Whether I liked it or not, my future was foreordained for the sustainable farming industry. It is quite humorous how life plays out; is it one step that leads to a totally altered path, or maybe, like my mother says, it really is destiny. April 22, 1970 not only marks my birth date but is the anniversary of the modern environmental movement, the very first Earth Day. Later on in life I was to read why my birthday was such a significant date in history. On April 22, 1970, millions of people took to the streets and parks to rally for a healthier, more sustainable environment later to be celebrated every year as Earth Day. Much like the first Earth Day, the fight for a clean environment continues with an increasing urgency.
My biggest influence in my life has been my mother. She was the one who introduced me to the organic lifestyle. Growing up in Italy my mother only knew of growing herbs in the garden. My mother often told me stories of when my grandmother would cook fresh spaghetti sauce and make my mother walk out to the garden to get the fresh herbs to season the sauce with.
Since moving to Canada, my mother has stayed an avid gardener and a fine chef knowing exactly what to make in parallel with what was in season in her garden.
As a teenage I remember helping my mom out after school at the Organic Co-op she owned, where I was constantly in front of people enjoying and participating in this continuing movement of eating “organic.” On weekends I worked at a bakery finessing my skills and taking after my mother as a superb chef, if I do say so myself. First thing Saturday morning when I would get to work, I would turn the coffee machine on and stand there with my eyes closed taking in the warm, comforting smell of fresh bread being made. Let me tell you, there was nothing better than working at a bakery at the age of 15! I actually recall I couldn’t eat cookies for at least a year because I just ate way too many of them.
Nothing drastic happened in my life that made a light bulb go off to say, “Time to start a sustainable organic farm!” I led a very normal city dweller life. After high school I went to university and worked when I had the chance. Where the farm story actually begins is when I met my husband Mike. When Mike and I met, he was a professional soccer player with a team in Toronto and I was a student at York University studying psychology. So, we were the farthest thing from being farmers and neither of us really came from farming backgrounds. Mike drove a convertible jeep at that time and I remember going for a drive with the top down in the country on one of our first dates. It was June and someone had just spread liquid manure on a field nearby and the smell, as you can imagine, was pungent. Mike had a different sense of smell though, to him he smelt opportunity. As we’re driving by Mike takes these big, huge whiffs of this manure and said ‘Wow, doesn’t that smell really good?’ He had this thing since he was a kid that he always wanted to raise pigs. So we bought two little pigs from a local farmer close to my parents. And these two little pigs, Charlotte and Wilbur, became the base of what Beretta Farms is now.
We bought our first farm when we got married in 1993. We truly weren’t farmers, so it was very much a trial and error process for us. We were really lucky and fortunate to have moved into an area in Southwestern Ontario that had an active farming community. So over the first few years we had a lot of help from our neighbors and we made a lot of mistakes. I think our neighbors thought we were crazy. With absolutely no experience and whole lot of luck, we took a huge leap of faith and decided to start what is now called Beretta Farms! From that small farm in Southwestern Ontario, to the cross country business we run now, sustainable farming has always been the ‘path’ we chose to travel down. Needling animals didn’t feel natural to us then and it still doesn’t now. Not to mention, time and time again studies have shown that raising animals the way we do it not only better for them, it’s better for the soil and the environment too. Sticking true to our sustainable roots, Earth Day has always been a holiday near and dear to my heart, and not just because it shares my birthday with me.
Like I said one step can lead to an altered path that you may not have thought you would have entered. My mother was always known for saying “life always gives you two paths. Neither one is right nor wrong they are both just ‘A’ path. It’s up to you to make it into the journey you want.”