The Log Farm offers a Window into Pioneer Life

BACK on the FARM

by Caroline Wissing

What would life have been like as a pioneer in the Ottawa Valley? Imagine the heat and drought of summer; the time, energy and work during autumn; the bitter cold of a long winter, including keeping animals warm and fed; and finally the renewal of spring.

At The Log Farm, 670 Cedarview Road, you can get a view of that pioneer life right in the heart of the city. The Orr family acquired the site in May of 2016 and, for the first time in more than 25 years, three generations of family are now working the farm. Ryan and Amy and their three children, Maddy, 13, Marissa, 11, and Sadie, 3, live on the property, while Ryan’s parents, Larry and Karen, help out too.

One attraction that draws visitors to The Log Farm is the history of this 112-acre property. In the 1800s, Abraham Bradley emigrated from Ireland with his parents, who came to Ottawa to work on the canal. As Ryan explains, “With the land-grant program, he applied and got his hundred-acre piece, which was this farm here.” Abraham married his wife, Matilda, they built a house, and together they raised nine children on the parcel of rural land.

The property changed hands a number of times over the decades, and in 1966 the National Capital Commission expropriated the land for the Greenbelt project. Because of its location and the original buildings, the NCC later decided to run it as a historical farm site. In 2015, the NCC sent out a call to farmers who could be long-term tenants on several of their Greenbelt properties, including the Cedarview Road site, and who would develop these farms using sustainable agricultural practices.

Right away, Ryan was interested. He worked on The Log Farm as a volunteer in the late 1990s and has felt a connection to the property ever since. Besides, he’s always been involved in agriculture. He says of his motivation to run The Log Farm, “It’s a unique piece that could be a mix where I could farm and be open to the public.”

Ryan and Amy lived on a farm after they were married, so their girls had grown up living an agrarian lifestyle. When the family first toured the farm and talked to the older girls about moving there, the kids were on board with the change.

With Ryan’s father, Larry, they put together a proposal that included some innovative ideas for sparking local interest in this unique property. “There was no sense in doing what everyone else had tried to do and had failed,” Larry explains. “We wanted to turn it into an actual farm, rather than just some buildings that are showcased. So that was fun.”

And it has definitely turned into a family affair, with all family members—youngest to oldest—pitching in to complete the chores, from feeding the chickens to working with the public. Ryan says, “Maddy, the oldest one, works in the store with her grandmother quite a bit. And runs the cash and enjoys that.”

Larry agrees, adding, “It was a great opportunity for us to spend time with our grandchildren.”

Ryan, Amy and the kids live in a house in a private area of the farm. Their cozy living room provides a stunning view of the property courtesy of several large, bright windows. A crockpot burbles gently on the kitchen counter. It’s like any family home, except this family welcomes thousands of visitors a year to the public areas of their farm.

Amy says the farming part of their life at The Log Farm wasn’t scary or new; for her, working with the public was out of the ordinary. Keeping people happy while reinforcing respect for the property is a balancing act Amy and Ryan are learning from season to season.

Over the past couple of years, they’ve launched several initiatives that span the three seasons the site is open to the public. (It’s closed during the winter months.)

Visitors can tour the historic barn and other outbuildings, and also get to know the various animals. The Orrs have acquired chickens, ducks, pigs, sheep, horses, cows, barn cats and a donkey. There’s no pony for the girls to ride yet, but Amy says, “It’s on their wish list.”

Both Marissa and Maddy love animals, and Maddy has expressed interest in becoming a vet tech. When Marissa’s class hatched ducklings for a school project, she learned all about ducks, even candling the eggs to observe their growth and progress. The teacher sent Marissa home with the ducklings. “We hadn’t had ducks before,” says Amy, “And she taught us, so she felt very good about that.”

Beyond the barn and animals, a big attraction at The Log Farm is the Bradley house itself. Built in the 1850s, it comes complete with period decorations and equipment, like a wood-burning stove in the kitchen. Somehow the house feels more spacious than its 800 square feet because of the unique soaring height of the ceilings. But it remains a marvel that a couple could raise such a large family in such a small home.

The first floor has a kitchen and sitting room with furniture typical of the time. The second story, added in 1861, has a loft-style main bedroom with doorways leading to two smaller bedrooms. Larry says the parents would have slept in the main bedroom, while one of the other rooms would have been for the boys, the other for the girls. A couple of wooden cradles from the period indicate that babies would likely have slept in the main bedroom with mom and dad.

In the spring, The Log Farm’s sugar bush offers both a great outing and a learning experience for visitors. There’s modern equipment on site to produce the maple syrup that’s sold in the store of the visitors’ centre. The Orr family also has an area set up that allows visitors to see how pioneers boiled sap in a cast-iron cauldron over an open fire. Some of the maple trees have covered buckets that hang from old-fashioned taps, and you can carry a pail of sap from the tree to the cauldron. You’ll quickly appreciate how much work making maple syrup used to be, and the enormous amount of sap that’s needed. “The whole concept that it takes 40 gallons of sap just to make one gallon of maple syrup just about floors most people,” Larry notes.

Something new at the farm is the playgroup program Amy organized last year called Toddler Time. It’s for parents and children under age six to explore and enjoy the property together. Each Wednesday morning, for the price of admission, this fair-weather event allows little ones to do outdoor activities, such as interacting with the farm animals, seeing the big green tractor up close, playing with toddler toys, or taking a nature walk.

Another successful initiative is the farmers’ market the Orrs ran on the property from May to October of 2017. Grandpa and grandma really helped out with this. The family elders, Larry and Karen, live in Kars where they have many years of experience working with the farmers’ market in North Gower. Their know-how came in handy while establishing the new market at The Log Farm. “What we tried to do was develop an authentic, original farmers’ market,” Larry says, “where you have people who are actually the producers of the product that’s being sold. But also surround that with other handmade items, not just food.”

During the season, the market runs Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. and sells such local items as garlic, honey, meat, free-range fresh eggs, homemade preserves and hot sauces, seasonal fruits and vegetables, as well as crafts like jewelry and glassware. In the fall there are additional seasonal draws for the public, such as pumpkins, hayrides and a corn maze. And in December the Orrs sell holiday crafts in their gift shop, as well as Christmas trees. When you drop by, you can see the farmhouse decorated like a typical holiday house from the 1870s.

That’s pretty special. Right through the year, what does The Log Farm’s real-life family want visitors to take away with them after they leave the farm? Ryan says the goal for him is, “Educating people in general about agriculture and history.” He adds, “People can see how a real farm works. When people, both children and adults, learn about agriculture, it’s a good thing.”

For details about this pioneer farm in the city, visit thelogfarm.com, or follow The Log Farm account on Facebook. You’ll also find the latest information about the Toddler Time schedule, as well as the vendors at this year’s farmers’ market. Local farmers and crafters interested in becoming vendors at The Log Farm Farmers’ Market can contact thelogfarm@rogers.com.

 

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