We applied for Green Tourism Canada Certification this winter.
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.
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
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.
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:
- 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.
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.
We practice permaculture at Topsy Farms because it makes sense. The shallow land and Island context sets limits to what works without damage or erosion.
The farm we bought in 1971 is located on the west end of Amherst Island in Lake Ontario. The shallow, drought-prone soil is best used for forage. We keep the sod cover intact, not ploughing, using the sun and moisture-retaining soil to turn the natural grass and legume forage into meat. The farm is wooded with mixed trees, naturally self-planting.
Permaculture means we work to enhance what exists here, naturally.
We’ve deepened low-lying areas, making ponds for the sheep flock in many of the fields.
Living on an Island, we have easy access to a great volume of water.
It is our job to ensure we keep it clean.
We either pump water from the lake or a deep well, through the people and animals, then back into the soil.
Our woodlot is about 100 acres – more than enough to supply firewood and some fence posts without ever cutting a live tree. We burn fallen and dead trees in the wood furnace, the primary source of heat of our main house,
We’ve made some lumber from standing dead timber, using a rented portable small saw mill on the farm. Even the off-cuts aren’t wasted – we use them for the structures of our compost piles.
We harvest wild mushrooms, nuts, nettles and other wild edibles. Each house grows most of its own fresh food, and we consume mainly our own meat chickens and lamb or young mutton. We also eat venison, taken by license on our own property.
We’ve inherited and enhanced good fence rows – trees and bushes that separate fields. We planted a hedge of spruces (those most likely to survive here) that provides winter windbreak and summer shade.
All our properties have fruit trees, and some deciduous trees that we’ve planted. Our grandsons are involved in the gathering, making, and consuming quantities of pears and pear and apple sauce, and elderberries from our prolific bush, frozen, then eaten all winter.
We trim pastures rather than spraying for weed control. We do not plow.
Our farm has improved soil quality over the years by unrolling hay bales on the fields – “sheet composting” – which spreads the manure naturally. This technique feeds the soil’s earthworms and microorganisms. We also gather and compost manure from barnyards, then spread it on the fields.
We mulch under bushes and near our Wool Shop with belly wool – a waste byproduct of shearing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3v0WTZLrpk Some garden areas are mulched by unrolling old hay bales, no longer desirable for the sheep. This provides a very effective thick ground cover, adding nutrients for the soil as it breaks down and aiding moisture retention.
The shearing area on the second floor of the barn was built of wood salvaged when we were asked to demolish an old Island grain elevator. Seven miles of wood went far.
We make products from our yarn; the leftover bits form the core of dryer balls, the small tads cut off are added to the nesting materials, combined with belly wool, for birds in spring. Everything is used.
Raising sheep was a logical decision, given the shallow soil. Originally chosen as a source of meat sales, family food and revenue, we couldn’t make a living for 2 families. The lamb, yearling and mutton is in high demand, but the prices aren’t. We turned the health necessity of annual shearing into revenue by having the raw wool processed in PEI. We now provide almost 1/3 of the farm income through sales of pure wool blankets, wool bedding, yarn, sheepskins and other wool products. Our honey bees thrive in the pollen-producing environment, giving tasty, healthy honey.
Our desire is to improve the farm’s finances to enable the next generation to take the farm over and to have a good life.