…The story of a first generation of family farmers

It’s a story that could perhaps only be told in Newfoundland: a young couple’s dream of carving out a lifestyle from rock and bog. In 1979, city dwellers Philip and Rhonda Thornley knew they wanted to live in harmony with the land. They wanted to integrate family and work, vision and passion.

It was a daunting task. They took on the challenge of a cold climate, land with poor drainage and soil that required irrigation and frost protection. They built ponds and roads, picked rocks, bought every piece of equipment and built their own home and storage sheds.

These first generation farmers were clear about living intentionally, and as Phillip says,…

“Our life here on the farm is the source of everything.” Their decision to “live on the land” required gutsy determination and a commitment to face years of economic hardship and poor crops.

What followed over the next decade was no less than miraculous. With limited funds and manpower, the couple harnessed soil, sunlight, and water resources to transform forests into fields and one of the most spectacular U-pick strawberry and raspberry operations in Canada.

It was a great loss when Rhonda passed away in 2011 from ovarian cancer. As a female in the farming industry whose tenacity and passion seemed limitless, she led the way in her province to have one of the first Environmental Farm Plans.

I recall sitting with Rhonda at her kitchen table drinking tea and discussing the unpredictable weather challenges they face on the farm. And when I asked what keeps her going, she paused, and as a smile slowly spread across her face, she said, “It’s a combination of craziness and being too stubborn to give up! But I guess really, it’s being in this environment, and watching things grow.

My idea of heaven is rows of lush grass pathways between acres of raspberry canes.”

Heavenly pathways and acres of lush berries can be found here: