Jake MacDougall farms with one eye on the future and the other on the past. At 34, he embraces technology and uses it to market what his farm produces. The animals he raises for meat are free to forage outdoors, and his vegetables are grown without chemicals or pesticides.
MacDougall Meadows is a small farm in Centre Burlington, Windsor/West Hants, that produces and sells chicken, turkey, pork and duck – all pasture raised – plus eggs and vegetables. The farm serves markets in Halifax, the South Shore, and Windsor/Hants.
Jake is committed to natural and sustainable farming, and all the animals are raised as close to nature as possible, he says. According to the farm website, “Our chickens spend their entire lives in paradise … The chickens can run, turkeys can fly, and pigs can root.”
He and his wife, Rebecca Shirley, are now in their eighth year of farming there. Rebecca had a full-time off-farm job until recently when she switched to a part-time at-home position with a bank. Now she also works on the farm. So does Jake’s mother, including being there on Fridays to help get ready for the farmers’ markets and then selling at a market on the weekend.
When they bought the property in 2014, the farm had outbuildings and good infrastructure, but the house was in disrepair.
“We borrowed from the Farm Loan Board to make improvements to the house,” Jake says. “Heating was a big issue. We couldn’t keep the house warm in winter, and we had two young kids.” The renovations included insulation, all new windows and doors, and a lot of work around the foundation including new sills. “It’s a big project, but without the renovations, there wasn’t going to be much of a house there for much longer.”
As a young farmer himself, Jake sees more and more young people starting to farm. “I think some of them get discouraged, though,” he says. “It takes time to build, especially if you’re going to direct market everything, and it’s hard to break into the supply-and-demand chain. There’s a lot of overhead. I’m proud that we’re still going, that we’re making a go of it. And that we’re producing delicious food sustainably and naturally.” Being in a warm, secure house has given them peace of mind, he adds. “The people at the Loan Board were great. We did approach other lenders, but they didn’t understand how the farming income situation works. The Loan Board made it super easy. It was a good experience.