Q&A with Debra LaRochelle, owner, Northwoods Farm

Verlin and Debra LaRochelle

You describe yourself as a regenerative agriculture minded small family farm. What does that mean?
Northwoods Farm is operated by ourselves and our four young children. When we say we are regenerative agriculture minded, we mean we are farming with the intention of continually improving our land base by observing and working with nature. We approach our farm as an ecosystem. By restoring natural relationships between different elements on our farm, we can improve the health of the whole system – from the micro-organisms in the soil to the food we produce.

What are the benefits of regenerative farming methods?
There are many, but to name a few: increased biodiversity; improved resilience to extreme weather events; reduced inputs (i.e., pesticides and fertilizers), which also reduce the environmental impact of our farm; and improved soil health.

How healthy was the land when you started your farm?
We are fortunate in that our land has never been intensively farmed. So, we aren’t dealing with soil that has become dependent on artificial fertilizers or been damaged with excessive tillage. We have owned this property since 2008. Until two years ago, it was mostly rented out and used continually for grazing in the summer. The result is that the cattle overgrazed the pasture plants they preferred, damaging and killing many of their population, and allowing the plants they didn’t like as much to take over; so, we are working at establishing a healthy polyculture of perennial forage plants to outcompete the less desirable plants. Another problem we are working on is restoring the riparian areas, which have been damaged by livestock having direct access to them.

Can you tell us how you got into this way of farming? Are you the only one in the area?
It’s been a gradual process, which started with our garden and a few cows and a desire to grow our own food with as few chemical inputs as possible. At times, we felt frustrated by some of our failures, because we didn’t understand the natural relationships that would help with our goals, and we were unintentionally hindering or, in some cases, destroying those relationships. We were just growing food using conventional methods but without the chemical applications that make those systems work. Eventually, we realized that we needed a shift in our perspective to see consistent results. I spent some time during lockdown studying permaculture and received my Permaculture Design Certificate, which taught me to observe nature and work with it instead of against it.

There are other regenerative farms in the Peace region, and a growing number of conventional farmers that are beginning to adopt some regenerative ag methods as well. The Peace Country Beef and Forage Association does a great job of bringing in educators that speak about soil health and regenerative agriculture principles to farmers in our region.

How long does it usually take before one starts seeing results from your way of farming?
Regenerative agriculture is about continuous improvement. In the long term, we hope to see some big improvements in our soil health, pasture growth and the ability of our soil to absorb and store moisture. We are still very early in our journey, having really only started applying these methods on a larger scale in the past two years. But we are already seeing some small improvements that are very encouraging. For more significant changes we are looking at a minimum of 2-3 years – and longer if we experience more drought conditions like the one we have this year.

You raise beef, pork and lamb. If you are a regenerative farm, does that mean you have regenerative grazing as well? How does that work?
During the grazing season we use electric fencing to give the livestock access to smaller sections of the pasture. Then we move them onto fresh grass every few days. The idea is to have them clip each plant, then move them to a new patch and allow the previously grazed sections a rest period to regrow. It is more labour intensive, but it prevents them from overgrazing their preferred plants and promotes healthy regrowth.

Do you grow crops as well?
No. At this time we are primarily focused on livestock production.

Can you tell us what you sell?
We sell grass-finished beef, pastured lamb, pastured pork, and pastured fresh eggs. We have meat to sell by the package, and we also, at times, have whole lambs and beef by the half or whole. A new product I hope will be available this winter is wool yarn and socks from our sheep flock’s annual shearing.

Where do you currently sell your products?
For this summer we are at Baytree Market on 49 on Tuesdays from 11am to 1pm. Going into winter we intend to set up online ordering with scheduled delivery trips in the area. In the meantime, the best way to make an order is to contact us by e-mail or through Facebook or Instagram.

When you are not working on the farm, what does your family like to do for fun?
We love what we do, and we live in a beautiful forested location. So, we like to find ways to have fun right on our farm. We spend time exploring the land, cooking over campfires, and looking for plants and wildlife.


  • Location: Silver Valley, AB
  • Phone: (780) 864-7910
  • E-mail: debra@northwoodsfarm.ca
  • Web: www.northwoodsfarm.ca