Member Name: Loonsong Farm
Location: PO Box 90, Stevensville, Ontario, L0S 1S0
Contact Information: 289-228-0047
Co-op Structure (who are the owners):
We (Heather Thoma and Paul Salanki) bring diverse backgrounds and skills to LoonSong Farm and our community. Paul’s experience in soils and farming, mechanical knowledge and building, and research and teaching, all play into the work of the farm. Heather’s years of community facilitation, teaching, outreach, and knowledge of creative arts and ecology weave into the farm and community in multiple ways.
How many farmers? How many eaters? How many staff?
Loonsong Farm is owned and operated by Paul Salanki & Heather Thoma. The farm is primarily operated by Paul & Heather for most of the year, although during the peak summer season several apprentices and volunteers help to keep the CSA program running smoothly. Our CSA program serves up to 50 eater families.
Activities Undertaken by the co-op/member:
At LoonSong we have been practicing high quality gardening and farming since 2003, growing nourishing foods and cultivating vibrant community connections in and for the region around us. After offering a wide range of vegetables and fruits through CSA and market garden for 8 years, we now grow oats, spelt, wheat, and rye using organic and Biodynamic practices and mill the grains with care, into stone-ground flours and rolled oats. The flavor and freshness of our rolled oats are unique and delicious and will bring you back for more!
What are the purchasing criteria/policies for food / what are the required attributes (ie. local? Organic? Fair trade? Other?)
Loonsong supports local and organic food. We have been farming and working with communities on Manitoulin Island since 2003. From 2003 to 2010 we provided organic/Biodynamic produce through our CSA and market garden. Since 2010 we have shifted to focus on growing organic/Biodynamic grains and field crops, and milling fresh stone-ground flours and rolled oats for sale locally, regionally, and provincially. If we need to access additional supplies of grain, and for our seed, we work with only certified organic or biodynamic sources.
History of the Co-op/ important historical moments:
LoonSong started as a Community Supported Agriculture farm in 2003 on Manitoulin Island and this was our primary structure for about 8 years. In 2017 we are moving our base to southern Ontario, to continue our farming and community work in Niagara Region and Northumberland County. Stay tuned for what comes next!!
At LoonSong we are working with a big-picture, long-term outlook in what we do: we want to work in ways that are going to make a difference in our communities and inspire others to transform their communities in relation to food, nutrition and health, and resilience.
Biggest Successes? Any Challenges? How is your organization transforming the food system?
These three questions tie closely together for us, as really it feels like just still existing and doing what we do after 14 years is one of our biggest successes, which we are grateful for! There is always lots to keep us on our toes. The approach of diversity is one that we try to work with, and on a larger scale growing multiple crops and working on equipment both in the farm fields and in the milling and processing, requires resourcefulness. Dealing with disappointments due to weather and mechanical glitches, Plan A often becomes Plan B or C or D. The middle level scale of food processing is not so common in Ontario, as compared to gardening, CSA, or larger industrial agriculture. We are doing our best to work with similar priorities to small-scale farms, but to understand how to allow those principles and approaches to expand into a slightly larger scope. This means for example, trying to keep our marketing as direct and close to eaters as possible, having to retrofit agricultural equipment to adjust to a smaller scale, or bring ideas from gardening (such as mulching and cover cropping) into a larger scale. There is more infrastructure needed for growing and storing grains and processing flours, and we are exploring different ways to fund that investment, which can also connect eaters to their daily breads. Still lots to figure out!
What need does your co-op respond to (in the community)?
This spring we moved our farming and home from Manitoulin Island to southern parts of Ontario. Through our Manitoulin community web of farmers, friends, and colleagues, we cultivated over 14 years of farming, teaching, and food system building. In rural communities, large scale farming is often strongly present, and is generally chemical-intensive, generally for commodities such as soy and corn, that are not used for human food. So we find that it is still necessary to directly connect communities to experiences of knowing and growing their daily foods. Heather was key in developing the Good Food Box program on Manitoulin, as well as helping to form Kids Can Grow. KCG is an initiative working in the schools across 9 communities on Manitoulin, both First Nations and non-native, inspiring and supporting elementary school students to grow seedlings in their classrooms, and then to sell them at Farmers Markets and other venues, as well as to then plant and garden with those seedlings. The program now includes school gardens at most of the participating schools, and has become part of the new Manitoulin Fresh Food Initiative, which is building community greenhouses to extend the growing knowledge and growing season in these northern locations, for families and communities on the Island. We send huge gratitude out to all of our Manitoulin food colleagues in the north, and at the same time are looking forward to building similar relationships with those in southern and eastern Ontario.
Why did you choose the co-op model for the business?
Although we are not a co-op with our current farming in growing, processing, and sales of organic grains, we recognize there’s a vital role for co-ops and want to work collaboratively with organizations and communities in ongoing ways to support food systems education and evolution. The standard systems are not serving the needs for community resilience, health, and longevity, and it feels like community-based and regional networks and solutions can be beneficial and responsive on more levels. So we want to be part of these conversations and plans and see how we can participate with you all!
What is the value of being part of a co-op Network?
We are members of LFFC and are glad to support the activity of the group of co-ops. We are working toward many of the same goals as LFFC and are really inspired by the co-op members and farmers working together to create more strengths within the province!
Connecting local and regional distribution networks to support more exchange of organic and sustainable foods is one aspect we are especially interested in, to help increase viable markets for processing of local foods at mid-level scale, for year-round supplies.
Anything else you would like to share?
We have moved this spring to southern Ontario, and are supplying our rolled oats and flours to several co-ops (Eat Local Sudbury, Cloverbelt, By the Bushel in Peterborough, Collingwood) and look forward to collaborating with other co-ops too!