Producer Spotlight: Borderlands Farm
Gwen and Brody Marsonet are relatively new members of the Thunder Bay farm community. Together with Gwen’s parents Beverly and Bryan Barlow, they’re raising one of Thunder Bay’s largest flocks of sheep and settling in on their beautiful property south of the city in Neebing, on the site of an old border house for which Borderlands Farm is named.
Although Brody is from the area, he didn’t grow up farming, and while Beverly and Bryan had years of mixed farming experience, they and Gwen came from southern Ontario. Despite being short on contacts at first, they have a wonderful story to tell about their experience moving into Thunder Bay’s farm community.
When they decided to build a farming business together, they chose Thunder Bay – in large part, Gwen says, because of how welcoming the farm community was. After a lot of market research and discussion on the subject, the four of them had already made the decision to move into raising sheep, but it was the conversations they had with members of the local farming community that made them feel like there would be a place for them here – and, in fact, led them to the perfect place.
“We actually looked at a couple of different Northern communities,” Gwen told us. “The cost of land was much more affordable up here. People were very welcoming. And it was actually local farmers that connected us with the place that we bought, it wasn’t through a real estate agent or anything like that.”
When we visited, the family had just finished their first shearing the day before, and the sheep were pure white and frisky in their new summer hair-cuts. Gwen explained that not only had they carefully assessed the market before deciding to get into sheep, they’d done a lot of research into the different breeds. They settled on Polypays, which are bred in the American Midwest, because they are larger than many other breeds, with dense, beautiful wool and excellent meat. They plan to build on those genes with a nutrition program, a healthy lifestyle including plenty of sunshine and pasture, and careful sorting that lets the sheep stay in close-knit family groups. All of these measures contribute to their overall comfort and quality of life of the flock and, finally, to the quality of their meat.
Borderlands harvested their first lambs for retail this spring, and it is currently available for purchase in limited quantity through their website. As the flock grows, more lamb will be available, and Gwen and Brody anticipate an excellent fall lambing season in time to enjoy lamb over the holidays.