A farm program launched in rural Ottawa to help at-risk youth gain and improve their employment skills has been forced to delay its plans to scale up after a mighty windstorm completely flattened one of the farm’s two heritage barns.
The National Capital Commission (NCC), which owns and manages the 75-acre heritage property on Russell Road in southeast Ottawa, had actually been in the middle of renovating the 120-year-old barn for the Youth Now Farm program so it could expand and bring in more animals.
Once the refurbishment was completed later this fall, the farm planned to house their ducks, turkeys and a new group of pastured pigs in the barn over the winter months, farm manager Jenny Roebuck said. Without the extra room, the team has to delay raising pigs and breeding goats until next year.
“We don’t have the space for anything more than what we’re doing right now,” Roebuck said.
All that remains of the barn — built in the 1890s — is a massive pile of damp wood and debris, which the NCC quickly surrounded and secured with a blue fence. The loss of the barn is “significant,” a spokesperson for the NCC said in a statement on Wednesday.
The Youth Now Farm program was recently launched by a group of local non-profits and government agencies, including Youth Now Canada, the Parkdale Food Centre, the Youth Services Bureau and the NCC. Its goal is to help teenagers and young adults who face significant barriers to employment gain the skills and confidence necessary to land and keep a job.
Roebuck, who lives in the farm house on the property with her husband, said she received the tornado alert on her phone on Friday afternoon — the day six tornadoes of varying severity hit the Ottawa-Gatineau region.
The two went over to the farm’s temporary barn, where many of the farm animals are housed right now, to make sure they were safe, she said. The storm hit hard and fast, and the noise from the wind and rain was “indescribable,” Roebuck recalled.
“About 30 seconds later I looked out and saw that the barn was gone,” she told Global News. “It was so much noise that I didn’t hear it come down.”
Luckily the heritage barn was vacant when powerful storms hit, Roebuck said, and no people or animals were injured by the debris – although, her truck took a bit of a hit.
Asked whether the NCC plans to rebuild the structure, communications advisor Cédric Pelletier said it is still “too early” to provide details on next steps.
“The NCC is committed to doing what it can to help the Youth Now Farm to recover from last week’s tornadoes and windstorms,” Pelletier wrote. “The NCC is currently working with its maintenance contractor and internal teams to clean up the site.”
Roebuck, on her part, hopes the barn will be replaced.
“Every morning when I come out of the house, it just feels sad that what was, is no more,” she said. “It’s such a beautiful heritage property, we hope it will be restored.”
The barn wasn’t the only structure damaged last week on the Carlsbad Springs. The wind blew away the canopy of the garden’s washing station, worth about $500, Roebuck said. The team wants to replace the canopy quickly, she said, because the washing station is a crucial tool for harvesting and preparing produce for sale to local businesses.
The Youth Now Farm has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $2,000 so it can afford the new canopy as well as build a temporary shelter for its animals in time for winter. As of Thursday afternoon, the campaign had raised $840.
The barn’s collapse also broke the water pump and several hoses that brings well water to the garden and to the animals — but the NCC has offered to cover the cost of those repairs, Roebuck said.
Pelletier confirmed that no other farms owned by the NCC were impacted by the tornadoes and windstorms on Sept. 21. The NCC maintains approximately 100 farms in the National Capital Region, many of which “have heritage value,” he said.
Storm damage offers ‘great lesson’ for youth, manager says
While the loss of the barn is tough, Roebuck said last weekend’s events have been “a great lesson” for the youth enrolled in the farm program.
“Life still goes on,” she said. “Disaster happens and we do the best we can and we pick up and we keep moving.”
On Monday, the Parkdale Food Centre actually had the participants come to the centre to make sandwiches for residents and community members affected by the violent storms.
Also keeping spirits high on the farm: a new puppy that arrived over the weekend.
Neige, a six-week-old Great Pyrenees, will be trained as the farm’s new ‘livestock guardian,’ Roebuck said, and has been a very welcome distraction for the team.
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