The Blake Farm
Sandra and Robert Blake are fourth generation farmers on the Blake Farm which sits just south of Simcoe. The farm, which is owned and operated by Sandra and Bob, was established in 1857 by the Bowlby family on Sandra's side. When Sandra's mother married a Browne the farm became the Bowlby- Browne farm. Bob and Sandra were married in 1962 and took over managing the farm that year. The ground has always grown corn, beans, and wheat. If you sit down with Bob he will reflect vividly on growing his first corn crop at the age of 17 and can tell you without a moment's hesitation how farming has changed through the decades from horse drawn ploughs, to the introduction of herbicides, and most recently no till.
The landscape on the Blake Farm is mix of flat ground and steeply sloped hills, Carolinian Canada woodlot, and Spring Creek a cold water tributary that eventually flows into Lake Erie. Bob runs a machine shop on the farm where he fixes tractors and other farm equipment and this is where he first heard of ALUS and the developing pilot project. One of Bob's clients and friend, Bauke Vogelzang (who sits on the ALUS PAC) was the first to talk to Bob in detail about ALUS. Knowing Bauke to be a very community minded individual often involved in initiatives that benefit Norfolk County's farming community Bob knew that ALUS was not a fly by night program. If asked he will tell you that it was the people he respected locally that were giving ALUS the thumbs up. Shortly thereafter, a write up by the Norfolk Federation of Agriculture on the pilot project piqued the Blake's interest again and he and Sandra decided to attend one of the Farmer Expression of Interest Workshops.
Bob will tell you that from his perspective there were two factors that encouraged their participation, age and the type of farm he was operating. Parts of the Blake farm are very hilly and with age Bob noticed that some of those hills were getting more difficult to work. He decided to get them under control through ALUS by putting them into permanent vegetative cover.
"I have tried all my life to fight erosion. A hilly farm needs a different management approach than a level farm. Things are different now with no till, back in the day when you couldn't do it all with spray and you just had cultivators, it would make you sick watching things wash. There are good practises taking place now, and ALUS is one of them." - Bob Blake
Sandra will tell you that her interest was in the wildlife. An avid birder and nature watcher, Sandra was thrilled at the idea of establishing Tallgrass Prairie an ecosystem she was familiar with as being highly beneficial to birds and butterflies.
They first participated in the pilot project in 2008 planting roughly 15 acres of sloped land into Tallgrass Prairie. When a problem with the ALUS no till prairie drill stopped planting on the farm, Bob was out in the field lending a hand to fix the equipment and provide his two cents on how to operate the machine more smoothly.
The Blake's wanted to try a little bit at first to see how things worked before going full steam ahead on all their sloped land. Tallgrass Prairie is slow to establish and the first plants to germinate on site are often the weeds farmers have been battling all their lives. Even though they weren't fully aware of what to expect, they were patient, and despite the impressive showing of weeds and lack of Tallgrass Prairie both can comment on the benefits observed in the first year. Bob was not struggling to farm hilly ground and Sandra was noticing an increase in visiting birds both in numbers and species diversity. Trails are cut around the workable land and through some of the bush on the farm and Sandra can be found walking these trails every day observing the changes.
In 2009 they added two more hill plantings and were excited to see the prairie grass from 2008 out-competing the weeds and coming into its own. Last year they enrolled their remaining hills and on more than one occasion Bob has said that if he had it, he would be putting more hills into Tallgrass Prairie. It seemed that 2010 was a great growing year for prairie, the hills seeded that year established themselves to match the vigour of the sites planted in the two previous years.
With three years of Tallgrass Prairie plantings, some side by side, the Blake farm is a popular location for the seasonal ALUS Twilight Tours. Twilight Tours are used through the summer and fall months to provide an opportunity for farmers to come together, tour a variety of project sites, and learn about what to expect on their farm as the growing season progresses from previous years participants. The Blake's are always willing to lend their farm to the event and their experiences, which helps to teach new participants on different approaches and techniques on managing their projects.
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 08 February 2011 16:32 )