Sally and Mark Bernard stand outside their farm, Barnyard Organics Ltd., with their children Lucy and Wilson. The couple has been named the Atlantic Outstanding Young Farmers of 2012. Journal Pioneer photo by Ryan Quigley
FREETOWN - An impressive honour bestowed on Mark and Sally Bernard over the weekend still hasn't fully sunk in for the couple, who own and manage Barnyard Organics Ltd.
The Freetown couple was named the Atlantic Region's Outstanding Young Farmer of 2012 during the annual banquet at Futures Inn in Moncton on Friday.
The award recognizes farmers exemplifying excellence in their profession and promoting the contribution of agriculture.
"I don't know if it has really sunk in yet. We were completely shocked," said Mark during an interview with The Guardian.
The couple primarily produces organic grain and oilseeds on 550 acres of land. The operation has been certified organic since 2006.
While the farm has been in Mark's family for years, it formerly focused on producing seed and tablestock potatoes.
However when the farm economy started taking a turn for the worse, Mark grasped the opportunity to attend agricultural college.
From there, he started studying organic farming and began thinking of a future business plan.
"I saw there was a lot of opportunity. That's where it all began," he said.
Today, the couple also raises broiler chickens, layer hens and sheep on the farm. They also run a grain cleaning and soybean roasting operation.
To qualify for the award, the couple had completed a lengthy nomination form and appeared before a panel of judges.
There was also no lack of competition, with Matthew and Karen Guest from New Brunswick being the other finalists. The Guests work with their parents to operate Top of the Morning Farm Ltd. and Guest Farms Ltd. in Holmesville. The two farms include 500 acres of potatoes, grain and forage crops as well as 90 milking cows in a new free stall barn.
> "We were up against some really great competition," said Mark.
> "We were pretty shocked when they announced their names," added Sally.
While Mark does much of the hands on work at the farm, Sally takes care of finances and helps with the livestock. The couple is also kept busy raising their young family of three children, between one and four-years-old.
"It is a lot of work but it's fun and we seem to have found a bit of a balance between farm life and personal life," said Sally.
The couple is also heavily involved in the community.
Mark is a member of session for the Summerside Presbyterian Church, while Sally helps manage the Sunday School. She also sits on a number of boards, including the executive of the board for the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network.
However, things are about to get even busier with the couple now competing in the national level this November in Charlottetown.
That means the couple will be collecting photos of the farm over the summer to showcase, while also preparing for three interviews and a presentation.
After talking to former award winners who competed at the national level, a humbled Mark said he was honoured to be considered in the same category.
"Some of these national winners are even more intimidating (than in the Atlantic Region), just from the size of their operations and what they've accomplished," he said. "It's kind of mind-blowing to be in that group of peers."
"I don't know if I understood the importance of the award going into it," admitted Sally. "But to be nominated with these names, it's pretty amazing."