At Alabaster Acres, the feeling is reciprocal.
Aimee Alabaster wanted visitors at her farm in Caledon to be able to enjoy a longer, more in-depth and personal experience — so she came up with a new addition for their family farm this year: Glamping (glamorous camping).
“I wanted to find a way to allow people to stay for longer, and I decided on glamping because I loved the concept,” Aimee tells us. “It allows visitors to enjoy farm life without having to give up the comforts of home. It’s a getaway that just happens to inspire people too.”
Since opening in 2016, Alabaster Acres has been a place to go for a taste of life on the farm, with a variety of workshops for all ages, and the chance to purchase farm-fresh eggs and organically grown heirloom produce. Now, it’s also a farm stay.
Aimee approached the idea for a farm stay with some inventive thinking.
Since tent structures aren’t covered in building codes (only in their placement in relation to their surroundings), a glamping tent reduced the ‘red tape’ and made the process much easier to navigate than a traditional structure.
“I am, in general, a ‘workaround’ kind of gal,” Aimee explains, “meaning that I can find creative solutions to just about any problem.”
“Some aspects got numerous revisions and involved several calls to the town, but in the end I found solutions they were satisfied with,” she explains. “The key is perseverance. When someone tells you something cannot be done, don’t give up, go back to the drawing board and try again. Find precedents, think creatively, adapt, revise and pitch it again.”
Thinking differently has been a large part of the Alabaster’s journey.
“We came from an automation software background so we have approached things differently than many farmers,” Aimee shares.
Farm life for the Alabasters began only a few years ago, when Aimee and her family decided to leave their city life and city jobs for something that felt more fulfilling to them as a family, which ultimately led to them renting the 100-acre farm property in Caledon, with a charming 150-year-old house.
Their eagerness to learn new things, and share those opportunities with others, is what the farm is all about.
“This experience has been extraordinary so far honestly,” Aimee tells us. “From being a complete city slicker without even pets or house plants to becoming a full-time farmer in only a few short years! It’s hard to sum up all the learning, joy and soulful growth I have experienced.”
Aimee says they’re all about working smarter as opposed to working harder.
“Automation of many of our systems on the farm and a permaculture outlook have allowed us to manage our farm in a way that minimizes our workload while maximizing our effectiveness. We’re always in a state of learning and improving though and I like to think we get better at farming every year.”
Alabaster Acres specializes in heirloom produce, and they are particularly fond of ‘antique’ varieties. Last year they grew about 27 different varieties of tomatoes. The gardens were also full of other unique fruits and vegetables, some they had never even seen or tasted before.
“I have no interest in growing anything you can find in your local supermarket,” Aimee adds.
“There is tremendous value in diversifying, and while it can seem quite scary to generational farmers who have been doing the same things, the same ways, forever, it’s quite liberating and much less risky financially if something fails,” Aimee says. “That old adage about not putting all your eggs in one basket is pretty sound in my books.”
There’s also a number of animals that visitors will see at the farm, with the ‘herd’ updated frequently, as the Alabasters like to rescue what Aimee calls “forgotten souls.”
Right now the farm is home to 2 Clydesdales, 2 mini horses, 6 head of cattle, 6 pygmy goats, 3 lambs, about 50 mini rex rabbits, 2 dozen red sex-linked hens, a breeding group of about 2 dozen Easter Eggers, a breeding group of 6 Ancona ducks, their Border Collies, and 1 “resident comedian donkey.” They also do batches of custom raised heritage breed pigs.
The central focus at Alabaster Acres is the hands-on educational experiences, which include workshops and demonstrations for both kids and adults, group geocaching adventures, and a ‘pitch in around the farm’ program. They also host private events and parties.
“Teaching, sharing and storytelling is in my blood,” Aimee tells us. “I’ve got a community mindset and I want to help others wherever I can. They say when you find you have more than you need, you should build a longer table, not a higher fence.”
With this mentality, Aimee aims to help address the ‘disconnect’ between consumers and producers.
“Many people are hungry to learn about farming and experience new things; they want to genuinely understand where their food comes from, how it’s produced and the work that goes into it,” she says, adding that it’s great to see more and more people buying directly from farms these days, but Aimee has noticed a trend towards consumers wanting to get even closer to farms and farmers. “It blows my mind that I frequently meet children that don’t realize that chicken comes from, well, chickens.”
Currently, their most popular workshops are their Farm Fresh Adventures for Kids series, which offers hands-on farming and livestock experiences for curious kids. This series gives kids the opportunity to get up close with animals, and even participate in grooming, bottle feeding, trimming hooves, leading and playing with the animals. They also learn about anatomy, diets, housing, temperaments and care too.
“I’m a lifelong learner and I feel it’s important to share my knowledge and provide an opportunity for people to get to know farmers, farming and livestock on a more genuine level,” Aimee shares. “I never get tired of seeing the wonder in a child’s eyes when I place a newborn duckling in their hands, or they get their first kiss from a cow!”
For Aimee, it’s been quite the adventure in learning as well to get where she is today.
“I always say that I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up until I was nearly 40, but I’m here now and that’s what matters!” Aimee says.
And now with the beautiful glamping set-up added to the farm, it seems Aimee hasn’t stopped fulfilling her dreams and growing her business, continuing to offer more and more unique on-the-farm experiences.