Sophie Foster is one of several young and emerging Oxford County entrepreneurs who has decided to utilize the area’s rich soil for a new business. The 25-year-old Zorra Township resident created Rising Roots Farm last year providing fresh vegetables to her many customers.
Sophie decided to head to Australia in 2018 once her undergraduate studies were completed and that is where her journey began. “It was time for a break after being a bit burnt out. I used the money I had saved up from working during school and contacted WorkAway which is a company that matches people with families around the world looking for employees for jobs like farm help, a nanny or on a building project. I found an amazing family in Australia, and I worked on their farm for about a month and a half.”
Sophie says once she returned home and with a little nudge from those closest to her, she decided to take the leap. “I don’t think I necessarily knew then that I wanted to do it as a business, but I knew I wanted to go home and have my own garden and I did that for two years. My partner really pushed me to start doing a CSA because I had been talking about the idea so through his and family support, I did it.”
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a production model where customers buy shares of a farm’s harvest in advance. Customers become members by paying the agreed amount upfront, allowing the farmer to buy the seeds, tools and equipment needed for the season. By paying at the beginning of the season, CSA members share in the risk of production, where weather, seed failure and other problems could occur.
“Last year I did about a quarter of an acre. I am still learning and didn’t use the land as efficiently as I could have. This year I am expanding to closer to half an acre because I am adding a flower garden to the mix,” she says.
While not certified organic, Sophie believes that she does fit. “I don’t use any chemicals or sprays and I think I am better than organic. I am trying to build up soil health by diversifying crops, companion planting and crop rotation.” Companion planting is a fascinating practice involving planting an herb or flower beside a crop to create natural pest control. “When you plant zucchinis and cucumbers you always get squash beetles and other insects that can ruin it. Instead of spraying chemicals I’d plant some sweet alyssum flowers instead since they function as a natural defense. I am also planting my tomatoes and basil right beside each other. The tomato is taller and that helps protect the basil and can make the tomato flavour better.” Sophie says she is performing ecological farming so it’s the idea of using these natural processes to keep the soil and crops healthy.
Sophie credits her Australian family igniting her passion to learn about farming, but she believes her journey has just begun. “I think I will be learning forever. There are always new things to learn especially when it comes to soil health. I know just the tip of the iceberg of what I want to know.”
Sophie isn’t a full-time farmer and currently has a gig with the federal government. “I work in food security policy. I am a junior analyst, and I would describe it as a research position. I always wanted both worlds. I love academics and I love research, but I always wanted to feel like I was making a difference. The farm is my way of feeling like I am doing just that.” She adds that she doesn’t know if I want to work in the government long-term. “I’d rather get into more of a teaching role, but I do really love both worlds.”
Following a busy first year in business, the young business owner is still setting her sights higher for this season. “I am going to do more events like flower picking and paint nights in the flower garden I am building. I would also like to eventually build a kitchen on the farm to host more events and start community building. That’s where it’s at now, but I might change my mind,” she laughs.
Sophie says she is shifting her focus this season to selling salad shares instead of just vegetables like last season. “I realized people want to know what to do with the vegetables they get, and salads are an easy way to use everything you get in the box. Outside of the Salad Share, I’ll be having a seedling sale at the end of May, I’ll be at the Woodstock Farmers Market from June-September, and I’ll also be selling preservatives later in the season.”
For more information on Sophie and her exciting venture, go to her website at https://risingrootsfarm.com/.