The decision to move to P.E.I. was a shot in the dark for Mennonite couple Samuel and Ellen Bowman.
It is now starting to pay off.
The couple, along with four other families from their Mennonite church left Elmira, Ont., about a year ago to move to Prince Edward Island.
Samuel said while moving to a new area was a bit of a challenge, they’ve felt welcomed by the community.
“Everybody has been very open and we’ve had a good welcome,” he said, noting the couple became interested in P.E.I. after hearing the province was looking for more small-scale farmers.
While there was some uncertainty over resettling in a new and unfamiliar province, the high cost and low availability of farmland in Ontario has created a need for the Mennonite community to spread out.
“If we want our next generation to have the privilege to farm, we (knew) we were going to have to spread out… it’s almost too expensive for a young person to get started (in Ontario),” said Ellen, noting that she and Samuel have since fallen in love with their new P.E.I. farm in Hunter River. “It was a good (first summer here), we enjoyed it.”
There are many different groups within the Mennonite religion and they can sometimes be mistaken for Amish because of their use of horse-drawn buggies and traditional clothing.
The Mennonites living on P.E.I. use electricity as well as tractors to work the land.
However, Ellen and Samuel didn’t just bring their traditional way of life when they came to P.E.I.
They also arrived in the province with their Devon cattle, a breed that has been bred to produce marbled beef when grass-fed.
They’re now selling their “grass-fed to grass-finished” beef at their farm store called Hunter River Home-Style Flavours.
While P.E.I. certified beef is also grass-fed, cattle in this province are typically finished with fodder, potatoes and grain.
Ellen and Samuel’s cattle eat only grass and stored forages, but no grain through their lives. The couple says it leads to a healthier ratio of omega-3 and omega-6.
“There has been a big movement in the U.S., and in Ontario… it’s been catching on,” he said. “What I’m hoping to do is get more folks started on this (here) and realize it’s good.”
The grass-finished beef also produces a noticeably different flavour.
“We’re getting the comment that ‘it tastes like beef used to taste’ because nowadays beef is pushed harder and doesn’t have that flavour anymore,” said Ellen. “This is the way beef used to taste years ago.”
5 Mennonite facts
1 - The first Mennonites arrived in Canada shortly after the American Revolution in the 1780s. They traveled north from Pennsylvania and these first Mennonites settled in the Waterloo area of southern Ontario. They were German speaking Swiss and left the United States to establish a new colony in Upper Canada.
2 - The Amish and Mennonites are both Anabaptist sects that formed as part of the Protestant Reformation, but separate from it. They are closely related with some more “liberal” Amish groups being less conservative than the most conservative Mennonite groups.
3 - They were first called Menists, or Mennonites, in 1541 by Countess Anna of Friesland after the group's primary leader, Menno Simons (1496–1561). She used this name in order to distinguish the Mennonites as peaceful settlers whom she welcomed in her lands.
4 - Both Mennonites and Amish believe in one God eternally existing as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Romans 8:1-17).
5 - One of the trademark characteristics of Mennonites is their commitment to pacifism. Mennonite Christians believe war is never the answer to solving the world's problems.
Ellen and Samuel also had 10 acres of mixed organic vegetables on their farm in Ontario.
Here, they do offer some organic eggs and organic vegetables in small quantities and are building a greenhouse for plants and flowers, but they’re focussing on their cattle operation.
They currently have Devon cattle on their main 50-acre farm and are now building up a second farm where they’ll grow black Angus cattle, which will likely be sold before they get to the finishing stage.
While Samuel is busy growing the beef operation, Ellen is taking on a new venture by baking old-fashioned meat and fruit pies from scratch, as well as five different kinds of breads, cookies and other items for their store.
The couple also have two grown children living in Ontario, one who travels back and forth, helping them stock shelves with handmade crafts and gifts.
Ellen said they wanted to thank their realtor and their farm’s previous owner with helping them get on their feet upon arriving in P.E.I.
She said they’re also hoping to see more members of their church eventually join them in P.E.I.
“This is the first time our church went out of the province so it’s a new venture,” said Ellen. “There are more interested, it just takes time.”
Hunter River Home-Style Flavours is located at 4749 Rennies Rd. in Hunter River and is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. The owners plan to also open the store on Thursdays in the summer.