Keeping a Dream Alive

Emerald couple farming land as legacy to family

In farming, as in life, some years are best forgotten and others mark memorable milestones. For organic potato farmers Shawn Mulligan and Rebecca (Becky) Moore, 2016 was the latter. It was the year they went big with their farm, Sprout Organics.

Located in Emerald, PEI, Sprout Organics was founded in 2010. Partners in business and life, Mulligan and Moore started the farm as a way to keep a parcel of land once owned by his paternal grandparents in the family. With his father’s passing in 2010, it was in Mulligan’s hands to keep the dream alive. The original intent was to rent the land out to other farmers to cover ownership costs, but that’s not exactly how things unfolded.

Fast forward five years and the couple found themselves purchasing the Croken Farm in 2015 in order to increase the size of their farming operation. Today, Sprout Organics boasts 125 acres of Certified Organic land with more acres transitioning to organic this year. In total, Mulligan and Moore farm 550 acres. The organic acreage is located on their homestead in Emerald, but they also travel to Stanchel (a 15-minute drive away) to farm some of the acreage acquired through their purchase of the Croken Farm.

Moore said going big in 2016 was a challenge, with little room for error; the same remains true for 2017. Being new to the farming business, there is not much wiggle room with their margins either. They have put in lots of really late nights and really early risings. It’s not uncommon to be working almost 24/7 due to the nature of their operation. Moore said they work literally every day of the week. If they’re not on the land, they’re working on their equipment, doing paperwork (endless amounts, of course), researching, networking, or doing other tasks that enable them to be successful in this joint venture.

Despite a steep learning curve and and other factors, such as the weather, beyond their control, Moore said that 2016’s year of ‘going big’ brought a successful harvest with good yields. “We survived the tough, seven-week drought in our area.”

Mulligan stated that 2017 will see more big changes, including transitioning more of their land to organic. They are also adding Gold Rush potatoes to their current product line of Satina yellow potatoes for the North American table market and grains for animal feed markets in both Canada and the United States.

The couple said they are farming organically because they want to get back to the grassroots of farming, including a focus on encouraging soil biology and utilizing older methods for weed control.
They both agree that they want to expand their knowledge of maintaining (at the very least) and improving soil health, as one of the key outcomes of farming organically.

As is necessary for many farmers today, both Mulligan and Moore have day jobs and are also parents to young daughter, Abby. The couple attribute their ability to manage all the farm duties to the great help they receive from friends and family with planting, harvesting, and assorted other duties an operation of their size requires. Mulligan also claims that sleep is overrated, revealing a sense of humour needed to work the equivalent of two jobs, as well as the roles of husband and father and all that these entail.

It could be said that Sprout Organics is a full-circle venture for Mulligan. As a teenager he used to work on Croken Farm, which was owned by his uncle, St. Clair Croken, now retired. He is also farming the parcel of land owned by his late grandparents and, subsequently, his father. Mulligan’s hard work, dedication, and focused intention appear to be keeping his dream of maintaining the family farm alive and well.

“It’s been hard with Shawn working consistently to keep this dream alive. I’ve never met anyone with his work ethic and determination. He rarely ever complains, but I know he’s tired,” Moore said.

As far as the 2017 planting goes, Mulligan says the potatoes will be in the ground the third week of May, with the grains being planted the week prior. Then the waiting begins. The couple is hoping that things will level out this year. Perhaps they’ll even get a solid night’s sleep some day soon.

About Ilona Berzins

Writing is a passion for Ilona. Food, especially savouring every morsel is more than a hobby. Being allowed to contribute to Salty enables her to combine two of her loves. An admitted grammar perfectionist she now has to apply all those rules to her own writing. Ilona resides in rural PEI and is currently living overseas on another Island with many trips back home to PEI, when the snow is gone of course.

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