Ask Keith Taylor about his ideas on farming and food production and you will no doubt receive a passionate and detailed response. The former traditional farmer is a practitioner of permaculture, a method of food production that aims to be completely sustainable and attempts this by trying to mimic the way things grow in the wild.
Permaculture (originally a short-form for permanent agriculture) has had many offshoots and developments since it was first coined by its founders David Holmgren and Bill Mollison almost 40 years ago. It basically involves a series of techniques and approaches to agriculture with the end goal of producing ecologically sustainable food in a manner that produces no waste and also regenerates the soil’s nutrients.
After some formalized permaculture training and four years of hands-on practice, Taylor (or ‘Keith Forest,’ as he prefers to be called) has launched a multi-pronged venture called Nature Cures.
The cornerstone of this endeavour is the Nature Cures Natural Health Centre (3235 CKL Rd #121, Burnt River) which will open May 19 of this year. It will feature a commercial kitchen that will sell prepared meals using ethically-sourced, chemical-free ingredients that are locally produced where possible. Like Taylor’s other efforts, it is collaborative in style, and will include the products and participation of like-minded community members. Unlike most restaurant models – where recipes and ingredients are carefully guarded, this food centre will be run on an ‘open-source’ model: recipes are freely shared by those that are involved.
In addition to the prepared meals, the health centre will also sell Nature Cures-branded herbal tea blends, locally-sourced hemp seeds and oils, kombucha (a fermented tea drink), fruit-flavoured water, preserves, maple syrup, micro-greens and sprouts to name just a few.
Taylor is quick to point out in person and on his website that his health-products do not claim to ‘cure’ anything (a practice that often makes the alternative health industry the target of regulatory authorities).
Taylor will also offer consultancy services, helping any small-scale farmer to use the methods of permaculture on their properties. The centre will also endeavor to create a sense of community by hosting weekend barbeques and entertainment, weekly meditation and yoga sessions and offering random guided nature outings.
Eco-tourism and agri-tourism
The latter events are part of another element of Nature Cures – eco-tourism and agri-tourism. According to government figures, eco-tourism (tourism based around the principles of sustainability and ecology) and agri-tourism (tourism products catered to people who want to experience agricultural production) are a growing niche and are actually growing at a faster rate in Ontario than traditional tourism offerings.
According to Kelly Maloney, the agriculture officer at the City of Kawartha Lakes, agri-tourism and value-added food processing have been targeted priorities in the city’s 2017 economic development strategy.
“The demand for locally produced food” and the growing popularity of direct farm to consumer food products are exciting “areas of growth, especially for the small-scale farms in the City of Kawartha Lakes,” she adds.
Taylor will offer his eco-tourism products through his association with Greenshire EcoFarm, a permaculture co-operative 10 minutes outside of Lindsay (1563 Pigeon lake Rd., Lindsay) that has been in operation for over seven years. The farm offers fresh produce, an alternative equine-therapy centre and various agri-tourism offerings.
Taylor is the steward of the forest garden there, a permaculture garden that he built two years ago with his 28 year old son Josh, who lives with cerebral palsy. The Nature Cures offering will include shinrin yoku or ‘forest bathing’, a form of nature therapy first developed in Japan in the 1980s. Nature Cures will also offer weekly permaculture experiences, where participants come and work on the garden for a fee, learn the techniques and take some of the produce that they helped create.
These ambitious plans are not just motivated by Taylor’s passion – it is also an economic reality of the permaculture model. A no-till, chemical-free method of production that is completely done by hand leads to higher unit costs.
“The markets are there and are growing for these types of products,” he says, but not unlike many traditional farms in this area, diversification is the key to success.
His business model is most definitely non-mainstream and the product offerings are no doubt confusing to some. But after years of what he describes as “trying to change things through protest,” Taylor decided to try community-building and the principles of cooperation and permaculture to make change happen through alternative methods.
And as Taylor freely admits “you cannot change the world until you change yourself.”