Spotlight on a local sheep farm for a unique, online approach to farming business

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A small island sheep farm in the Kingston area continues to reach the outside world with its unique approach to social media and promotion – and it is garnering interesting attention, both locally and internationally.

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Topsy Farms is located on Amherst Island, off the mainland of Loyalist Township in Lake Ontario, and was founded in 1972 by a cargo of free-spirited, peace-loving hippies.

Today’s farm is no longer just a working sheep farm. While the farm always keeps a healthy flock of sheep and offers a variety of wool products in its online and onsite farm shops, in recent years Topsy has opened the doors to the farm – literally and in the past. figured – and welcomed the public into enjoying not only its sheep, but also the land that is home to the agricultural cooperative, through regular social media content and in-person events.

On October 5, Topsy received an Honorable Mention in Agricultural Excellence from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs in recognition of his Connect to the Land campaign.

Jacob Murray, one of Topsy’s owners, describes Connect to the Land as both educational and entertaining, a way for farm staff and residents to highlight the connection between man and nature, farm and wilderness – and offer hands-on experiences with those connections in the process.

“There is this great interrelation between nature and agriculture,” Murray said. “With Connect to the Land, we do our best to tell people about it. This is what a day on the farm looks like. We share our struggles and triumphs and document the good, the bad, the ugly, the broken, the bleeding, the smiles and everything in between.

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Daily posts about life on the farm and on the land, as well as a weekly video series, keep people around the world engaged on the farm. Closer to home, and before a pandemic shut down many activities in the area, Topsy also offered special events, workshops or opportunities to walk the trails, kayak the waters along from Amherst Island, meet farm cattle and attend Topsy’s annual shearing event.

Connect to the Land was also born from a change in ownership of Topsy. When some of the original co-op stakeholders were ready to retire and buy back shares, the next generation, including Murray, had to make the difficult decision to invest in the land and make it work or to sell at least part of the property to keep the current operation.

Jacob Murray holds a lamb at Topsy Farms on Amherst Island in August 2019 (Meghan Balogh / The Whig-Standard)
Jacob Murray holds a lamb at Topsy Farms on Amherst Island in August 2019 (Meghan Balogh / The Whig-Standard) SunMedia

Preserving the land was a matter of course for Murray, and Connect to the Land was a way for others to learn to appreciate the wild west shores of Amherst Island and the unique conservation role a farm like Topsy could play. maintaining its lasting spirit. agricultural operation.

Topsy invites people to come explore these wild parts of his property.

“It’s this idea that to preserve wilderness, people have to fall in love with it,” Murray said. “When 90% of the population lives in urban areas, why would they want or care what happens to the wilderness? I think in the future these wild areas need to be preserved, and in order to be preserved a person has to know that they exist.

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“Connect to the Land says, ‘Look at all these amazing things’. “

Topsy employs 19 people, some full time and some part time.

“Due to our special circumstances, we are too small to be an industrial farm and too big to be a hobby farm,” Murray said. “So we are in this very vulnerable intermediate space, where all the people who live and work here, our income comes from the farm. For us, we need more than the product of agriculture proper. We have to add things to that, otherwise there would never be enough. “

Murray said the honorable mention was nice to receive.

“It’s so good to have a little bit of recognition,” he said. “Agriculture in general, and particularly on an island, is a very isolated activity.

In early October, Topsy was also on a global list of six quality farms dedicated to responsible practices, produced by a California video company.

Topsy recently partnered with two other local farms to use their social media platforms to help promote other local small businesses.

Topsy, Enright Cattle Company in Tweed and MacKinnon Brothers Brewing in Bath have created the #ShopLocalSEO campaign to promote local businesses in Southeastern Ontario whose social media reach is not as broad as the three operations with a Well-established online presence – around 40,000 social media followers combined.

The three companies will share local business profiles and links to favorite stores and services from their online platforms.

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Topsy had to take a step back from the Connect to the Land in-person events he had planned for 2020, but his online presence remained strong.

While the farm gate is still open, Murray said Topsy has discouraged traffic to the farm simply out of respect for their neighbors on Amherst Island, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Murray hopes the farm will be able to accommodate large groups of visitors again in the future. In the meantime, he’s focused on sharing the story of the farm online with people around the world.

In order to save farmland and preserve farmland in its wildest state, we have to share it, ”he said. “It’s the ultimate irony. To keep it, you have to share it.

mbagh@postmedia.com

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