As we head into the final weeks of our growing season, the Pye Farm is looking more like its old self, back when it operated as the Grand River Farm under the care and leadership of Frank and Joyce Pye.

Though we have miles to go before we sleep, the fields have again been cultivated after three seasons laying fallow. During which, the weeds, alders, and willows had a chance to make themselves comfortably at home. We are happy now to bring you up to speed on the progress of our first official growing season as the Pye Centre for Northern Boreal Food Systems.

Big thanks to Lemuel Seaward

Long, hot days allowed for favourable working conditions from June on into the month of August — much to the delight of Lemuel Seaward, our resident farm contractor. Mr. Seaward worked tirelessly on his tractor, ploughing and discing, seeding and fertilizing the fields over the last several months. Turns out he is quite familiar with the land from working with Frank and Joyce in the past, assisting on various projects at Grand River Farm, and recalls them quite fondly. We are grateful for his dedication, guidance, and advice along the way.

Lemuel Seaward working hard at the Pye Farm, summer 2020

Our new farm gate

One of the first things you will notice at the Pye Farm this year is a newly constructed farm gate. This important feature allows us to safely direct visitors to the farm and control traffic flow. Farms present inherent risks that come with the operation of specialized machinery, heavy equipment, and hazards such as drainage ditches and irrigation ponds. We are very proud of our new farm gate and look forward to welcoming the community, visiting researchers, students, and others for years to come!

William Jackman inspects new gate at the Pye Farm, summer 2020

Trying out some different cover crops

Our primary goal was to plant the fields with various cover crops, basic crops that are typically not harvested, instead they are used to enrich the soil, protect against erosion, manage weeds, pests, and improve its overall structure. In the fall, they will mostly be ploughed back into the fields to add mass to the soil and improve its composition. We decided to try out a few different options to achieve this including two varieties of field peas; a triple mix, which is a combination of two clovers and a timothy grass; oats; a fall rye; and another mixture called plough-down, which includes more clover varieties. Clover makes excellent green manure and provides good ground cover, so they are tremendously helpful in battling relentless weeds. As you can see from the picture below, the pea fields are looking great!

Field peas flowering at the Pye Farm, summer 2020

Planning for our strawberry patch

Of course the gem of the Pye Farm is the abundant strawberry patch, which seems to keep on giving even after all these years! Last year, when we discovered that the patch was still producing, we eagerly reached out to our community partners to help us harvest and distribute hundreds of gallons of strawberries to the community. Beneficiaries included seniors, elders, long-term care residents, folks in Nunatsiavut supportive living units, families at the Charles Jay Andrew Treatment Centre, and the Community Food Bank, just to name a few.

This year, unfortunately, with the global pandemic, we were unable to reach out in the broad way that we had hoped. Fortunately, we did host the Association of New Canadians and Mokami Status of Women to pick strawberries and learn more about the Pye Centre and our plans for the future. There were other members of the public who asked special permission to pick, to distribute them to friends and family in good faith.

In the future, we plan to develop the patch into a publicly accessible pick-your-own-strawberry operation that will serve as a social enterprise – proceeds will contribute to the maintenance of the strawberry patch. and used to create summer jobs for students each year, where they will be tasked to maintain the patch and greet guests.

L-R: Violet, Beatrix (holding a toad!), Jesse, William, and Elias pose with their strawberry harvest, Labrador Institute Staff & Family Outing, summer 2019

…and this is only the beginning!

There are many wonderful things already happening at the Pye Centre for Northern Boreal Food Systems as it grows into a fully operational research and education farm, right here in Upper Lake Melville! This is just the beginning of great things to come as we collaborate with farmers, gardeners, students and researchers to help move Labrador toward a more sustainable and food-secure future, together.

Budding peas at the Pye Farm, summer 2020

-Jamie Jackman, Program Coordinator, Labrador Institute of Memorial University

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