Stable Thinking: Sustainability Makes Sense to this Uxbridge Horse Farmer

They say that while a dog may be a person's best friend, it's the horse that wrote human history. Equestrian farmer Michael Jewett certainly takes this idea to heart as he rewrites the history of his century-old farm.

You would never know Hop Hill Farms dates back to the 1850s by its modern architectural appearance and environmentally sustainable features. Michael has passionately pursued the Uxbridge farm's revival ever since he bought it about 10 years ago.

"I had my eye on the property for several years and when it finally went up for sale I pounced," said Michael. He bought it less than four hours after it went on the market and hasn't looked back.

Michael built Hop Hill Farms with environmental considerations in mind from day one. Evidence of this shines through the wall of windows salvaged from a renovation at Toronto's Pearson International Airport; it dwells within the metal frame upholding the structure – originally the skeleton of an old General Motors building in Oshawa. In fact, many parts of the barn and indoor riding arena were constructed with salvaged materials from various buildings across Canada.

Besides adding an interesting history to the property, reusing the materials helps conserve natural resources, and where wood is used, prevents deforestation. All the potential waste that would otherwise end up in landfills finds a new purpose on Michael's farm.

Good Horse Sense

Michael attributes a lot of Hop Hill's positive equestrian environment to the circular straw-bale barn he built to complement the big, bright riding arena. Although the original barn couldn't be salvaged, the new one showcases the same architectural ingenuity apparent throughout Michael's farm.

Several features in the barn ensure efficient energy use, which reduces the farm's carbon footprint. Its thick walls provide great insulation year round, keeping it cool in the summer and warm in the winter. A masonry heater installed in the tackroom provides heat, and needs only two uses per day to maintain a comfortable temperature during cold winters.

Although a little unconventional in Canada, the round barn structure provides a pleasing layout for its equine tenants while maintaining a practical purpose. Michael's horses enjoy the good air quality that comes with high ceilings and cross ventilation. And a charming atrium made with recycled glass from an old mall crowns the centre of the ceiling, providing natural light inside the barn.

Although a little unconventional in Canada, the round barn structure provides a pleasing layout for its equine tenants while maintaining a practical purpose.

Conserving the Creek

To Michael, running a sustainable equestrian facility doesn't just mean using recycled building materials and keeping energy consumption low. Less glamorous challenges, like manure storage or water conservation, need just as much attention.

During rainfalls, Michael noticed manure runoff travelling down the hill towards the creek that runs through the front of his property. Manure generally contains high levels of phosphorus that can cause
undesirable plants to grow in the creek and harm the natural habitat.

To address this, he applied for cost-share funding from the Environmental Farm Plan and the Lake Simcoe Farm Stewardship Program, which allowed him to build a covered manure storage. This structure keeps manure and its residues in a safe holding place, and out of the creek. Michael plans to further divert rainwater from the manure storage building by installing eavestroughs that will ensure no water comes in contact with stored manure.

Michael also uses rainwater diversion methods to recycle water for washing and supplying the outdoor hydrants on the farm. An underground tank located below the indoor arena collects and stores the rainwater until it's ready to be re-used for the horses.

The innovation doesn't stop there. Michael built a partition in the manure storage building for any manure that has antibiotic residues or traces of equine medications. In this way, only contaminant-free manure is composted and returned to the land. With guidance from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs specialists, and support from the two cost-share programs, Michael is now working on his first "crop", as he puts it, of composted manure. His new manure composting venture promises to present even more opportunities for growth and innovation.

Michael and his family embarked on a rewarding journey 10 years ago. Not only does the Jewett farm immortalize parts of Canadian history in its walls and salvaged pieces throughout the structure, but it respects the land on which it stands.

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Author: OMAFRA Staff
Creation Date: 28 April 2011
Last Reviewed: 28 April 2011