Meet Justin Girard and Britt Embry, both are 31 years old and have great enthusiasm for what they do. Farming is their passion, organic vegetable farming to be more specific. This eager young couple has inspired me to write a five-part series showcasing their journey as young farmers and the tremendous amount of work it takes to get their vegetables to market and into the consumer’s mouths.
I met Girard and Embry five years ago when working with Girard’s mother. I catered their wedding in 2013 on their farm yard located just three kilometers south of Elie, Manitoba. The meal included many vegetables that were grown in their garden that summer. I always knew this couple was unique, driven and cutting edge, so when I heard Girard was quitting his full-time job to go all-in with organic farming, I was very excited. Hearts and Roots came about in 2015 and is growing, literally, each day.
My first visit to this beautiful little farm was on a gloomy day in early May. The yard is picturesque with the perfect red barn, which has been renovated into the couple’s cozy and eclectic home, a greenhouse, two farm dogs and the fields, which are situated behind the barn next to the La Salle river.
This yard is where Girard grew up. He worked in the family business with his parents and began to hone his agriculture skills. He then continued to learn everything there is to know about vegetable farming while he spent many years working in greenhouses in Winnipeg.
That day we chatted about everything farming. I was given a tour of their brand new greenhouse, the fields and the barn and met the animals. On top of vegetable farming, they enjoy keeping a few animals to help control insects and produce eggs. Their lineup includes chickens, ducks, goats and guinea fowl.
It was a fantastic day, minus the weather, filled with so much education and a bundle of questions. They were gracious enough to walk me through their entire springtime process, from preparing the greenhouse, to seeding and transplanting the plants into the fields. This couple has spent the winter planning and researching new and exciting varieties of vegetables to grow as well as sourcing organic and GMO-free species from across North America. The springtime has been filled with planting and filling the greenhouse in preparation of the warm weather to come.
The greenhouse was like walking into a delicious dream. Table upon table filled with tiny little plants lined up in anticipation of being planted in the fields and eventually ending up in someone’s kitchen. The collection includes over thirty varieties of tomatoes, every kind of herb you can imagine, lettuces galore, beets, squash and the list goes on and on. Transplanting in the fields all depends on the weather and guesswork. Girard spoke of things like the first full moon in June being the target planting time.
Embry explained how they are not currently a certified organic farm, but are in the process of becoming one. They are considered a spray-free vegetable farm at this point and are hoping to be certified by next year. The process is long and rigorous, but the couple is committed to make it happen for their customers. They feel it is important to build relationship and be 100% transparent when it come to their practices.
My favorite part of the entire visit was right at the end when I had a chance to see them both ooze intensity and excitement for what they do. My last question of the day was simply this, “What made you decide to do this, you both had other careers, why did you decide to go into organic farming?”
“There was no other option, I completely love it, we are privileged enough to have this land and the chance to do this. This is such a privilege and an opportunity we did not want to pass up. I grew up farming on my parent’s farm and it was always something I wanted to do. I went into academia and when I knew I had to leave the province to continue what I was doing and never come back, that is when I jumped ship, and decided to come out here,” Girard responded.
Embry, on the other hand, grew up in Toronto and never thought farming would be in her future. “In high school, I took one of those career mapping test and one of the top results was being a farmer. It was the ongoing joke with everyone, they always joked, “what are you going to do with that, that’s hilarious.” Then I became a vegan and starting looking into going to a farm sanctuary to work in New York or California. Then, I ended up moving to Winnipeg for a summer and met Justin and ended up staying. I fell in love with the idea of the farm. It was not a dream of mine for a long time, now I love being here and love doing this.”
Embry recently quit a job that she loved as a library assistant to work on the farm full time. She is very excited for the new challenges and the daily change of pace. They both love and appreciate all the weekly help that comes from family and friends. They look forward to the visits from friends as they are so busy now, this is likely the only time they will get in a visit in for awhile.
Next month, we will join these two farmers as they sow the ground, tend to the plants and prepare for their first farmers markets. Follow me through the entire summer as I visit Hearts and Roots monthly to check in and see the process and progress as they take their extreme passion from seed to market. Stay tuned for many great things to come!
Melissa Hryb is the chef at Marion Street Eatery, where she specializes in hearty comfort food with a twist.
Follow her on Twitter @MarionStreetEat or Instagram @MarionStreetEatery