Mother Hens

Mother Hens

Mother Hens Two area women turn to organic farming and sow a successful business.

A gang of friendly turkeys roamed free at Sage Creek Permaculture for a spell last fall. Like dogs, they’d wander up to arriving vehicles to greet visitors. Eventually, when they were nice and plump and butchered, the turkeys went home with some of the folks who came to visit.

They were very healthy, drug-free and (obviously) free-range turkeys, just like all the other animals at Sage Creek. The farm’s proprietors, Nancy Hewlett and Shannon Willoughby, figure that’s why they were so sociable.

“Everyone who’s grown up on a farm will say: ‘Watch out! Those toms will come after you,’” Willoughby says. “But they didn’t. Even the hens and roosters really get to know you. We’re nice to them so they’re nice to us.”

The Hewlett and Willoughby families are living a 100 per cent organic lifestyle on their property just north of Airdrie on Dickson Stevenson Trail and they are keen to help other area families do the same. If one of their vehicles contains beef, chicken or eggs, it’s because it’s a delivery heading to Airdrie, not being brought home from a grocery store, and they are hoping to add pork to their stock this summer.

“The farm supports us now for food,” Hewlett says. “We are almost grocery-store-free except for vegetables and we’re putting in a large greenhouse. Then we will be getting into fermenting and canning.

“We are basically going back to the old-school ways that our grandparents used to live [by],” she adds. “It’s by no means new and it’s not our motto. We stole it from Mother Nature.”

Mother HensHewlett and Willoughby were both raised on farms and are sisters-in-law – Willoughby is married to Hewlett’s brother, Jason. The two started Sage Creek just over a year ago and are awaiting approval on their application to become a certified organic operation.

They were also awaiting word in January on an application to participate in Airdrie Farmers Market.

“We view the farm as a whole entity. Each animal and system working harmoniously together to provide a self-sustaining, healthy, healing place, for us to organically grow nutrient-dense food while healing the land at the same time.”

So far, the Willoughbys and Hewletts have been conducting business based on word of mouth and they have a Facebook page and a website.

“The response has been pretty overwhelming,” says Willoughby. “We went in the (Airdrie) Women’s Show in September and that was an eyeopener of just how much interest there is. There’s not enough of this going on and people are becoming more aware of things, especially meat, where meat comes from.”

Sage Creek Permaculture took root eight years ago in Moose Jaw when Jason Willoughby became ill and required heart surgery. When he mended he decided he wanted to go back to his roots and started practicing permaculture on a small scale in the backyard. The Willoughbys moved to Airdrie a year ago to join the Hewletts on the 148-acre property – the farm was attractive to them because it was not being used at the time they were looking to buy and they were told it had been free of chemicals for at least eight years – and moved a modular home to a spot not far from Nose Creek, which runs through the land.

“(Jason) had an awakening as to what was really important and ever since then he has wanted to get back to his roots and move to a farm,” Shannon says. “He always wanted to farm, but he didn’t want to farm as his dad had farmed, conventional farming.

“Chad and Jason work full time off the farm,” she adds. “Jason helped us put the system in place and (Nancy) and I are really the ones working the farm.”

A statement found on their website explains their ideology:

“At Sage Creek Permaculture we view the farm as a whole entity. Each animal and system working harmoniously together to provide a self-sustaining, healthy, healing place, for us to organically grow nutrient-dense food while healing the land at the same time.”

“We are farm-to-table so if you buy from us we are able to keep our prices a lot more reasonable,” Shannon says. “When I talk to Nutter’s (Bulk & Natural Foods) there was one grass-fed company that they were selling meat for and they said they were going to stop carrying it because it’s just so expensive that it’s not moving off the shelves.”

A novelty is that Sage Creek Permaculture has an open-door policy and visitors are welcome to look around the property to see where their food is coming from.

While the gang of happy turkeys is an attraction for the fall, an old camper that houses hens is the summer’s must-see. It’s towed around the property so hens can be exposed to fresh grass.

“It’s our very own ‘henmobile,’” Hewlett says.

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