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Flowers, heritage vegetables, RVs and music co-exist at Walsingham’s Dancing Pig Farms

Contrary to its name, Dancing Pig Farms of Walsingham does not have pigs.


Dancing Pig Farm Sign
The only “pig” at Dancing Pig Farms, Walsingham, is the happy one that is the farm’s logo

But the former 93-acre tobacco farm produces a plethora of pick-your-own vegetables, flowers, herbs and garlic. And it is evolving into an intriguing agri-tourism destination.


“It was named after an old, local ‘wink-name’ for Walsingham –‘Waltzing Ham’,” explained Gordon Chinnick, who co-owns the farm with his wife, Socorro. “It was available when we registered our farm business -- and we love it – it gets chuckles, groans and ‘ah-ha!’ quite often.”


The couple’s story begins at university, where they studied engineering: Gordon trained in systems design at the University of Waterloo while Socorro pursued industrial engineering at the University of Toronto. They met through mutual friends who insisted on match-making; they married and raised two children, now both adults. 


Lady standing in a field
Socorro Chinnick with fennel

The Chinnicks worked in Toronto and Mississauga. However, Gordon, who grew up on a family farm near Chatham, longed to buy his own land. “I was always looking to buy a farm,” he said. 

 

Then Gordon’s brother invited him to share crop in Chatham-Kent. Therefore, from 2008 to 2016, the Chinnicks grew corn, wheat and soybeans. During the growing season, Gordon would commute three hours each week once a week while Socorro worked as an IT consultant in Toronto and their children finished school in Mississauga.

 

The commute and the couple’s desire to be centrally located between family in Chatham-Kent and Mississauga prompted them to resume farm-hunting. The Chinnicks found their farm, located on the sixth concession of the former South Walsingham Township, in 2018, moving there in time for the 2019 growing season.


Dancing Pig Farms has 40 workable acres of sandy loam. The remaining acreage consists of Carolinian tree species and tallgrass prairie. The prior-prior owner, ACORUS Restoration, planted native species throughout the farm. The couple delights in the resulting numbers of beneficial insects and wildlife, including bluebirds.


Plants in a greenhouse
The hoop house uses a heated sandbox table and cold frame with heat mats. The thermostats and soil probes in foreground are set at 20C, which activate the mats when temperatures fall.

Today they rent out most of the workable acreage to the previous owner, who grows organic popcorn, rye and soybeans. They use the remaining two acres for their own market garden.


The Chinnicks similarly use sustainable farming practices and materials, including crop rotation, organic mushroom compost and seeds. They also belong to the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario.


Practices include crop rotation to reduce disease risk, companion planting to discourage certain insect pests, using no-till as much as possible. They use nursery weed cloth for weed suppression while allowing transplants to grow; the cloth is reusable, with some now in their fourth year of use.


Their preferred irrigation is drip, using lightweight drip tape. The couple said the tape is flexible, lighter for moving, and easy to connect to other lines and to the tap. Wobbler irrigation sprinklers handle the remaining crops, spreading water uniformly with low operation pressure. 

 

Says their webpage: “Our philosophy is sustainable and ecological farming. Our mission is to inspire the community to eat healthy, love Mother Earth, spread peace, justice and kindness.” 


Socorro handles the seeding, planting and separating the flower bulbs. Plants requiring early germination sprout in a hoop house that uses a heated cold frame and a heat mat, which is set at 20C. 


Gordon prepares the garden beds, handles the manure and compost, and manages their weed suppression tasks, such as placing tarps on future garden beds and installing row covers to deter flea beetles.


Their gardens produce multiple varieties of squash, eggplant, salad greens, tomatoes, beans, peppers, Asian vegetables, cabbages, bitter melon, sugar baby watermelon and other produce. The flower harvest includes sunflowers, snapdragons, zinnias, dahlias, gladioli and ranunculus. Haskaps and strawberries constitute the farm’s first fruits. New plantings still being established include elderberries, blackberries, hazelnuts, and willow. 


The Chinnicks’ specialty is garlic – they planted 6,000 bulbs last autumn. They currently grow 10 varieties including Duganski, Music, German Brown, Spanish Roja, Newfoundland Heritage, Portuguese Azores, and Asian Tempest. This summer they are test-growing a Mexican variety.


Harvested garlic is strung up and air dried in an old tobacco kiln. Much of it is sold by variety, and some are packaged and marketed together as “World Garlic”. 


The couple also produces black garlic. This value-added garlic is slow-cooked under controlled, high-temperatures, high humidity for seven days at 75 degrees Celsius through a process called “the Millard reaction”. The Chinnicks said that the cloves eventually blacken, producing a mild sweet flavour, sticky texture similar to tamarind. 


Black garlic reputedly has higher health benefits than regular garlic – such as more antioxidants, reduced risk of certain cancers, and better regulation of blood pressure, heart and brain health.


They have sold the garlic alongside of their other produce at the Port Rowan and the Ancaster Farmers’ Markets; this year they will try the Horton’s Farmers Market in St. Thomas.

Dancing Pig Farms promoted and sold their black and regular garlic at the 2023 Stratford Garlic Festival, and intend to return to it this year.


The farm initially operated a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in addition to the farmers’ markets, but discontinued it because, said Socorro, “It was too much work for just two people.”


The pick-your-own (PYO) vegetable and flower sales began three years ago as part of Dancing Pig Farms’ agri-tourism initiative. 


“We want to attract people who are going to the cottages at Turkey Point and Long Point – Lake Erie is a 12 minute drive away,” explained Socorro.


Dancing Pig Farms is trying to attract tourists travelling in RV or recreational vehicles (motor homes, camper vans and trailers). The farm is registered with Harvest Host – a North America hosting site that invites self-contained “RV’ers” to free overnight stays at farms, breweries, wineries, distilleries, nurseries, and related attractions. Participants must bring self-contained vehicles because host sites do not offer garbage, sewage or hydro services.

 

“It provides a family farm experience to give them the lay of the land,” said Gordon.

Harvest Host expects RV participants to reciprocate in exchange for these Park and Stays by buying products and “experience” from the host. At Dancing Pig Farms, guests sample, then harvest vegetables or flowers.


The Chinnicks recently registered with a second farm host network for self-contained RVs, the Montreal-based Terego.


The farm provides an ideal setting for hosting events such as “Date Night at the Garden”. Guests sip farm-picked tea while being serenaded by Socorro -- who plays and composes music. She posts original songs about dahlias, Mother Earth, farming and gardening on You Tube and on their social media. 


Inspired by an Asian cooking workshop that Socorro and Gordon took during a family holiday in the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia – they are exploring the possibility of offering cooking workshops using ingredients sourced from their farm, including black garlic. 


“The possibilities are endless with what we can grow or do here,” concluded Gordon. 

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