Ken Smith and his partners at Harmony Meadow Farm operating holistically and humanely

Ken Smith walks into the pasture, lets out a loud whistle and yells, “Here sheep, sheep, sheep!” and close to 50 animals raise their heads and begin making baaing noises as they run toward Smith, just like a family dog would respond when called.

But these sheep are not pets, they are the breeding stock for Harmony Meadow Farm in Belfast, PEI, and they are responsible for the 110 lambs that are grazing in a nearby field. From now until the end of the summer, those lambs will be watched carefully. The ones that have the “nicer fleeces” along with other traits such as worm resistance (the main characteristic they look for) and carcass quality, will be bred and the others “that don’t cut it” will go to market, Smith, one of four partners in the farm, explained during a recent interview as Diana, the matriarch of the flock, persisted in being stroked on the head by Smith.

“She thinks she is a puppy,” he said, with a smile.

Diana was one the first lambs born on the farm, “and she has become one of our ‘show sheep’ and she loves the attention,” Smith said. She has a few more years left to breed and she usually “gives us a nice set of twins.” Because of her faithful years of service, when her breeding days are over, Diana has earned the right to spend her remaining days enjoying life in the pasture. No dinner plate for her, Smith said.

This year the farm has 55 breeding ewes, three rams, and the 110 lambs. It is also home to nine pigs, ducks, and chickens while some horses roam in another pasture.

The other partners in the venture are Smith’s wife, Kim Docherty-Smith; his sister-in-law, Jennifer Taran, and Jennifer’s husband, Steven. Together they run the farm, which is the “meat end” of the operation while their retail store, Fleece and Harmony, sells the wool the animals produce.

Ken Smith prepares the wool for spinning and dyeing            Photo Credit: Brian McInnis

When the animals are sheared in March, the wool is cleaned and spun into various kinds and colours of yarn. Smith does the fibre preparation, Docherty-Smith does the spinning, and Taran does the dyeing. At the moment, Steven Taran is the only partner who works off the farm. He is a chef at the Chuck Wagon Farm Market just down the road.

Taran and her husband moved to Belfast from Toronto in 2012 and they were soon followed by the Smiths, who called Montreal home. In about six years Harmony Meadow Farm has grown into an operation that supplies Island grass-finished lambs to local restaurants and quality wool to weavers and knitters.

Taran says many eateries prefer their lamb because of the taste–they are fed only grass and never grain and she said that it is what sets the lambs apart.

“It is the most natural food for the digestive system that they have, but it quadruples the work load because the minute you put them out on pasture there are parasites that would love to go in and kill that lamb and it is a lot of work keeping them healthy on grass.”

But she said the final product is much better tasting meat and that is what many local eateries want.
“The extra work involved in grass-finishing is offset by our passion for the flavour that it gives the lamb,” she said.
Chef Kyle Panton at Sims Corner Steakhouse and Oyster Bar in Charlottetown, is an enthusiastic consumer of the farm’s lambs. He has been buying from Taran and her partners for about four years. In fact, he is a nearby neighbour and owner of One Vision Farms.

Kyle Panton  Photo Credit: Brian McInnis

“I am a fellow farmer, so I enjoy the way they raise their animals by letting them graze naturally and they are not stuck in a barn all the time and they treat them right,’’ Panton explained. “As far as flavour goes, the flavour is great with nice compact racks on them.” Racks are the choicest cuts of lamb meat.

The farm is close to its capacity to sell to restaurants, which at this time include The Inn at Bay Fortune (one of their largest buyers), Terre Rouge in Charlottetown, Sims Corner Steakhouse and Oyster Bar in Charlottetown, The Pearl Eatery in North Rustico, and Receiver Coffee–The Brass Shop in Charlottetown.

The farm prefers to sell to year-round establishments because the lambs are born in spring, out on pasture by May or June and then to processing by September. This schedule does not always work for most seasonal restaurants, Taran said.

The farm does not do its own slaughtering or butchering, but one area of the operation they want to expand is selling frozen cuts of meat in vacuum-packed packages direct to consumers. This will be possible now that the farm has installed a 10-foot by 10-foot walk-in freezer. It will also store lamb for the year-round restaurants as well as poultry and some pork.

Lamb is their mainstay, but as a favour to Chef Michael Smith, owner of the Inn at Bay Fortune & Fireworks, they are raising a small number of pigs for the Inn. Currently they have nine pigs–six for Smith and three for the farm. Taran said Smith and his chef, Chris Gibb, prefer to do their own butchering so the farm is “dropping off whole dressed carcasses” to the Inn.

In fact, Taran says Gibb is ‘‘one of their more enthusiastic supporters…he fully supports the small-scale pricing that we have to put on because we are not raising 900 hogs in a barn.”

The relationship that Harmony Meadow Farm has forged with the inn and other restaurants has pleased Taran. She realizes her meat is more expensive than what is sold in grocery stores.

“There’s no question about it, it is a luxury product and it is not everyone who can afford to eat this way, and you are not going to feed the entire world this way, but while we are able to feed a certain number of people this way, then we are more than happy to do it.”

Jennifer and Steven Taran with some of their flock                  Photo credit: Brian McInnis


Make no mistake, many of the “cute lambs” at Harmony Meadow Farm in Belfast are destined for the dinner plate, Jennifer Taran said, but “we have taken it upon ourselves to put humanely raised meat out onto the market.”

“We are affectionate toward every animal that comes onto our farm, but we are also passionate about people eating meat that is humanely raised,” she said in a recent interview while standing among her flock.

Taran said if you ask them, “most farmers will say they love their animals and they care about them very much, but that doesn’t mean they could never ship them [to market].”

“We do it out of a sense of responsibility and passion for how we think people should eat and we accept the fact there is a food chain and people are going to eat meat, so we like to have the control over the type of meat they are eating,” she said.

In its own way, Harmony Meadow Farm is taking a stand against factory farming by sending only humanely raised animals to market. All its animals are grass fed and finished and spend much of their lives in the pasture because Taran feels that is the most humane way to raise them.

Taran was a vegan before she moved to PEI from Toronto, and refused to eat factory farmed food while living in Toronto. This was one of the factors that induced her and her partners to raise their meat in the most humane way possible and to provide it to others who felt the same.

She made it clear that it is not easy to send any of their animals off to slaughter, but it is easier to do that “than face eating factory farmed or to ask other people to do it [eat factory farmed meat].”

About Brian McInnis

Brian McInnis spent more than 40 years in the news business as a photographer, writer and editor, but his love is photography, particularly documenting the lives of everyday Islanders and the beauty of his home province.

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