When she was in chef school, Shelley Edward’s dream was to open a restaurant that served produce from her own farm. It was a novel idea back then. The fledgling farm-to-table food movement was barely a decade old. In Quebec culinary circles, chefs like Normand Laprise of Toqué fame had yet to make his influence felt on local food culture. Oh, and Shelley didn’t have a farm.
Shelley worked as a chef for twenty years, including running her own restaurant in Saint Anne de Bellevue. “Every decade of my life I have made a change,” Shelley explains. So when she entered her forties, Shelley decided it was time to resurrect her dream.
Fast-forward twenty-five years and Shelly has her farm but the permit she applied for eight years ago to host a table champêtre has eluded her. That is until now. Soon after this interview, she received news that the government had given her permission to serve home cooked meals prepared with food from her garden to the public. The wheels of bureaucracy move slowly in Quebec. Since 2006, Shelley and her husband Bruce De Waele have been growing heirloom vegetables, concentrating on the rare and the unusual, on their three-acre spread on the banks of the Rigaud River. That, along with a flock of free-range chickens, geese, turkeys, and the occasional pig is what constitutes Ferme de la Rive. Although their farm is not certified organic they follow the organic principles laid down by the Canadian Standards.
I asked Shelley if she saw herself as a part of any food movement. At the beginning she thought she was the only one, she says. It wasn’t until she began selling at markets during her third year of operation that she discovered a whole community of people, mostly younger than herself, who were trying to make a living growing organic vegetables on a small acreage.
Initially she had her doubts. Shelley’s background wasn’t in agriculture and the first couple of years she over-planted, not believing that one little seed was enough to grow a whole plant. During that first spring she put four seeds in every hole just to be certain. Her husband, Bruce De Wael, a former pig farmer who had studied agriculture at MacDonald College, had a hard time convincing her that one seed was enough. Now she knows. Her knowledge has been hard won, but it is not a life she would trade for anything else, not now anyway. Having that close relationship with plants and animals and working outdoors everyday of the week from spring to fall, is why she gets up in the morning.
Shelley Edwards and Bruce De Waele are at Ferme de la Rive, one hour outside of Montreal. You can visit their website here.
IMAGE CREDIT: Patti Murphy, Marché Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue
Read more of the Who’s Your Farmer series here.