An industrious couple tells how they fled the city, put down rural roots and created a productive organic farm.

“Watch your fire,” Jay Mowat reminds Kelly Gregory. She’s one of two agricultural interns at Willow Creek Farm, near Erin, Ont., the 10-acre home of Mowat and his wife, Clare Booker. In early April, sap is running and the fire must be kept hot under the evaporator in the barn. Gregory and Crystal Anderson are making the maple syrup today, freeing Mowat to pick up sap from five other farms. Soon, 300 litres of syrup will bear Willow Creek labels.

Booker and Mowat moved to the farm 13 years ago, after Booker’s job ended and she wanted to concentrate on weaving. For the next 10 years, Mowat, then an executive producer with CBC Newsworld, commuted to Toronto. Meanwhile, the couple worked on improvements to the century-plus farmhouse and circa-1850 barn.

But one thing led to another. Mowat started keeping bees, then discovered heir-loom tomatoes at a honey festival. His wife had been selling her weaving and wool at the Milton Farmers Market on Saturdays, but the busy bees were producing 1,500 pounds of honey annually. Soon, her stall boasted honey, tomato seedlings, 50 varieties of heirloom tomatoes and maple syrup. Last year, 26 varieties of hot peppers spiced things up as well.

Organic farming couple posing in front of their farmhouse. The husband is holding a pitch fork, sporting a large grey beard while the wife is sporting a short blonde haircut.
Organic farmer couple posing in front of their farm. Photo: Paul Orenstein

This year, the interns will grow and market the produce and learn organic farming. “They’ll fulfil our dream of putting the land to good use — and we get to go away whenever we want,” Booker smiles.

Mowat started the Everpure Biodiesel Co-op in 2008 to provide sustainable fuel to members (he ran his truck and tractors on biodiesel all summer).

Currently, he manages a volunteer-run radio station he initiated in the town of Erin. A compost expert, he lectures on backyard organics. Fans of acoustic folk music, the couple promotes a series of local house concerts.

Booker has added rug hooking to her wool-based artistry but stopped selling Ontario wool a few years ago. If people don’t support community businesses, they lose the resource, she points out.

People are now shopping for flavour, appearance and nutritional value, Mowat says — but unless they buy from local farmers, the farmers won’t be around.

A version of this article appeared in the June 2009 issue with the headline, “Down To Earth,” p. 56.