If like many consumers you’re concerned about how the meat you’re eating gets from the farm to your plate, Mike Sorenson of Nashwaak Valley Farms can help. I grew up next to Sorenson in Marysville, and have always known him to love animals, and now he’s also well known in the community as an entrepreneur.
Owner of the Fredericton-based business, Sorenson has turned his hobby — which began when he was in high school with raising poultry and rabbits and gradually moved on to bigger livestock — into his livelihood.
“From a young age I was always jealous of people raising livestock; my family had no previous experience with it so I relied on an older neighbour for guidance,” said Sorenson. “He graciously let me use his barns and fields to house my overflowing collection of various animals.”
From that guidance, Sorenson put in the work of making contacts in the animal world and gaining more knowledge at exhibitions around the Maritimes. Now his business includes a broad range of chores such as feeding and watering the animals, fixing fences, cleaning pens and playing veterinarian. Because breeding seasons are different with each type of animal, he and his casual employees are always busy raising heritage breeds.
So, what is a heritage breed? Sorenson explains it by contrasting these animals with commercial breeds, which are selected for their speedy growth rates and are what you’d typically find on factory farms.
“Heritage breeds grow slower but don’t consume the same rate of feed [as commercial breeds] in doing so. They naturally forage for a lot of their diet and due to the slower growth rate produce a superior quality meat that is leaner and more flavourful.”
These breeds have less of an impact on the environment, and have less fat than meat you’d find at most grocery stores, because Nashwaak Valley Farms’ animals “have the chance to exercise as opposed to being confined to a small area for maximum growth rate as in large commercial setups.”
In fact, all the animals bred at Nashwaak Valley Farms are heritage breeds. The extensive list includes Hampshire pigs, several breeds of sheep, highland cows, bourbon red turkeys, pilgrim geese and Flemish giant rabbits. If you live in Fredericton and surrounding areas you may have also seen Sorenson out with his other unique animals kept specifically for petting zoos, such as emus and llamas.
Of course, any startup is not without its challenges, especially if it’s an agriculture-based venture. For Nashwaak Valley Farms, finding adequate funding and educating people about the importance of farmland continuity make up some of the biggest hurdles.
“Most traditional lenders don’t like supporting agriculture as the profit margins are low, unless you get into a large industrial operation…” said Sorenson. “With the sprawl of urban areas expanding more and more we see city folks moving to rural areas, which can create turmoil as they want the beauty of the country but aren’t keen on farming practices around them.”
Sorenson added that Canada imports 70 per cent of its food, “which is a staggering number based on the land mass we have as a country. Prime farmland is being top-soiled and turned into residential housing as more farmers age and the younger generations don’t see the viability of continuing the family farm.”
Despite these issues, Sorenson was able to secure funding from the Department of Agriculture to help pay for predator control fencing. And, there does seem to be a rising demand for humanely and naturally grown meat products from consumers who are becoming more aware of what it is they’re eating and the conditions it was grown or raised in.
“Our customers range in age a lot but the common themes we hear is they like to know the animal was well cared for and that the taste is superior to the more commercial options.”
He tries to reconnect people with where their food comes from “through educational seminars, setting up displays and fairs and special events, and going to schools and daycares to give the kids hands-on experience with animals they might never get to see up close.”
Canada’s 150th anniversary is a great time to begin creating a lifestyle that will be sustainable for another 150 years and beyond. How can you do this? By eating local and supporting local farmers rather than buying any meat from the supermarket; by helping ensure small New Brunswick businesses thrive.
Sorenson himself is doing this by going through another local business, The Country Butcher in Sussex, for all his meat prep and processing needs.
Though the website isn’t up just yet, Nashwaak Valley Farms has a Facebook page that’s updated regularly. “You can order products directly or if you wish to try smaller amounts, we keep Moxon’s Country Pumpkin well stocked with a variety of meats!” said Sorenson.
I went to the Country Pumpkin last week and bought a pack of pork chops from their freezers which are generously stocked with everything from duck to pork roasts to goose. I slow-cooked the pork with potatoes and carrots, and it was delicious, even though I’m not much of a cook! It turned out to be lean, flavourful, and more affordable than you’d think. Heritage breeds do just taste better, it turns out.