The origin story of Earth to Belly Homestead is one that we don’t see often in New Brunswick, but hopefully we will see more of in the future. Louis St. Pierre came to New Brunswick from Québec to work as a farming intern. He had buying land in New Brunswick in mind, but he wasn’t sure where he might end up.
The farm was a traditional homestead that had been brought back into production by the landowners who lived on the site and had been working hard at re-establishing overgrown fields. In 2015, St. Pierre worked on the farm for a month and again for a month in May of 2016. He used his time there not just to learn about farming, but to understand the local market options and what sold well. He learned quickly that eggs for example, would be a good investment.
St. Pierre is a jazz drummer. In the spring of 2017, he got the wonderful opportunity to play in a world-wide tour. The tour covered his lodging, meals and other basic expenses, so St. Pierre, motivated to buy land at the end of the tour, saved, saved, saved.
“I was 21 years old and this was the first real money that I had ever made in my life, but I knew what I wanted. I made Excel sheets to track my finances and lived off of my expense allowance. If you can believe it, in that year I only spent $600 of my own money!”, said St. Pierre.
After getting back to New Brunswick, St. Pierre found that the landowners he had interned with were ready to move on from the farm. St. Pierre and the farmer developed a close relationship during their time working together and he was able to buy the place for a great price; on the promise that he would maintain the site as a working farm. In this case, the purchase of the farm was done simply, through the bank as a mortgage. One of the farmers stayed on site for a time after the land sale, exchanging room and board for the use of the farm equipment that they owned.
St. Pierre spent a lot of time with his business plan and thought very clearly about how he could make the farm support him so that he didn’t need to take any off-farm jobs. After just a few years, the farm has field blocks for produce, greenhouses, a large flock of hens, pigs, an indoor wash station and a dedicated kitchen space for processing value-added products. Louis’ partner, Courtney Atyeo also has a dedicated pottery studio on-site. After doing CSAs and market stands, the business is shifting, as the couple learns more about the local market and customer preferences.
The farm is typical of those in the area, with steep hills and rocky soil, but even so, the couple have been able to make the farm successful. St. Pierre attributes the success to a few things, “I did what I said I would. I worked with the farmer that was here before and I proved myself. Part of the problem is with education – young people might have goals, but they often aren’t taught the practical steps for reaching them. You can get what you want with hard work, but you have to keep trying.”
Financing farm infrastructure was one of those challenges that required some tenacity.
St. Pierre says, “You might need to look for some private investments. The banks weren’t really very flexible with me, even those set up to give agricultural loans. Lenders tend to favour larger producers. As a younger person on a small farm, you might need to come up with 20 per cent down and get a co-signer. Another problem is that the assessed market value on the land is often so much less than the actual market value, so the bank doesn’t see it as much of an asset. It can also be harder to finance a lot of smaller projects, like a pond, wash station, greenhouses, irrigation. The banks are more likely to want to give money for something more tangible like a barn.”
St. Pierre’s parting advice for new farmers: “The pandemic has brought so much economic disparity, which changes how people buy food. There are also lots of people coming to New Brunswick from other provinces and the price of houses and land is artificially high right now. With so many things changing, if you are short on resources, it could be good to rent land until the housing market stabilizes again.”
This story is part of the Land Access Guide for New Brunswick Farmers published by the RAVEN project. You can find more stories about the creative ways that New Brunswick Farmers are getting onto the land on RAVEN’s website.
Amy Floyd is a Senior Food Security Policy Analyst with the RAVEN Project and focuses on rural issues, food sovereignty and permaculture. Floyd can be reached at Amy@RAVEN-research.org.