Matt Dykerman: running a split operation farm

Why do you choose to do what you do? For some, work is not ‘work’ at all but rather, getting paid to do what they love to do; for others, work is a full time, teeth-gritting, clock-watching event endured for reasons merely logistical in nature. The truth of it is that there are a multitude of factors that contribute to why we do what we do.

When I spoke with Matt Dykerman, owner of both Brookfield Gardens and Red Soil Organics, I highly anticipated his response to the question “Why do you choose to farm the way that you do?”
The Dykerman family tradition of farming started 30 years ago when Dykerman’s grandparents left their home in Holland to find affordable farmland in PEI. “He left with nothing but his wife and a suitcase,” said Dykerman, referring to his grandfather. Brookfield Gardens started in an era of industrial agriculture, when inputs and high yields were considered common and best practice.

In 2009 Dykerman was offered the farm, a successful family heirloom that had proven a viable lifestyle for his father and grandfather. “I chose to start farming because of the endless opportunities and possibilities that the profession has to offer. I continue farming because it provides me and my family a good quality of life,” said Dykerman. It wasn’t long after Dykerman took ownership of the farm that he noticed a local demand for organics, and almost immediately, he decided to expand his operations with a certified organic farm outfit, Red Soil Organics.

From economic to spiritual to political, the reasons why a farmer farms are as diverse as the individuals themselves. For third-generation farmer Matt Dykerman, after taking a look at the growing demand for organics, the decision to farm organic alongside conventional, was a no-brainer. For the new entrant, with a fresh set of eyes and an already financially stable enterprise, branching out into organics was an easy business decision.

Today, Dykerman farms 300 acres of land conventionally and 350 acres of certified organic land. During the growing season, 100 acres of the organically farmed land will be in production and 250 will be in rotation with cover crops. The conventionally farmed land has 100 acres in vegetable production and the remaining 200 acres in rotation. He realized that using cover crops and employing crop rotation are the single most important components to sustainable farming-organic or conventional.

Red Soil Organics is able to keep consistent contracts with grocers like Sobeys Atlantic, Atlantic Superstore, and Loblaws Inc. for two primary reasons: the organically-grown carrots, broccoli, cabbage, and turnip fit into a niche market, and the crops themselves are easy to manage using a highly automated operation. Dykerman’s operations are highly mechanized farms using automation on several levels of production, from seed to storage.

With its focus on chemical-free and environmentally conscious farming practices, organic agriculture speaks to many people in today’s marketplace. The appeal for organics is still growing and the local market for his conventionally grown crops is strong, so he has no intention of exiting either operation. He sees the value of both operations and chooses to adopt organic principles, like the use of cover crops and crop rotation, in his conventional business.

While Dykerman said that he is “still trying to build a farm worth handing down,” he feels that farming is a rewarding career and he would enjoy seeing the family tradition continue with his own children someday.

About Hanna Hameline

Hanna is a graduate of UPEI with a B.A. in Sociology. She has completed trainings in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Shambhala Meditation, and Maritime Yoga College 200-HR Yoga teacher training program. Hanna currently works as the communications coordinator for the PEI Certified Organic Producers Co-operative and has volunteered with PEI Food Security Network, ECO PEI, The Voluntary Resource Centre, and Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. She warmly invites you to contact her with any food lovin’ stories or ideas you would like written about.

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