An escape from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland has yielded a life tied to the land and the animals they raise on it for a Shuswap family.
James and Chelsea Keenan relocated from Surrey in 2017 and now raise a variety of livestock, along with their family of five children, on a 35-acre farm on Yankee Flats Road.
The Keenans came to the Shuswap and started the farm with no prior agricultural experience, and in a challenging climate for medium-sized meat producers. Chelsea says it has been a serious learning curve getting their operation, which currently raises pigs, lambs, laying hens and bees for honey, up and running.
Chelsea said the couple chose pigs because they can be raised with a relatively-low start-up cost. The pigs raised on the Keenan family farm are pasture-raised, meaning they spend all year outdoors grazing on pasture grass and roots. The pigs are all heritage breeds, primarily Berkshire crosses. Chelsea said they come from a lineage that makes them better suited to remaining outside in adverse weather and temperatures. Although they all have shelters, Chelsea said they can most often be found sleeping beneath a tree.
The addition of sheep to the farm came as much for weed control as for their meat. Chelsea said their property had not been farmed by its previous owners and so developed a prominent population of Sulphur Cinquefoil, an invasive weed. The mixed flock of hair and wool sheep is set out to graze on the weeds, which Chelsea said makes it difficult for other plants to grow. As the sheep are ruminants, meaning they have a multi-chambered stomach, the seeds from the invasive weed are not spread in their droppings, helping to control its growth.
The Keenans home school their children, Joshua, Jessa, Hanna, Bennett and Marcus, right on the farm.
“Having them home with us learning at the same time as us is an incredible opportunity for everybody,” Chelsea said.
The Keenans’ children are involved in the entire process, from the constant research necessary for the new farmers, to the sale of the meat they produce at farmers markets both locally and in the Lower Mainland.
“They see the piglet being born and then they see the bacon being sold – it’s a pretty cool experience,” Chelsea said
Chelsea said abattoirs shutting down and other conditions has created a challenging environment for medium-sized meat producers. A lack of abattoir capacity led them to stop producing chickens for meat. She said they often feel caught in the middle between large corporate meat producers and small producers who supplement their farming with other jobs or forms of income.
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2 week old piglets catching some vitamin D in the afternoon sun. We’re loving this gorgeous spring weather just as much as the pigs are 😍🐷. • • • • • #pastureraisedpork #farrowtofinish #wheyfedpork #pastureraised #babypiglet #heritagebreedpig #heritagepork #baconseeds #nongmo #babyanimals #vernon #armstrong #salmonarm #familyfarm #newfarmers #bcfarms #farmher #newfarm #knowyourfarmer #womenwhofarm #farmlife #knowyourfarmer
Farmers markets are the best place to access customers but Chelsea has also noticed the importance of connecting with potential customers by documenting daily life on the farm through their Facebook and Instagram pages.
“We really try to be transparent by sharing our story. Every day I have clips from the farm on our Instagram story. We have quite a lot of people following along with what’s happening,” Chelsea said.
Ethical treatment of the animals they rely on for their livelihood is important to the Keenans. Chelsea said in her experience, how the animals are treated and also what they are fed are important to their customers. All of what they feed their animals is non-gmo.
The Keenans take orders on their website, keenanfamilyfarms.ca, and also sell their products at the Downtown Salmon Arm Farmers Market on Saturday mornings at the Ross Street Plaza. They will be at the Salmon Arm market every Saturday until Oct. 5.
They also have planned visits to the New Westminister Farmers Market on July 18, Aug, 15, Sept. 12 and Oct. 10.