Packing up the family and moving from one side of the country to the other and with only an idea you hope will be your future is a daunting way to change your life. But in 2009, Chris de Waal and his family left southern Alberta for Nova Scotia.
The family that spanned four generations packed up all their belongings into a 40-foot container and headed east to Canning, settling on a farm they bought on Kijiji. The land had been in use by the former owner but the houses on the property were uninhabitable. The family set up a “tent city’ in the yard, says de Waal, and spent the summer fixing up the houses and learning about developing their business, Getaway Farm.
The plan was to grow grass fed beef and learn how to deal directly with the consumer. “We had no idea how to do direct market grass fed beef,” says de Waal. “My father-in-law was a long-time farmer. He knows the cattle side but in terms of merchandizing meat to the public, we had no idea. We moved here to raise grass fed beef with the intention of the farmers’ market being our primary outlet.”
Getaway Farm introduced their beef directly to the public at the Brewery Market). “We were just selling on Saturdays, a side of beef a week,” says de Waal. The business gained popularity and grew, eventually moving to the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market.
“After the transition to Seaport, we gained a significant amount of traffic to such a degree that we added a second day to our retail operation, selling Saturday and Sunday,” says de Waal. “We did that for about a year and in the course of that year we saw an opportunity for a full carcass butcher shop. We leased one of the storefront spaces [at the market] and attempted to revitalize the old fashioned, full carcass butchery shop.”
The business saw a “great deal of success” and in the summer 2014 moved to a second location, taking over the operation of the butcher shop in the Hydrostone Market.
Since 2009 the business has grown to 14 fulltime employees, two locations and 1,500 customers. Besides beef, Getaway sells pork, chicken and lamb, provided by local producers and at the Hydrostone location also has locally produced vegetables, dairy products, and cheeses.
The long-term goal, says de Waal, is to establish more community butcher shops and revive the butchery trade. “Area butcher shops are an opportunity for the urban consumer to reconnect with their rural counterparts,” de Waal says. “When people come into the stores and talk with staff, we can tell them stories about what is happening on the farm, explain why we do things the way do and the hard work it takes to bring that food into the store… It gives us the opportunity to tell stories of other farmers in the Valley and the area what they are doing and why.”