ALUS Elgin participants Stephen and Katie Hotchkiss are keen on integrating conservation projects into a profitable farm operation.
Stephen and Katie Hotchkiss raise bees and grow medicinal and culinary herbs, transforming these ingredients into packaged products that are distributed under their “The New New Age” brand, as well as providing bulk ingredients to local food producers and herbalists.
Now known as The New New Age Farm, the Hotchkiss family farm is a former tree nursery on 384 acres along the Big Otter Creek in Elgin County, just west of Straffordville, Ontario.
“As farmers and conservationists, we recognize that our land-management strategies have enormous implications for the environment,” says Stephen. “ALUS offers an important service, which has helped us to provide crucial habitat for many at-risk species and generally enhance the biodiversity on our land.”
The Hotchkiss family participate in ALUS Elgin, an ALUS program run as a partnership between the Long Point Region Conservation Authority and ALUS Canada, A Weston Family Initiative. Working closely with ALUS Elgin Program Coordinator Alyssa Cousineau since 2016, they have so far devoted nearly 42 acres to 11 ALUS projects, including wetlands, tallgrass prairie and grasslands, and reforestation with native trees and shrubs.
For example, Katie and Stephen have worked with ALUS Elgin to create four wetlands on the farm: three of the wetlands are an acre in size, and the fourth is a smaller, seasonal salamander pond.
Each wetland is buffered by at least one acre of native vegetation. In fact, they have planted more than 20,000 native Carolinian trees on 24 acres of their farm. These tree-planting projects serve as wetland buffer zones and provide wildlife habitat in wet areas of the farm, making it easier and more efficient to farm the property while also producing valuable ecosystem services.
ALUS also helps them maintain pollinator habitat which was established by hand-seeding a diverse mix of native wildflowers and grasses on sections of the farm.
These ALUS projects are intended to produce valuable habitat for pollinators and many wildlife species, while also helping to filter field runoff before it enters the wetland, thus keeping the water cleaner for people downstream.
They are already making a positive difference to the environment. For example, the Hotchkiss family has noted an increase in pollinator production along with more pollinators and wildlife on their farm. They have also observed that the ALUS-enhanced wetlands are now better able to filter water before it enters the creek.
“ALUS has been wonderful to work with, helping us every step of the way to plan and implement regenerative projects that have improved our farm and landscape in meaningful, long-lasting ways,” says Katie. “Our ALUS projects have positively impacted not only us, but our entire watershed.”
In addition to their role as ALUS participants, Katie and Stephen are also keen to support the ALUS program. They contributed jars of honey to ALUS Canada’s national launch event at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in November 2016, donated a percentage of the sales of their “Flower Power” herbal tea to ALUS Elgin, and hosted a bee-themed benefit event in April 2017 where they donated 50% of the proceeds from every glass of mead, an ancient type of honey wine made from their own honey and herbs. (Read more here).
They also work with ALUS Elgin to host and hands-on workshops and tours of their ALUS projects.
“Stephen and Katie Hotchkiss are wonderful ambassadors for the ALUS program,” says ALUS Elgin Program Coordinator Alyssa Cousineau. “I look forward to working with them for years to come.”