Max painting mural on water tank: Photo TOM SANDLER

By Mike Anderson

A lovely fall day provided the perfect backdrop for ClearWater Farm’s Open House on Saturday, October 2.

About 500 people, many of who were visiting the farm for the first time, were able to tour the fields and greenhouses and learn more about sustainable agriculture from the farm’s Agripreneurs.

There were also workout and yoga classes at the Trading Tree garden, live music, great food, and mural painting for the kids.

One of the highlights was a talk given by Chippewa Elder Shelley Charles from Georgina Island.

She explained how the farm’s Agriprenuers are helping her build a seed bank to restore the ‘Gete Okosomin’ squash, an ancient variety of Indigenous squash that was on the verge of extinction.

Annabel Slaight & Elder Shelley Charles hold ‘Gete Oskosmin’ squash: Photo TOM SANDLER

“The Open House was a resounding success,” said Annabel Slaight, founder of the Ontario Water Centre, the educational charity that operates ClearWater Farm.

“Our hope was to celebrate our progress with neighbours, make friends Georgina-wide, and extend a welcoming hand to residents of York Region.”

“I thought today was great,” said Sarah Allen, who brought her two young daughters Zoe and Madison from Aurora.

“It’s great to learn about local businesses in the area and what they are doing to promote sustainable agriculture.”

While her kids liked the mural painting and the hot dogs, Allen, a first-time visitor, enjoyed the greenhouse tour.

“I already know that I’m going to plant my basil way closer to my tomatoes next year after seeing what I saw in the greenhouse,” she said.

Anita Nakou, from Newmarket, also brought her two daughters, Josie and Meadow.

“I love how much this farm is sensitive to Indigenous peoples in the area and wanting to work in collaboration with them. That’s really important to me,” she said

“My daughter Josie is a gardener. She has her own vegetable plot and flower beds. She grows cherry tomatoes and strawberries. So we want to learn more about how to grow things on our property in Newmarket, and so this is great.”

Josie, Anita & Meadow

While there were lots of activities, the event also showcased the farm and its potential.

“A major undertaking like this takes a number of years to gear up, and we have been raising funds to make it happen from the very beginning,” said Slaight.

According to Slaight, the new barn — the farm’s 112-year old barn burned down in 2016 — is nearing completion.

It will be a focal point for the farm and the wider community, offering a space for educational programming, performance, and gatherings.

There are also plans to expand the number of greenhouses to grow more produce for the farm’s popular weekly basket program.

“Community members, foundations, as well as the federal and provincial governments and the Town of Georgina contributed to the progress,” Slaight said.

“We were considerably set back when the barn burned down. But the Town of Georgina’s investment in ClearWater, the lease and a repayable loan this year, helped us trigger federal and provincial support for the farm’s infrastucture and to complete the barn.”

Slaight said the Town is seeing benefits from its investment, with the farm contributing $645,000 to the local economy in 2021 and forecast to contribute $950,000 by 2024.

The farm also employs ten residents full-time, as well as five part-time.

However, COVID-19 has constrained the number of public visits, with just 1,200 in 2021, but Slaight is projecting that it will grow to 4,000 visits by 2024.

While she acknowledges there have been growing pains, Slaight is optimistic the farm can achieve its full potential.

“When our intense construction period is over and COVID-19 is over, ClearWater Farm will be a self-supporting social enterprise that people in Georgina can use, enjoy and learn from, as well as a destination to be proud of sharing,” she said.

Agriprenuer Wilton McVoitte & Jennifer Harrison: Photo TOM SANDLER

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