Spectacular views of hilled rows of flowering potato plants overlooking red cliffs and the sea are a common sight as you explore the North Cape Coastal Drive. You’ll pass bucolic scenes of beef and dairy cattle and sheep. They are raised on local farms, just as you could have seen them as far back as the 1700s. More recently, alpacas and buffalo are being raised by “small acreage” farmers. The farmers of Acadian and Celtic descent who first settled this region were tough; they wrested their fields one acre at a time from the forests of the Island. Their pride and determination lives on in the generations who still farm their fathers’ and grandfathers’ lands.
Orchards and U-Pick
When you are visiting in the fall, be sure to come and pick from our wonderful variety of fruit trees. Choose from apple, pear and plum. During the summer months, we have berries like strawberries and blueberries, raspberry, gooseberry, rose hips, black currants and new varieties like haskaps. Look for these locally grown fruits in season at our farmers’ markets, roadside stalls and u-pick orchards.
Our restaurants provide many opportunities to enjoy organic fruits and vegetables. You can also obtain humanely raised Island beef, pork, eggs and poultry at local farmers’ markets. And sometimes right from the farmers themselves.
Historically, Islanders come from determined stock. The Acadian and English settlers first brought grains from Europe, and cleared land for their own agricultural techniques – some not very sustainable. The Mi’kmaq First Nations people were primarily hunters and gatherers. They ate wild berries, herbs, nuts and maple sap as supplements to their proteins.
The Acadians, and later the English settlers, wrested the fertile fields from the forests one huge tree stump at a time. It was a very hard life; a farmer might clear an acre or two a year, all the while having to set up shelter and store provisions for the long winter. Wheat and peas were the two principle grain crops. Turnip and cabbage were the main kitchen garden crops.
Many Islanders still have kitchen gardens and grow the same root vegetables as their Celtic and Acadian fore-bearers. These ingredients are still prominent in Island recipes, with many a family cook knowing how to prepare a proper “boiled supper.”
Modern Rural PEI
Today Prince Edward Island is still very rural. Our rolling hills are patch-worked with potatoes, corn and grains like wheat and barley, canola and mustard. You’ll notice blankets of brilliant yellow canola or mustard flowers as you explore our pastoral countryside.
Good land husbandry techniques have been learned. We use crop rotation and have created buffer zones to protect PEI’s waterways. PEI has an active honey bee industry, that supplies about 6,000 colonies, to pollinate the Island’s fruit crops every year. High quality honey is also produced and sold by PEI beekeepers – look for it at roadside stands, and farmer’s markets.
There are more and more organic farms popping up, and smaller boutique crop farms that offer a wonderful variety of produce. Still, you’ll often find yourself driving past traditional scenes: a peaceful herd of dairy Holsteins (the black and white cows) or the brown Jerseys with their rich and creamy milk. But now you may also spot something new to Island farming like a herd of buffalo – or alpacas.
Prince Edward Island’s farming industry is proud to be innovative and changing to meet modern-day demands. We don’t farm just crops and cattle any more: visit North Cape, where we farm … wind!
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