Reg Phelan, Carina Phillips and Byron Petrie showcase a table filled with vegetables grown on their farm, Seaspray Organics

An Intergenerational Farming Co-operative

Wisdom of experience and energy of youth unite at Seaspray Organics

Four stouts clink together in cheers at the Old Triangle Pub in Charlottetown. It’s the mark of a regular, ceremonious gathering for Byron Petrie, Carina Phillips, and Reg Phelan of Seaspray Organics Cooperative. The three farmers meet here every Saturday after the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market to talk shop and celebrate the week’s achievements. Tonight, I join them to learn more about their intergenerational cooperative farm in Morell, PEI.

They were just a couple of kids with no plans other than “to buy a piece of land and build a house” when Petrie and Phillips moved back to PEI. And that’s exactly what they did. After a summer working at Seaspray Organics, the couple knew what they really wanted to do was farm, especially with Phelan.

Within a year, Petrie, a welder by trade, and Phillips, a trained studio artist, went from living in a communal artist residence in Montreal to building a home on 12 acres of land that they purchased from Phelan. Today, Petrie and Phillips farm a half acre of that land and both agree having Phelan as a mentor is the best thing that could have happened.

“So much of what we would have had to learn ourselves through trial and error, Reg already knew and could share with us. We also got to know and take part in our community immediately because of Reg and Stella, [Reg’s wife],” said Phillips.

The feeling is mutual for Phelan, who’s been farming crops and cattle on his father’s land in Morell for over 40 years. “You work so hard building the soil and the farm, generations even, you want to see it continue. It is so encouraging to see young people interested in farming. They energize me.”

Carina Phillips poses alongside Seaspray Organics' stall at the Charlottetown Farmers' Market

Submitted photo
Seaspray Organics has a stall at the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market stall

Of course, challenges inherent to many small farms still arise for this small cooperative, but the trio feels confident they have strength in their modest numbers. Together they are able to offer their customers a wider variety of goods including produce, grains, meats, and value-added food, like their delicious garlic scape pesto.

In addition to their farming cooperative, Seaspray has been diversifying their revenue streams to help cover startup costs for the growing season. Phillips, for example, is leveraging her artistic training from Concordia University to launch an organic clothing line featuring baby onesies, t-shirts, and tote bags adorned with hand-printed heirloom squashes including the delicata, black futsu, and the salmon river falls . Each article of clothing (or tote!) will also come with a packet of open-pollinated seeds and seed-saving instructions.

In addition to a new clothing line, the three farmers will begin their first CSA venture this spring as well, offering weekly veggie boxes that can be picked up at the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market.

From the ability to farm a wide variety of crops to being able to sell at multiple markets on the same day, Petrie, Phillips, and Phelan agree that a mixed farming cooperative is the most efficient and feasible way to farm. Burgeoning with creativity and energy, this dynamic trio has no plans for slowing down anytime soon. Be sure to keep your eye out for this vanguardian bunch as they reinvent and self create what it means to farm in the modern, rural context.