Bart and Simone Nagel are well known among Simcoe County foodies for the plus varieties of garlic they grow and sell together with garlic spreads, mustards and jams. Selling at the Midland, Orillia and Gravenhurst farmers’ markets, the Bulbs of Fire owners now have their products in more than 40 grocery and gourmet food stores. But what most people don’t know is how dedicated the Tiny Township farmers are to maintaining biodiversity and creating their own natural food web.

“I’m just following my interests, but what is the role of the small farm in this corporate, one-size-fits-all type of farming?” Bart questioned from his kitchen on a snowy day.

Large farms raise or grow one species of animal or crop because “it’s economically viable,” not because it’s good for the soil or because of its nutritional value, said Bart. The danger with large-scale farming of monocultures is if it becomes diseased, it devastates the product, the market and the farmers.

“I’m interested in multiple varieties of chickens and I grow 40-odd varieties of garlic,” Bart said. “We safeguard genetics. If we don’t go for it, who does?”

The Nagels emigrated from Holland in 2006 to live off the land. They started with regular red sex link laying hens and a “beautiful” mixed breed rooster.

Bart’s curiosity soon had him keeping 10 to 12 different species. He now focuses on three heritage species: Malines, a large dual purpose breed, originally from Belgium, which lay blush pink coloured eggs; black copper Marans, originally from France, which lay chocolate brown eggs; and Ameraucana, originally from Chile, which lay light blue eggs. He has about 45 egg-laying hens and sells eggs, breeding eggs and chicks from his farm.

Now, he also raises rabbits because the rabbit manure, along with chicken manure, grows bigger garlic which people want to buy and enriches the sandy loam soil, and for meat. When he harvests garlic, the tops are used as hay to feed the chickens and rabbits. He also grows crops for the rabbits, like Russian comfrey. So he’s created a farm food web. “We set out to do a low-cost farm enterprise,” he said. Cloves of garlic are separated to grow six or eight plants; he doesn’t have to buy manure or chicks. “We build soil while we grow with organic matter so the soil is rich and the crops don’t get infested with problems.”

The challenge is to convince the public that the lowest cost food items aren’t always the best. “I wish there was more understanding about the value of local food and the appreciation for the role of local farms in the grander scheme of biodiversity.” Additionally, growing different varieties of plants and animals keeps life interesting for the couple and their two children. “Diversity is life. It breathes life and keeps things lively. There’s always something new to discover, always another strain that becomes a favourite,” Bart said.

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