Women in Business Series: Northern Roots Family Farm

Women in Business Series: Northern Roots Family Farm

I am so excited to have gotten the chance to speak with Amy Lewis of Northern Roots Family Farm for our Women in Business series!

Born and raised in Peace River, Amy has set roots down on a farm on the outskirts of Peace River. You can often find Amy hanging out with her cows and sheep, or with her hands buried in the dirt. You will be able to find all of Amy and the Northern Roots Family Farm information at the bottom of the page.

Can you tell me a little bit about your farm and business?
Although not having been raised on a farm, growing up both my husband and I spent time with our grandparents and learning from them and their farm life. From grain farming, raising livestock, gardening, cooking, to preserving food; those farming seeds were planted deep within us and in time blossomed into a dream to own a farm of our own.
As a couple, we became increasingly aware of where our food was coming from, the welfare of the animals being raised for our food and the state of the environment. We wanted our children to have a role in raising their food, as well as an understanding and connection to the natural world.
On Northern Roots Family Farm we raise Dexter and Canadienne cows for both beef and milk, chickens, Shetland and Icelandic sheep, pigs, and occasionally honeybees. We also have a couple of large vegetable gardens, fruit trees, berry bushes and wild areas for foraging. From our farm we sell grass-finished beef, pastured lamb and pork, free range eggs, raw honey, as well as a variety of handcrafted items made and inspired with ingredients from our farm such as artisanal soap, beeswax wraps, yarn, wool dryer balls, and more.

Is there a meaning behind your business name?
Northern Roots Family Farm is about coming home to our roots.
Our roots in the north.
Our roots in farming.
It’s about us as a family, working the land in a small northern town that we love. Peace River is my home and my families history is in the north so that means a lot to me. It’s about nourishing the roots of the soil and of our soul. It’s a connection to our ancestors and how they farmed; their love and appreciation of the land, good food and traditions.

What does a typical day in the life look like for you?
A typical day starts by getting up at 6:00 am and getting our boys Ben (10) and Charlie (7) ready for school and onto the bus. Once they are off, I go in the house and usually have some quiet time drinking coffee, having breakfast and reading.
Around 8:30 am I suit up in my farm gear and head outside to milk the cow. After milking the cow I process/strain/cool the milk and then I make sure her area is mucked clean or move her onto fresh pasture. Next, I mix up our chicken feed and haul feed/ water to the chickens and collect eggs. Following the chickens, I check on the sheep and our beef cows to ensure that they have feed or moved to new pasture, fresh water, and salt/mineral. If we have pigs at the time then I would also have to feed them and check their water.
In the afternoon, depending on the day, I might do deliveries to customers, be making soap or products for the markets, extra jobs on the farm (fixing a shelter/fencing/ sorting animals etc.), or emailing customers and taking orders.

How did you get into fiber arts and making products?
For as long as I can remember I have always had a fascination with wool and natural fibres. I was just as intrigued about working with wool as I was with the traditional skills of washing, carding and spinning wool. One year my husband took a leap of faith and without me knowing bought a few sheep. I immediately fell in love with them; our sheep continue to inspire me and are hands down one of my favourite parts of farming.
Over the years, I attended a variety of fibre arts classes which peaked my interest in both needle and wet felting. I really love working with wool in its raw form and showcasing its natural beauty. I especially loved not following a pattern or guide and found it both freeing and therapeutic. In terms of the process of skirting, washing, carding and spinning wool that was a blend of reading books, trial and error and meeting local friends that had similar interests. Spinning is meditative and I use it as much as a form to de-stress and relax as I do to be creative.
As our farm grew, so did the products and by-products of our farming. With beekeeping came not only honey; but beeswax, propolis. From raising livestock and butchering came tallow, lard, skulls and hides. Being a shepherd, there were bags upon bags of beautiful wool fleeces each spring. Gardens became lush with flowers, herbs and veggies. So I combined my passion for traditional skills and sustainable living, by incorporating these into our farm crafted products. Tallow, flowers and honey into handcrafted soaps, wool was washed and carded into roving for hand spinners or felted into eco-friendly dryer balls, and wax and propolis into beeswax wraps.

Can you describe the fiber making process for me?
The fibre making process starts with raising sheep bred specifically for their wool. We breed Shetland and Icelandic sheep and choose genetics within our flock that are hardy, vigorous and have beautiful lustrous wool.
We feed specifically with their wool in mind. Feeding low to the ground to keep vegetable matter (hay, straw, chaff) out of their fleeces is a key component to keeping the wool clean.
Shearing takes place before lambing and is hired out to a professional shearer. It is a long full day of sorting and handling sheep, hauling, skirting and bagging wool.

