David Neufeld and Maggie Andres’ farm exemplifies sustainability and diversification. The farm offers an opportunity for learning and discovery whether people come for the organic plants, to stay in the strawbale guest house, to WWOOF or as a school group to learn about sustainability and the environment. A few organic greenhouses have come and gone but Room to Grow remains the only certified greenhouse in Manitoba. All parts of the farm are intertwined and add to one another.
David and Maggie didn’t have much when they settled into their land after their ten years of volunteer work with the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). When they return they decided against moving to David’s fathers land, but rather turned to a small forested property near the Turtle Mountains. They had bought the land before they took off with MCC, so were able to live debt free. Maggie began to teach, while David worked on making their small piece of land into a home. During this time David converted an old church into a house, developed the garden and the yard site.
David and Maggie soon knew they weren’t going to make end meet this way anymore, so they began renting and operating a greenhouse in the town of Boissevain. It was a learning process as neither had experience working in a greenhouse. They were taught how to run a chemical dependent greenhouse from the previous owner. But soon realized that they did not want run a greenhouse in which they had to shield themselves from the chemicals they applied. The family made the transition to organics within the first year of operation.
David worked in the greenhouse in town for four years, Maggie was also involved in with the greenhouse fulltime for three years. There were a few years of experimenting where things weren’t growing as well as they would have likes, but the community continued to provide support and buy the products. The operation was eventually moved onto the farm where a new greenhouse was built. From the greenhouse and garden Room to Grow offers herbs, specializing in medicinal and culinary herb, annual and perennial flower, and an assortment of fresh vegetable bedding plants in spring.
Maggie and David approached the Organic Producers Association of Manitoba (OPAM) for certification. But the organization was unable, because there were no standards for greenhouses. So David got together with other local organic producers, and contacted organic greenhouse operators in other provinces where standards existed. The group examined what was reasonable in Manitoba and pulled together a set of standards for Manitoba organic greenhouses. These standards were given to OPAM, who then used them to certify David and Maggie’s Greenhouse. These standards continue to be used today.
Once Room to Grow was certified organic the potential opened for marketing in Winnipeg, Brandon and other places where the demand is greater. Room to Grow sells its bedding plants in various places throughout the province, including Winnipeg, Brandon, the Morden Folk Festival, and three places in Boissevain. Customers can also come to the farm and buy plants from the greenhouse. Some canned goods are also produced for sale but most is saved for the families own consumption in the winter.
Throughout the years David and Maggie also became involved in the WWOOFing program (World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms). This program has provided a lot of help in the greenhouse, garden and with whatever building projects may be happening on the farm. WWOOFers become involved in the decision making on the farm. Some WWOOFers stay for three days or for the entire season, some return year after year. The farm has seen up to 25 WWOOFers pass through in one growing season, but David and Maggie only ever have 1 or 2 at a time to make sure that attention is not distracted from their own family. David feels that the long term workers really get emotional involved in the farm and learn what it is really like to be a farmer.
“Everyone is just such a blessing, the work and the personality, the world that they bring in,” says David.
David is currently working with two different groups in the province looking to set up organic greenhouses. David guides the groups through what it takes to operate an organic greenhouse, and OPAM certification. He has written a manual and works closely with the groups, consulting on plans. The groups also visit Room to Grow to watch David at work.
Other activities happening at Room to Grow include a Strawbale Guest House, Camping, and School Tours.