(Above: The Pazab Family: Agata and Preston Zaborowski, with Sonja, 11, Eloy, 9, Sasha, 7, Arkadiusz, 3. Photo by Barry Gray.)
Can you imagine moving your family, including four young kids, from Las Vegas to a patch of land in West Carleton, and setting up a farm?
That’s exactly what Agata and Preston Zaborowski did two years ago, when they established the Pazab Family Farm on Upper Dwyer Hill Road last year. A couple weeks ago, they officially opened their roadside market, selling organic produce, meat and baked goods, along with original art. Here’s an interview with Agata and Preston, along with photography by Barry Gray.
STITTSVILLECENTRAL.CA: Tell me where the name comes from – Pazab?
AGATA ZABOROWKSI: It’s an acronym. The P is for Preston, the A is Agata, and the Zab is Zaborowski.
PRESTON ZABOROWSKI: We were just excited that there was still a dot com available!
SC: Tell me about your background.
AZ: I went from high heels to rubber boots. I was a city girl, and grew up Nepean. I’m learning and Preston’s teaching me.
(Agata also worked at the Deschenes-Poitras Dental Clinic in Stittsville, and continues to work at a dental clinic in Kanata.)
PZ: The 19th century farming is basically my family heritage. They immigrated to the United States around that period and homesteaded on the farm, and were basically substinance farming. They built the farm from the ground up, fencing and outbuildings and everything they had to do. They were farming in an organic sense – before the modern term was coined now. We try to keep up with that same philosophy – a small footprint, environmentally sound practices, no chemicals, no pesticides. Just trying to do everything all-natural.
My mother was the last one of our generation since that time that actually lived on a farm. I lived in a suburb in Minnesota in the forest, and my only experience growing up was with small gardens. When I got my first home, I got a 3×3 foot graden bed. It produced so much, I thought the next year I’d double it, and every year after I doubled it again.
When I was 16 my dad transferred work, so our family uprooted from Minnesota to the Mojave desert. I stayed there for 16 years and I started really intensive gardening. I used to propagate cactus. Everything that grew in it was edible and it got to the point where you could barely walk through it, you just had pathways through. That’s where I started to learn about Native American techniques for growing things like corn. They were growing in that region, out in the desert, for 1,000 years. That inspired me to mimic the way that they used to grow all that corn and squash and melons.
SC: So how did the two of you meet?
AZ: We met on eHarmony. I travelled to Las Vegas a few times, and realized that was home for me. I gave a month’s notice to my work, and moved to Las Vegas!
PZ: Las Vegas is a very dangerous place, very unsafe for having children. We wanted to bring the family somewhere safe. This (rural Ottawa) is similar to where I grew up in Minnesota. Same kind of trees, environment, super-friendly people. We wanted our kids to have a safe childhood, to be able to go outside and play, do their games, and play like we used to be children.
SC: How would you describe your farm?
It’s a heavily forested property with a couple acres of actual garden land. Twenty-two acres on the property, and the majority is mixed forest. We have 10 acres in the very back of our property that is environmentally protected land (part of the Manion Corners Long Swamp Wetland). Our plan is to make an eco-walk through where we can take children and show them the importance of protecting the wetlands. We also have forest pasture for our animals – our goats and our pigs – and we like to tread lightly in the forest and manage everything very sustainably. When we leave the farm one day we’ll be able to leave it pretty much how we found it. We are a non-certified organic property, but we grow using organic principles.
SC: What’s been your biggest challenge in setting up the farm?
PZ: For myself it’s the animal husbandry during the Ontario winters. That has gotta be one of the hardest things out there. It’s a lot of work. It’s a big learning curve while doing it.
AGATA: My biggest challenge is finding my place and what I’m good at. Keeping the house clean with the muddy boots. Having a flow to everything – who’s responsible for what. With the kids, they’re really really involved. That’s been the biggest challenge, getting down to everybody’s responsible.
We have four kids, ages 3 to 11 (Arkadiusz, Sasha, Eloy, Sonja). Arkadiusz is still young, he’ll go on the tractor with his dad. The two oldest will help with the chores, weeding the garden, cleaning the cages, feeding the animals, harvesting. Everything is by hand. My oldest boy – he’s right into it. He loves it. My girl’s 11 so she does her work, she’s good at it, maybe sometimes not as keen.
SC: What are your plans for the farm?
AZ: Aside form the growing, we’re very much involved in the art community in Ottawa. We used to run the Sparks Street artist alley, and did a market on Preston Street. We want to have the art here, have a gallery here.
PZ: And we’d like to set up something where we have local artists, something like art in the meadow, give them the opportunity to showcase their work in a beautiful peaceful setting.
I have about a half acre planted right now. My plan is to double that every year for the next couple years until I get above the full two acres just chock full of planters. Every useable space I can use, I’d like to use for rasied bed gardening, and natural forest gardening. We support the native species that gorw here, like grape vines and a lot of the different berries. We try to help them along and give them better soil, so they can thrive and we can harvest.
SC: This is a big lifestyle change for your family. Why did you do it?
AZ: The main thing is realizing and becoming more conscious in the food that we’re buying. We started doing our own research and saying, that’s it, we want to grow our own food, feel confident in what we’re feeding our children. The dream is to live off of what we have here, and not have to go to the grocery store. Being able to share that, there’s a lot of power, a lot of satisfaction in it.
Pazab Family Farm is at 1162 Upper Dwyer Hill Road. Take Highway 7 west, exit at Upper Dwyer Hill Road, and head north. The farm is on the right-hand side and you’ll see the sign. They’re open Saturdays 8am-6pm and Tuesday-Friday from 11am-6pm.