Once the fleeces are off the sheep they are hauled to our wool shack where they are skirted on a skirting table. Skirting the fleece is the act of removing any dung tags, hay, or chaff that still might on the fleece. Each fleece is assessed to its quality and characteristics for how it would be best utilized.
The best fleeces are sold whole as raw fleeces to hand spinners or fiber artists. Some fleeces are made into wool roving or spun into yarn. I usually pick a couple of my favourites as personal projects to work on and process myself or to sell at the market. As a family we make a trip to the wool mill down south to take our wool to get made into yarn, roving, batting for quilting etc.
Nothing is wasted from our wool. Remnants of wool not kept for making products is used somehow on the farm as mulch, insulation, or other ways.

What is each season like on the farm, and what is your favourite part of each season?
I don’t think I have ever been more in tune to living with the rhythm of the seasons since I have started to farm. Each season offers its gifts to the farmer, some depending on the year can be harder than others.
Spring is greeted with the birth of baby animals; calves, lambs and little chicks fill our days. The anticipation of the colour green and everything new and fresh, our milk cow gives birth and milk is flowing again, and we work hard to get the garden in. There is a lot of excitement in the air.
Summer: Although the weather is warmer, it is probably the busiest and hardest season of all, we are usually exhausted by the end due to constantly rotating animals on pasture and trying our hardest to make the best use of our grass while we have it. The garden at this point needs attention with weeding and I spend a lot of time in the kitchen processing the milk into butter, yogurt, ice cream and making cheese.
Fall: The views this time of year are breathtaking, it’s my favourite season. We are busy harvesting the garden, butchering animals, filling freezers and the cold room getting ready for winter. Fall is also when we are preserving the harvest from the gardens; the canner is constantly bubbling on the stove and the dehydrator whirs in the background.
Winter: Rest. Nothing, but trying to rest. We turn inwards this time of year and focus on rest and cooking rich nourishing foods. Chores are still required daily, cold spells push us to the max, but most of the time is spent in-front of the wood stove reading, visiting and eating good food.
Do you have any memorable moments or struggles from when you were starting out that helped you become who you are today?
The first time I milked a cow.
That was a defining moment for me because even in that frustration and severe self doubt I pushed through. It might not seem like a lot to the average person, but I don’t think I was ever more proud of myself than when I walked back to the farmhouse with that massive bucket of fresh milk.
I think the milk cows honestly have taught me the most about myself, as a farmer and as a person. In the end its a reflection of you, your attitude and your perception of the world that their behaviour reflects.
Those milk cows are my best teachers, I look forward to our slow mornings and what lessons they will bring to me in a day. Sometimes the lesson is to just slow down. Other times it’s to be quieter. Or it’s to just sit and reflect. They have brought me a lot of joy, tears, and frustration but in the end I can’t imagine life without them.
Do you remember the first AHA moment you had where you knew this was what you were meant to be doing?
The first meal we ate together as a family that was all raised/grown from our farm Looking out at the sheep and cows grazing in our pastures, to this day it still stirs something deep within me.
Why do you do what you do? 
For the love of real nourishing food.
For our land to be healthier and more diverse than we found it.
To connect with our food, ancestors and to keep traditional skills alive.
To teach our children where their food comes from, responsibility and the importance of hard work.
Any words of encouragement for people just starting out? 
Sometimes you just have to dive in headfirst and learn from your mistakes. You will make them. It’s inevitable, but it’s part of the process. Just take the first step in your journey…
Buy the sheep
Milk the cow
Ride that horse
Make the soap
Plant the garden or whatever your passion may be.
Are there any misconceptions about farming that you would like to address?
The romance.
The romance is there, but it is also greeted and immersed with a constant supply of cow dung, blood, sweat, tears, long days, little sleep and stress. The work load. It’s intense. The cost of farming and how much farmers actually make.
A huge thank you to Amy for participating in this series! I hope you enjoyed getting to know Northern Roots Family Farm as much as I have. All photos are credited to Amy and Alicia Ross Photo.
On Instagram here, on Facebook here, at the Peace River Farmers Market and at the Peace River Art Club.
On Instagram here
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1 comment

So thankful for your dedication to the farming life it a good one but filled with lesson good and bad cheers

Carolyn Kolebaba

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