Half of the farm is cleared for production and the remaining half is forest. They utilize three acres of vegetables, running a successful CSA program, and up to five acres of ancient and heritage grains. The grains they produce include Emmer, Einkorn, Spelt, Buckwheat, and Marquis wheat, Ladoga wheat, and Champlain wheat. These older varieties are well adapted to their organic methods and the Johnsons continue to adapt them for the area and climate. “The digestibility of these ancient grains is much easier for humans,” says Ray. “The heritage grains also scavenge a lot of the nutrients out of the soil, a lot better than modern wheat varieties, so they grow well for us.”
At River Bottom Family Farm, their biggest climate solutions effort is in their draft horses. These animals help reduce fossil fuel use by powering most of their tillage and seeding work for the grain operation. The horses plough in the fall, disc and harrow in the spring, and seed when needed. Eventually, the Johnsons want to use a binder with the horses as well. They then use their combine to harvest their grains, making it fast and efficient.
The horses also help plough and till the vegetable field in preparation for planting. The Johnson’s have horse-drawn cultivating tools that operate between their row crop system to help with weed management. They begin planting vegetables in early May because of their region. This allows the grains to grow through the spring and summer, ready for harvest in the fall. They overwinter their Rye, which does quite well with the amount of snow they get.
There are several other climate-friendly practices River Bottom Family Farm adopts to help close the loop in their operations. All of their heritage grain seeds are saved from their existing crops and they are working on doing the same with their vegetables. The Johnson’s are trialling cover crops in between their vegetable rows, and rely on manure and compost to bring fertility back to their grain fields. Additionally, they house other animals on the farm and experiment with feeding the horses and cows on fields they will plough the following spring.
There’s a lot of grain that doesn’t make it to food quality but it’s a good feed for chickens, pigs, and cows. That then gets made into manure which is put back on our field and closes the gap. – Ray Johnson
The Johnson’s explain, “Livestock will always be a part of the farm. They take care of a lot of the vegetable waste. There’s a lot of grain that doesn’t make it to food quality but it’s a good feed for chickens, pigs, and cows. That then gets made into manure which is put back on our field and closes the gap.” Lastly, they are converting their transport vehicle to run on recycled vegetable oil, the benefits of which are to save money and put a waste product to good use.
The Johnson’s are passionate about feeding people good food that is good for the planet. Both Laura and Ray have a background in farming with Ray being exposed to conventional grain operations in Alberta for many years. The Johnson’s say, “It’s a common misconception that you have to be a big farmer to make a living doing it. But the real truth of it is if you can find your niche, you can make more money off of a small farm than you can as a massive grain farmer who is doing it conventionally.”