TapRoot Farms changing with the times
Co-owners Patricia Bishop (Class of 1999) and Josh Oulton (Class of 1996) are deepening the community’s connection to the industry and merging traditional farming with modern, environmentally sustainable practices.
by Allison Barss
Agriculture alum Josh Oulton (Class of 1996) remembers the first time he walked the land that would one day become his family’s purpose. “It was vast – it had different types of soil, water sources and wildlife,” he says. The recommendation to look at it had come from his father-in-law, Andrew Bishop (Class of 1975), an eighth-generation farmer, who was eager to get Oulton and his daughter (Josh’s wife) Patricia Bishop (Class of 1999) back home to Nova Scotia after several years in British Columbia.
“I really saw the potential,” Oulton recalls of the six-hour walk that day in 2004. He also remembers a comment made by the loan officer from the Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board who accompanied him. “He told me we had just walked the best farmland in Nova Scotia.”
Oulton knew the man was right. An incredible opportunity was in store for he and Bishop, their two-year-old son, Izaak, and their multi-generational farming family. So, they bought a farm.
Hosting the community at their farm
Fast forward nearly 20 years – and two more kids – later, and TapRoot Farms is a thriving, working organic farm located in the heart of Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. It merges deeply held family traditions with modern, environmentally sustainable practices, and offers a wide range of products, from fruit and vegetables – everything from apples to zucchini – to free-range eggs and pasture-raised meats.
Unique to the farm are the experiences that Oulton and Bishop offer to help deepen the community’s connection to and understanding of agriculture. These include walks and farm tours, an overnight stay where visitors can partake in the farm’s daily activities, like collecting morning eggs or feeding the chickens, and internships, where participants can work and live on the farm for up to 20 weeks, working alongside staff and learning about the farm’s practices.
What also sets TapRoot Farms apart is Oulton and Bishop’s commitment to sustainability, stewardship and transparency, as they continue to make their own unique mark on the farming industry in Nova Scotia.
Expanding into flax and textile production
Their latest venture is growing flax to make linen through the farm’s small-scale textile production equipment. “It’s a method that dates back tens of thousands of years,” say Oulton, also sharing that it’s now used in many European countries, while TapRoot Farms has become Canada’s sole producer. “The global textile industry is a large-scale polluter,” he says. “This is our way of restarting an industry here in Canada in a way that does less harm to the environment. It fits perfectly with the sustainable priorities of our farm.”
Oulton and Bishop recognize that many helping hands have and continue to contribute to the farm’s success. This doesn’t just include family members – from their own three children to Bishop’s grandmother and grandfather Avard Bishop (Class of 1947) – but also community members, including the loan officer from the Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board, who became the first to sign up for the farm’s community garden. It also includes the foreign workers from Jamaica who, for eight months of the year, provide critical support for the farm’s planting, production, and harvest.
Advocates and ‘Outstanding Young Farmers’
They each also continue to be advocates in building province-wide awareness around some of the most important issues affecting the future of farming, including food security, land use and the availability of local farms. For their accomplishments and leadership in the industry, Oulton and Bishop were named Atlantic Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers in 2010 and received the 2010 Spirit Nova Scotia Local Foods Award. Bishop also received the Dr. Robert Strang Community Hero Award in 2021 for her work delivering donated food to people identifying as food insecure through the early days of the pandemic. They both continue to set an example for new and experienced farmers alike.
“It’s been one of life’s greatest joys to be able to share this experience with my family, and to be making an impact in the broader community” says Oulton.