Field Trip: Sosnicki Organics

Ben on his way out to cultivate.

After miles of corn, soybeans, and more corn, at the end of a long gravel driveway in the middle of Norfolk County you can find Ben and Jessie Sosnicki’s organic mixed vegetable farm. The diversity that suddenly greets you is a welcome sight.

There’s an old quip farmers used to spit out when they were talking to someone interested in farming. It goes: “Well, at least you won’t be hungry.” It tends not to be true these days based on what a lot of farmers choose to grow, but after seeing the diversity of the Sosnicki farm, it’d be the type of farm you’d never feel hungry on. Rich or poor.

Their garlic was about twice the size of ours. A testament to the care they put into growing it.

Ben took over the family farm in 1996 to continue the family business of conventionally grown food. Jessie joined the next year and they quickly realized they weren’t making enough money to sustain themselves while competing with the handful of large growers in the area. Trying to figure out what to do, and even considering packing it in, they talked to Karl Schibli, their neighbour and organic dairy farmer. When we visited Karl’s farm last year, he told us of how he faced the same decision. He suggested that the Sosnickis try organic farming.

Beautiful indeterminate (vining) tomatoes growing in their greenhouse. The red one is Costoluto Genovese. 

Ben and Jessie specialize in organic heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, and cabbage, but in total grow about 30 different crops with well over a hundred varieties. Jessie says that Ben refers to them as “market gardeners” and I can see why. Their farm, with the exception of the cabbage and corn tends to be alternating rows of different crops. Which look less like a traditional farm and more like an oversized kitchen vegetable garden.

Good, old, all-yellow sweet corn. Fresh from the grill.

One of their specialties is organic sweet corn. Their corn season starts in August, which is fairly late, but that is because they grow untreated, organic seeds which don’t deal well with the cold, wet soil of the spring like treated seed can. They also refuse to grow “peaches and cream” corn, or bi-colour corn. For some reason people got in their heads that bi-colour corn is sweeter than all-yellow corn, maybe because one farmer years ago sold a customer starchy field corn meant for cattle to make an extra buck. But believe us (the Senko family has been growing sweet corn for decades) yellow corn is usually much tastier.

Sure, there are a lot of good bi-colour corn varieties available, but it’s sad that growers were cornered into having to work with it because of purely aesthetic reasons.

Some of the diversity on display at the farm. Beets, tomatoes, herbs, cabbages and more. At right are their beautiful leeks.

One of the things that they also grow are a few weeds. Like the damning sight of a tiny blemish on a tomato, the sight of a weed will cause a conventional grower to go mad. But at the Sosnicki farm you’ll find them here and there, and they’ll get to them. They’re not hurting much.

Ben and Jessie dig all of their potatoes with an antique potato digger that they say works like a charm.

Jessie keeps chickens for eggs. They planned on going into organic egg production, but decided to keep their focus on the produce. If you’re looking for a backyard chicken, and we highly recommend them, a few of Jessie’s chickens are up for grabs, and they’re at the perfect stage where they are just starting to lay.

Everything on the farm is free-range, including Lady Bug, their horse.
She wanders around with no fence in sight. I bet she thinks she’s one of the dogs.

If you’re interested in buying some of Ben and Jessie’s produce, and we suggest you ask them about organic canning tomatoes, you can find them at the following Toronto farmers markets.

Riverdale Farmers Market, Tuesdays 3-7pm, May through October
Dufferin Grove Organic Farmer’s Market, Thursdays 2:30-7pm, Year Round
Evergreen Brickworks Farmers Market, Saturdays 8am - 1pm, Year Round
Withrow Park, Saturdays 9am - 12pm, May through October.

The Danforth’s The Big Carrot also carries their roma tomatoes and sweet corn in season. Their cabbages and other root vegetables are stocked all winter.

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