Alberta couple find an organic connection

Lisa Kitt in the family’s market garden. Photo: Supplied

Donovan and Lisa Kitt produce 90 per cent of their own food and sell the surplus directly to customers

By Doug Ferguson
Glacier FarmMedia staff

Donovan Kitt had to travel the world to find out what he really wanted was what he’d always had at home.

“I matured and realized that there’s a lot more to life than money,” he says. “That’s not where you’re getting your happiness from.”

As someone who grew up in rural northern Alberta about an hour’s drive west of Grande Prairie, he learned firsthand that farming could be a hard way to make a living.

His father, Jerry, was one of the first people in the province to practise organic farming near Goodfare, becoming certified in 1990. He regularly travelled as far as Edmonton to sell his products to consumers at places such as the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market.

Other people who practised conventional farming using chemicals initially didn’t know what to make of what he was doing. Back then, the word “organic” was still synonymous with the hippie lifestyle, “and even neighbours thought that he was feeding his cows bales of marijuana,” says Donovan.

As a small producer who relied on direct marketing, his father was “always swimming upstream kind of against the flow, and it was challenging. I just watched my dad struggle with marketing and at the time, there wasn’t much of an appetite locally for organic food.

“And I watched my friends whose parents worked in oil and gas or other jobs, and they would have dirt bikes and quads and Skidoos and get to go to hockey camps and stuff like that, and money was always so tight.”

Jerry Kitt was one of the first people in Alberta to practise organic farming near Goodfare, becoming certified in 1990. Photo: Supplied

Donovan decided that instead of becoming a farmer, he would have a job in a city, “live in a fancy condo and drive a fast car. That’s what I thought.”

He studied environmental engineering at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. During summer breaks from school, he travelled to Europe and South America.

It struck him that people in many places he visited “just seemed to be a lot more satisfied with their lives and just happier generally … and I kind of pondered why that would be.”

He had his “aha moment” when he was 23 years old just after he graduated. He decided he needed a break before starting his professional life, so he went to Cuba to take a permaculture course.

Donovan lived in a “small town off the beaten track, and it wasn’t touristy at all, and they just had such satisfaction working for themselves and producing food, and it was just really a rewarding experience … what you’re doing is bringing joy to a lot of other people and bringing nourishment to people — they’re grateful for what you’re doing.”

After living in Edmonton for a year, he moved back to the Goodfare area and rented land from a neighbour. Despite growing up on a farm, he realized he had much to learn about agriculture.

He met his wife, Lisa, during a holistic management course. She, too, had grown up on organic farms in northern Alberta in the Fairview and Grimshaw areas, going on to study psychology at the University of Alberta with the intention of leaving farming behind.

There’s not a huge amount of people that the first thing on their list of wanting to do is farm, and it was pretty wild that it happened that Donovan and I got together. – Lisa Kitt

But she realized she had a passion for issues such as food sovereignty and small-scale farming that other people didn’t have. She helped start a community supported agriculture project involving fresh vegetables, beginning with 15 customers and ending with about 100 people after six years.

Despite originally considering a career as a physician or a nurse, Lisa became convinced “one of the most important things is what we put in our body, and food is medicine. And so, yeah, it kind of drew me back to farming, and the importance of having really good, nutritious food and access to it.”’

Donovan bought a quarter section in 2015 and started The Homestead organic farm. It was named after the small log cabin he and Lisa moved into on the property, much like the pioneers who first settled the area, she says.

“And the only running water was just the hand pump there in the house, and there was no electricity or anything, so it was an exciting time because we just started from scratch.”

She counts herself lucky to have found her husband, who she married in 2018.

“There’s not a huge amount of people that the first thing on their list of wanting to do is farm, and it was pretty wild that it happened that Donovan and I got together. And I was like, ‘how did I end up with someone that wants to farm the exact same way as I want to farm?’ ”

Partly due to concerns about farm succession as Donovan’s father became older, the couple eventually sold their quarter section and moved on to his dad’s nearby farm, where they built a new house last year. Although they are still connected to the traditional electrical grid, they installed a solar array that provides much of their power.

The combined farm raises everything from cattle, bison and pigs to chickens, and it also has a market garden. During the winter, the couple uses a room in their house to grow microgreens such as radishes, sunflowers and broccoli shoots.

Not only does the farm provide 90 percent of their own food, the surplus is directly marketed to customers mainly in Grande Prairie, Edmonton and Vancouver. Donovan brings in extra income by working as an environmental engineer, but the couple plans to eventually concentrate full time on farming.

They recently celebrated the birth of their son, Everett, joining one-year-old brother, Murray, says Donovan.

Donovan Kitt with their oldest son, Murray.
Photo: Supplied

“I think it’s so awesome because one of the reasons that I wanted to get back into agriculture was to provide my kids with the same childhood that I had because we just grew up kind of running wild, making forts out in the forest and cross-country skiing and swimming in beaver ponds,” he says.

“And it was just so great to hop on your bike and go for a 10-mile bike ride and not see anybody.… I never expected that I’d be able to give them the exact same childhood on the exact same place, so I feel pretty lucky that I’m able to do that.”

Both Donovan and Lisa are in their early 30s. He laughs as he remembers his former goal of living in a fancy condo and driving a fast car.

“And now I drive used cars and don’t even live near a condo.”

This article was originally published at The Western Producer.