Hayes Farm: A small farm with a big vision

Cecilia Brooks making her sunchoke soup. (Erin Hurley/AQ)

It’s a brisk October afternoon. The smell of spices and fresh vegetables cuts through the chill in the air as Cecilia Brooks, Indigenous Foodways Instructor with Hayes Farm, stirs her zu-bay-gen (sunchoke) soup. She cooks in a makeshift kitchen in the farm’s barn, a hot plate gifted to her by her son set upon a bright yellow tablecloth.

Zu-bay-gen is the Wolastoqey word for sunchokes, or earth apple. Brooks holds up the sunchokes by the root, laughing at their uncanny resemblance to mice with long tails. While they may look like mice, they actually taste more like potatoes or water chestnuts. She mixes these together with other ingredients including potatoes, onions, garlic, celeriac and celery root. Rakes and shovels of every shape and size hang on the wall behind her, reminding people of the tools used to grow and harvest ingredients.

At the same time, she is making skijinabun, a type of bread made with just flour, baking powder, salt, and water. Adults and children alike revel in the scents wafting from the table and wait on the edge of their seats for the meal to be done.

A few kids jumped at the chance to be Brooks’ “assistant” and help pass out bowls of soup to the crowd gathered for the last Open Farm Day of the season on Saturday, Oct. 14. A young girl earned the position.

Besides growing food at Hayes Farm, Brooks and others build a community through other activities. At Open Farm Day, visitors can enjoy Brooks’s food workshop, an apple cider-making demo, a garlic planting session and fresh vegetables available for donation.

“A lot of people that come to these workshops, oftentimes it will be what I call the ‘usual
suspects,” said Brooks.

Brooks is an elder of Wolastoqey, Mi’kmaq, Mohawk and Korean descent and is a member of the Sitansisk (St. Mary’s First Nation). She specializes in traditional plant knowledge and shared some of her knowledge at the Open Farm. It was a relentlessly cold day, the wind whipped outside the barn where Brooks was cooking, yet attendees kept warm with the help of her sunchoke soup and skijinabun.

While more people visited the farm this season than ever before, for many Fredericton residents, this small farm on the northside remains one of the city’s best-kept secrets. But while Hayes Farm may be small, its history isn’t.

The Hayes Farmhouse was first built in the 1840s. The last original family member, Mary Hayes, hoped that the land would continue to be used for farming – and her wish was granted in 2015 when her nephew Ian Robertson met Edee Klee, the Co-Chair of New Brunswick Community Harvest Gardens (NBCHG).

Kids at Open Farm Day watching the ducks. (Erin Hurley/AQ)

The modern Hayes Farm officially began in 2018 with a 30-week-long Regenerative Farming Certificate Program. The farm has evolved over the past five years from more regimented classes to in-the-field learning with a focus on community relations.

Matthew Golding, the Community Farm Coordinator, can be remembered not only by their usual braid and colourful fleece jacket but also by the way they inspire the community to learn at the farm. With industrial agriculture contributing heavily to the climate crisis, they said growing food locally is more essential than ever.

“We shouldn’t be relying on imported seeds to grow our own food and we shouldn’t be relying on imported foods, because there may come a time when it won’t be available,” said Golding.

While many people may not know where to start when it comes to a home garden, Brooks stresses the importance of growing the “three sisters” plants: corn, beans and squash. Many indigenous communities in North America planted these crops together because they help each other grow.

“Everyone’s so busy working, and having a garden can be intimidating because it does take work. But a three sisters garden, as I always tell people, you plant it and just leave it alone. And just let it go.”