Taking the free-range philosophy to heart at Saoirse Farms

Drive down a side road that is a patchwork of old asphalt, potholes, and frost heaves in eastern PEI for a few bone-jarring kilometres and you will find Saoirse Farms. It’s a chilly but sunny April afternoon when I cautiously make my way to the farm to meet with former NDP leader Michael Redmond and his wife Aleida Tweten.

Established in 2015, Saoirse Farms is the result of Redmond and Tweten’s dream to live sustainably within their community while providing their blended family an opportunity to know where food truly comes from and the work it takes to put it on the table.

Saoirse (pronounced ‘seer-sha’) is Gaelic for ‘freedom and liberty’ and the farm’s free-range philosophy fits this perfectly. As I pull into the driveway, chickens move aside, ducks wander around the farmhouse, and goats, horses and pigs range in the pasture. Cleo, a 13-year-old husky dog, gently greets me.

A fresh pot of coffee brewed, we sit around the large kitchen table (necessary since the family includes six children ranging in age from almost-3 to 16 years of age), and discuss the importance of being a part of the community and finding pleasure in the simple acts of hard work. I spot an Amish buggy passing by the farmhouse as Redmond relates how within just a few kilometres, the residents work together. “We have a very good working relationship with our Amish neighbours, in fact he plows our fields and if we need something, he’ll come down and help with it and if he needs something, we’ll go help. There’s very much a small community feel just on our road,” he said.

Tweten and Redmond produce free-range eggs, poultry, and pork that customers can buy directly at their farm, or at the Cardigan Farmers’ market. They also offer delivery to Charlottetown once a week and hope to get their meat into the Queen St Meat Market as well.

The farm isn’t large—they own five acres and have an additional five acres that they rent from their neighbour. When asked about the challenges they face as farmers, both are upfront. “If you want to be a free-range farmer, you have to have land space. You have to ensure that you have ample space for your pigs, your animals, and chickens to be able to go out and do what they do naturally. That requires land but it also requires a bit more patience and time, for you to be able to turn over and be ready to go to market. So that’s a challenge,” Redmond said. “We think the gap in PEI is markets. People want the product, they just don’t know where to go to get the product.”

Tweten is passionate about the animals’ welfare and ensuring that the livestock can do what comes naturally to them, be it rooting in the fields, or roaming freely outside the barns. Sometimes that can be a challenge. “In May, when the foxes have their kits, they are quite bold to feed them. So last May, we had a few chickens carried off in daylight. But that old dog that you see, she’s phenomenal. She’s the reason that we can free-range, because she’s loose. We’ve never had a significant problem.”

Aleida Tweten give Buster the boar a scratch and a treat                                                                                 Photo credit: Cheryl Young/Salty

Last year the farm raised five pigs for slaughter and hope to double that number this year. In true small farm nature, many of the animals have been named. Buster, a black Berkshire boar, sires litters with Yorkshire sows Winnie and Agnes. The piglets are raised through the spring and summer and in the fall are taken to Shaw’s Family Meats, a ten-minute drive away, for slaughter. The short transport distance is part of ensuring the animals are well-treated. “We get Brendan Crane, a local livestock transporter, he’s great, he backs them up, no fuss, very quiet natured guy, he’s so calm, that’s the key. And they just walk on the truck. He takes them to Robert and they’re done,” Tweten said. She also shares how Island Taylored Meats in Montague create their sausages that they sell and how their cold storage for the meat is also close by in Montague.

As we tour the farm, we meet the horses, goats, pigs, chickens and other animals. A recent litter of piglets are suckling at their mother’s teats and Tweten watches over them to ensure that they are safely nursing. It’s obvious to see the couple’s affection and respect for their livestock.

I wouldn’t be worth my salt as a journalist if I didn’t finish my interview by asking the former leader of the provincial NDP how life as a farmer compares to life as a politician. With a sense of humour, Redmond answers, “You can reason better with a pig than a person.” He quickly adds that he does miss being able to help people out. “I loved politics,…and it was a good experience. Really, when you have an opportunity to help people, it was enriching.”



About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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