A Community Service Co-op in Matheson, ON
The Black River co-op is a burgeoning not-for-profit Community service cooperative located in the quaint and picturesque town of Matheson, Ontario, tucked tightly between two rivers 650 km north of Toronto. We are a small group, made up of a husband and wife team (Mike and Rachel) alongside their three young children and a farmer (Bill) who’s vision we are trying to bring to life. Bill’s parents emigrated from Finland to Canada in the 1930’s and settled on what would become the farm in the early 1940s. For 70 years Bill has lived on and worked this land with his father and brothers and many others along the way, however, as time moved on so did the help making it more and more difficult to maintain the 176 acre property. Bill’s mission is to provide a place where young families can raise their children in a way that is both healthy for them and for their community while Mike and Rachel share a passion for regenerative agriculture, land remediation and community building...a match made in Heaven.
After a number of meetings, and understanding that without cooperation there would be no chance of living the life they had been called to Mike and Rachel left their farm in Iroquois Falls with their two daughters, ages 6 and 4, and their newborn son and began their off grid adventure in partnership with Bill. Given the cost of land, availability of equipment and near total loss of generational knowledge a partnership with an established farmer who had all of the above was a perfect solution for Mike and Rachel. Likewise, with 176 acres of land quickly becoming unmanageable, this energetic and driven young family was exactly what Bill was looking for.
Together, The Black River Cooperative is establishing a community centered around family, connected to the land and working in cooperation with those who share a similar vision. Almost everything on the farm is grown to a permaculture standard, taking into constant consideration the repercussions of our lifestyle on the land and water that surrounds us with the hope to one day build many more off grid, energy efficient and unique homes. As a carpenter with a passion for green building, Mike is in the process of designing a strawbale and timber home to serve as an example of the efficiency and effectiveness of natural materials even in the frigid north. Rachel is a registered massage therapist who also owns and operates the Black River Foraging Company, a unique and creative company that brings all of the health benefits of the boreal forest to life using traditional harvesting and processing techniques. Bill is the owner operator of Tyynela enterprise, selling the farms potatoes, rutabaga, garlic and carrots as well as offering custom sawmill services and summer camping on the property.
The Black River Cooperative became interested in the LFFC three years ago, and have been members for almost two years, understanding that having the practical skills to survive homesteading in northern ontario would not be enough to establish a successful cooperative and have greatly benefited from the annual conference (Mike and Rachels two days off/year), a number of meetings with the regional coordinator Peggy Bailie and a current ongoing mentorship with Heather Pritchard, a leading land based co-op developer in Canada made possible by the LFFCs mentorship program. The LFFC has also been a fantastic place to express, explore and develop the ideas and goals of the Black River Cooperative and has recently accepted Mike to be on the board of directors, an incredible honour and opportunity.
What separates the Black River Cooperative most from other farms in northern ontario is our commitment to shift priorities away from an extractive model and move towards more regenerative and sustainable agricultural. In the spirit of social enterprise the Black River cooperative places far more value in the building of community, the sharing of knowledge and the conservation of our land and waterways than we do in profits alone...a far cry from the commercial cash crop farms that surround us..
Now that the Black River cooperative has completed their sawmill lumber storage building keep an eye out for them to break ground on their large food storage and processing facility as well as the development of year round off grid camping along the beautiful riverfront, opening up another 6 months for people to explore the beauty and wilderness of northern ontario. Mike and Rachel are also planning to complete their in-ground greenhouse and rocket stove where they plan to do all of their seed starting, micro greens and hot peppers.