By Ashley Thompson
A Hants County farm family is reaping the rewards of thinking green.
The Martock-based W. G. Oulton & Sons was named the province's 2011 Environmental Farm Stewards of the Year.
Wayne Oulton said he believes it is important for all farmers to be conscious of how their business decisions will impact the environment.
Oulton said participating in government-supported pilot projects for wastewater treatment and waste composting has helped his family stay up-to-date on environmentally-friendly farming practices. The efforts will improve operations on their 1,500 acre property, he added, which includes 660 acres of farm land, an 800-acre woodlot and an orchard.
"Even though what we're doing are low technology projects, they are environmental projects that make a big difference," he said.
"We volunteered to use our site as a guinea pig."
The Oultons use a wastewater wetland where the vegetation in four gravity-fed holding ponds act as natural filters for treating wastewater generated at the family's farm and on-site meat processing facility. This practice is easier on the environment and the budget. Farm buildings and two houses on the property are heated by an industrial-sized wood furnace fed with lumber gathered from the woodlot, which is sustained through selective cutting, planting and thinning.
Most of the fertilizer used at the farm is manure produced by the diverse range of livestock the Oultons raise. The list includes Hereford cows, ewes, free-range chickens, free-range turkeys, ducks, geese, quail, partridge, emu, rhea, and yak.
"We use minimal chemical fertilizer," Oulton said.
The father of three said reducing an operation's reliance on fossil fuels, ensuring fuel tanks are properly stored, monitoring the amount of fertilizer dumped on a property and managing waste properly are environmentally-friendly acts that will be benefit future generations by creating a more sustainable agricultural industry.
"We try to do something little each year," he said.
Oulton's wife Nicole said she hopes to see more farmers taking advantage of the educational programs and funding opportunities offered through the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture and Nova Scotia Agriculture. The designation of Environmental Farm Stewards of the Year came with a $2,000 grant to be used for more eco-friendly initiatives on the Oulton's farm.
"It was definitely worth it" to apply, she said.
"It creates public awareness that farms are very much in tune with the environment, and doing things that are good for the environment."
Sidebar: Local ‘lifeline'
Oulton, a fourth-generation farmer, grew up on the farm his father acquired in 1967. The Mike Oulton Meat Store, a processing facility and retail outlet, became a part of the farm in 1979.
Most of the products sold at the store come from within 30 kms of Windsor.
Oulton says the meat shop is the "lifeline" of the farm operation. It allows the Oultons to control the price they receive for the meat they produce, and the commodities they purchase from local producers.
"In the commodity markets, the prices go up and down daily or weekly, but you don't see that in the grocery stores," Oulton said.
Meat sold at the privately-owned shop is not transported to multiple processing and distribution facilities before it is made available for purchase, he added, unlike some of the meat sold in large grocery stores.
"Food does go through a lot of different hands that people don't realize."
Processing and selling meat at the same location means there are fewer middle men to pay, and less mark-up on the final product.
"From the consumer's standpoint, a lot of our products are cheaper or the same as what you would buy in the grocery store," he said.
He says the busy little meat shop allows the Oultons to spread the wealth to neighbouring farmers.
"We're usually paying market price or higher for products," he said. "I like to pay the farmer as much as I can."
If business continues to hold stead, Oulton said he expects to see the shops' retail space expand and an increase in Oulton family farm tours in the future.