The Accidental Market Gardener

 The hot sauce proudly on display on each table of Wilf and Ada's.

The hot sauce proudly on display on each table of Wilf and Ada's.

I came for the trendy pepper

Espelette pepper. Like dulce de leche, it’s an ingredient that seems to pop up everywhere these past few years. And like dulce de leche, espelette pepper earns well it’s reputation. It’s fruity and floral with just a light spiciness. It’s a beautiful pepper. (See my recipe for espelette gnocchi and meatballs.)

I found my pepper purveyor, Joanne Tipler of Day Brighteners Farm, through Ottawa Cooks. In it, there is the recipe for the house hot sauce of Wilf and Ada’s which is full of depth, tang and has just the right amount of heat. In the blurb above the recipe is where you’ll find a reference to Joanne, the grower of all the peppers found in said hot sauce.

Like most market gardens in winter, Day Brighteners Farm is unassuming. Just a house surrounded by barely visible growing beds and two empty greenhouses; a broadfork propped up against the back of the garage in which rototillers are hibernating. “You’ll have to come back when everything is green,” Joanne told me. But I was here for red, not green.

There once was a Thai pepper

After buying the land which surrounded her house in order to stave off development, Joanne’s gardens grew into what her market garden business is today. “We started putting a garden over here, a garden over there and the next thing you know I’m selling and delivering food to people. They kept telling me that I have to keep doing this and I have to keep growing. So I took it to heart!”

Joanne has always been an avid gardener. Though she grew up in downtown Ottawa, her passion for gardening and the rural life was inspired by summer vacations to visit her father’s childhood homestead in the Napanee area. “As a teenager, I moved to the Ontario prairies the first chance I got to leave downtown Ottawa.” She has never left the country since.

Her children also share her love of food and gardening. As a teenager, her son fell in love with a Thai pepper he ate at a friend’s house. His friend’s mother, finding it quaint that a teenager would get so excited about a pepper, sent him home with a plant. Those Thai peppers have been in the family gardens ever since. They even took up her windowsill at the glass clad law office where she once worked. Now, the descendants of that same Thai peppers can be found in the hot sauce at Wilf and Ada’s. If that’s not an awesome farm-to-table story, I don’t know what is.

 Joanne Tipler, the accidental market gardener of Day Brighteners Farm.

Joanne Tipler, the accidental market gardener of Day Brighteners Farm.

Dirt under fingernails

Like so many if not most market gardeners today, Joanne takes inspiration from the messiah of market gardening, Jean-Martin Fortier, author of The Market Gardener. Her beds are laid out in the same way as Fortier. She uses green manures. She brings in tons and tons of compost. In other words, Joanne is becoming more and more intentional about being an organic market gardener. “I am happier when I’m outside, moving the body around and working hard. I know that I’m not making as much money but I feel 100% better when I’m farming. It just doesn’t cut it when you do it part-time. It needs to be full-time. All or nothing.”

Granted, Joanne did become a market gardener by accident. At the heart of it all, she’s a gardener who simply loves to have dirt under her fingernails. In a perfect world, she’d be a teacher.

“Even more than feeding people food,” she says, “I’d love to teach them to garden. Sell them plants, get them started and teach them how easy it is. It’s labour, for sure. But it’s not hard.”

I left Day Brighteners Farm with a bag full of peppers and seeds generously given to me by Joanne. I too love to garden. And this summer, my garden will have as many espelette pepper plants as I can fit in it. More importantly, it will also have Thai pepper plants with a story. They’ll grow alongside Oxheart tomato plants, the seeds of which were given to me by the Santori family.

But that’s a story for another day.