The benefits of farm-raised meat and produce are well known. You know how your food was raised and you can’t beat the taste.
For one Timmins farmer, agriculture has been a life-altering experience.
Marcel and Karine Forget are the owners of Rubber Boot Farm. But farming is not their original fields.
“My background is in construction,” he said. “I did project management and estimating. I also did that for mining contractors. My wife, Karine, is an optometrist full-time. We own a clinic downtown and in Iroquois Falls, so that keeps us very busy too.
“In 2015, I had a motor vehicle accident and I broke my back.”
Forget recalled how his thoughts turned to wholesome food during his recovery.
“I had surgery in Sudbury. I was getting sick and tired of the food in the hospital,” he said. “I asked my dad if I could get a hamburger, so he brought me back some fast food and I almost spit it right back out. That was my body telling me it wanted some tomatoes and some fresh produce, and some homemade cooking from grandma and my mom or whatever.”
This inspired him to try agriculture on a small scale.
“I needed something to do while I was in rehab for my back,” Forget said. “I asked my wife, let’s get 20 chickens. If it’s 30 minutes a day of chores, at least it’s getting me out of the house. I’m walking and moving about, and can keep my mental health in check too.”
As his enjoyment of farming grew, so did his farm.
“Twenty chickens turned into 75 the next year, then 150, then turned into 300, and then with seven pigs, it kind of multiplied into what our farm is today,” he said. “Along the way, I met some mentors that steered us in the right direction.
“I knew I didn’t want to farm conventionally, more organically. There is a difference between farming between a backyard homestead just providing for your family and making a business of it.
“What we do is called regenerative agriculture, that’s keeping animals on the land and keeping your soils healthy through rotational grazing. You can imagine, if you bring your horse to drink at the river and you walk that path every single day, eventually you’re going to beat down a path and see a little trail because you’re not giving that grass time to rest. But if you have 50 horses walk that trail at once, in one day it’s going to be demolished.”
In addition to growing the farm, he diversified their products.
“At Rubber Boot Farm, we do eggs year ‘round,” Forget said. “We do pork. We’re at the point now where we breed our own pigs. We have a boar and three sows. They all have names. Whatever sticks around for a while has a name. We have between 20 and 40 pigs per season.
“We also have an artisanal license for chickens. We have a permit for 600-1,000 chickens. This summer in 2023 we’ll be grazing 800, all on pasture, we rotationally graze them. We also do turkeys. We have rabbits. We have beehives. We plant a lot of garlic and we have a lot of root vegetables, carrots and beets and whatnot.”
Forget credits many others for helping the operation grow.
“It’s been an enjoyable ride with the growth. It’s been getting bigger and bigger,” he said. “I think we’re at our peak. But it’s great to also have the support from the community, family and friends.
“I’m at the point where this summer I’ll have my first full-time employee. It’s a summer student, but still, I’m at the point where I can create employment and give back to the community.
“Last year, I calculated it was 6,500 meals I was able to provide to the Timmins area. It’s no small feat for a small farm.”
In addition to selling meat and veggies to individuals, Rubber Boot Farm provides fresh products for other local businesses.
“It’s the bonus of collaborating with other businesses in town,” Forget said. “We have Aline’s Tea Shop, Radical Gardens, Dabrowski’s, Heart and Sol Catering, Little Northern Meals. Their customers sometimes turn into ours. Timmins is big enough. There’s no need to start making competition or rivalries. Everyone can support each other.”
He also gives credit to recent improvements to the Mountjoy Farmers’ Market, particularly Porcupine District Agricultural Society president Rock Whissell, for boosting the profile of Timmins farming.
“We do participate in the Mountjoy Farmers’ Market. That’s proven to be a great point of sales for us,” he said. “They’ve done a remarkable job of turning it around. About four years ago, I think there was about an average of 150 people per weekend. Now, since they moved, they can’t keep count anymore. It’s well over 1,000. In a few short years, they have made it a viable place for local agriculturalists to sell their products.”
The family’s knack for promoting the farm on social media has caught the eye of many locals. Rubber Boot Farm has been nominated for a Timmins Chamber of Commerce Nova Award for marketing.
“It’s funny because we usually put our children (in Instagram posts). Our daughter likes to be in front of the camera,” Forget said. “We’re really excited about that. In a few short years, we’ve gathered over 1,000 followers from Timmins.”
While there are no set hours for people to buy products at the farm, due to the fact they could be working anywhere on the property, it is simple as calling ahead. Rubber Boot Farm was even able to help a local family rescue Christmas dinner at the last minute by providing a ham when all stores were closed.
“Through any social media platform, just reach out to me to see what we have available,” he explained. “They can pre-order for a pig, or chicken or a turkey.
“We have an honour system for our eggs. People just drive up to the barn, walk in, grab their eggs from the fridge, sign in on the sheet and leave their cash. Anything meat or produce related, you can just call ahead. Of course, every Saturday from June to October, we’re at the Mountjoy Farmers’ Market.
“We don’t have set hours, but we’re never closed.”