted he was on bottom (wrong) and then we were all periously leaning over the same side. He landed the fish safely and I learned another humble lesson.

When our dog, Lucky turned three, she’d calmed down enough to learn her canoe lessons too. She loved it, learned quickly to recognize the word (as distinct from bike, walk, car etc) but would insist on riding awhile, then running the shoreline for awhile, then riding again.

Canoe lessons, age 3, tradition maintained.

When grandson Nathan turned three, I wasn’t in as good condition. However, it was important to me to do something special, just the two of us,  and to maintain the tradition, so with help from my grown sons to launch, out we went. The Murray genes made it easy for him and he was intrigued by the strokes and the steering. The summer Nathan was four, Kyle’s pontoon boat was in the water, and he and I paddled out a couple of times, with my comfy chair as baggage, and had a picnic in the evening on the boat. The next summer he was allowed out on the end of a very long rope by himself, paddling and puttering and experimenting.

Now this summer, Nathan’s brother Mike has had his first time in the canoe, again when he was thrrrrreeee. (He has practised that lately.) He was not at all eager, but he wanted to do whatever Nathan and Nana were doing, and we were heading out. So, cautiously he joined us at my feet, sitting on a life jacket on the floor, wearing his own, while Nathan did most of the paddling. Nathan was generously willing to trade his seat in the bow – they passed each other like dancers, so easily balanced. Mike reveled in his position up front, and declared himself quite eager for another outing.

All four boys, and our dog, celebrating new freedoms, age three.

Lambs Needing Help at Topsy Farms

Our shepherd, Christopher, says that the gestation period for lambs is 4 months, 3 weeks and 4 days. We calculate when to put the rams in, based on when we want the birthing to begin. (Ideally, once the weather has warmed and there is sufficent pasture to keep the flock groupings well fed – the second week of May.) However, that turned out to be on the weekend that was very cold – there was snow in Ottawa and Kingston – and the ewes appear to be able to ‘cross their legs’ – holding off the birthing for a day or so. Its a wonderful survival skill in the wild.

So, the first year lambers, called ‘replacements’, started lambing first, and a few days later the mature ewes followed their example. Ideally, we hope a first year mama willl raise a good sized single lamb, and the mature ewes will raise an average of two each. (Some are able to raise triplets successfully; others only have a big single.)

Sometimes a ewe will choose to nurture one or two, and will ignore one, for no apparent reason. Very occasionally, a lamb is stillborn. Chris does his best to arrange an adoption. If a lamb is hungry and there are no prospective adoptive mothers, or if an adoption fails, the lambs will come to me to foster.

The first lamb was a big, hungry beauty. His large frame splayed off both sides of my lap, no matter how we tried to cuddle. He didn’t recognize either the black rubber nipple, the stubby beer bottle, the sounds of comfort I was trying to make, nor the initial taste of the formula on his lips. But once the nipple was inserted and he got the first glug, he certainly recognized food when he tasted it! The enthusiastic sucking made me tighten my grip on the bottle. He came up once for air, then didn’t know how to find the source again. With help, he was able to find what he wanted and downed the entire bottle. His tummy was no longer concave. He slept for the night in a big dog cage on our front porch, then after another enthusiastic feeding, spent the day outside in a small wire pen, enclosed within the larger pen for the ewe and twins due to arrive.

He thrived on the four feedings a day, filling out visibly. He was calm enough to take a feeding from my 5 year old grandson Nathan, with “help” from his brother Michael. Once solidly established, our shepherd put an elastic ring around his tail and testicles. It is the most humane way to dock and castrate, as the circulation is gradually cut off, and the part atrophies and falls off, unnoticed. He also received the required ear tag.

After a day of quiet recovery and lots more food, he was picked up by his doting new owner who will raise him in company with a few other sheep and a llama.

Unexpectedly there was a few lambless days interval, which was welcome as I was preparing lots of pots of plants for the Island long weekend market.

With perfect timing, the second male lamb was brought to me on Sat. of the long weekend. He was rejected by his first mom, then had a failed adoption, so he’s a little weaker; a much less assertive eater. He is very quiet to hold, but doesn’t yet seek the nipple. Fortunately we now have company for him, as a big ewe and her twins are in the big front yard penned area. She sounds the quiet protective nicker each morning when I bring him outside, ensuring he’s alright – but knows he isn’t hers. He’ll eat half a bottle at a time. I’m trying to give him small amounts, more often, until he feels stronger.

Why the beer bottle you might ask? The old ‘stubbies’ fit nicely into the microwave if the formula, a powdered lamb milk replacer, needs to be warmed. Whatever works, on a farm.

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Nous vous invitons à communiquer avec nous en français à info@topsyfarms.com, ou par téléphone: 1-888-287-3157. Demandez à parler à Sally.