Heartleaf Farm – Onanole, MB

“It’s all about the people.” This is why Slade and Hannah Doyle, owners of Heartleaf Farms, do what they do.

“I can’t say enough about the people, I’ve met some great people. I think it’s just being around a lot of people that are seeing the positive nature of what we are doing. It’s hard when you’re doing a solo journey on things. So it’s nice to feel like you are a part of something” explains Slade Doyle, owner of Heartleaf Farm.

Heartleaf Farm is a 234 acre first generation farm within the Riding Mountain National Park Biosphere. They have bees, chicken tractors for laying hens and broiler chickens, rabbits, goats, and pasture raised pork. The plan is to add large animals to close the loop and continue to grow soil. 

Slade and Hannah Doyle purchased their land in 2013 and have been focusing on converting the land from broken cereal crops back to pasture. Along with re-introducing livestock they have introduced a compost program into their community, collecting over 10, 000 pounds annually. The compost is used throughout the farm to help rebuild soil organic matter. 

In 2021, Holistic Management Canada received funding from the Manitoba Heritage Habitat Corporation Conservation Trust for a project called the Regenerative Accelerator. The project set out to work alongside 5 farms in Manitoba, to provide expertise and financial support to implement regenerative practices. Heartleaf was one of the 5 farms involved in the project.

We spoke with Slade about his experience participating in the Regenerative Accelerator Project and what led him down the path of holistically managing their land. Slade recalls it all started about 17 years ago, when he became quite ill. After going to his doctor like most people would, he found himself on a heavy pharmaceutical regimen that was only masking the issues he was facing. He decided to take his health into his own hands, and did a deep dive to researcht how his body worked and learn more about health and nourishing your body through food and lifestyle. He stumbled upon the mantra, “You are what you eat, eats, eats.” After making adjustments to his lifestyle, next thing he knew he was off the pharmaceuticals and had cured “incurable diseases” that doctors had diagnosed him with. He attributes this success to simply growing wholesome food. 

“We really are what we eat, eats, eats. And that can go on forever. Right down to the forage you are growing and what’s in the soil. It starts all the way there. And it results in the quality of the finished product,” says Slade.

This is where regenerative agriculture was introduced into Slade’s life. Learning about Allan Savory’s journey absolutely inspired Slade. He was hooked from then on. Passionate about restoring the land through grazing practices, so that he could grow soil, and then grow nutritious food for his family and community. At the time Slade and Hannah owned a small acreage just outside the city and were already getting hassled about their chickens. There was no way of getting cows on their current land, so they decided to scale up.

“I decided that I wanted to move out into the country and get a farm and start to save the soil and regenerate it using holistic management. I healed my body holistically. Holistic is a very important word to me and I feel like it could be applied to all facets of life so it’s like, well, why not try and farm holistically and then I was just again hooked and here we are. It didn’t happen overnight, but this is a journey for us,” explains Slade.

Slade was heavy into researching regenerative farming and stumbled upon Holistic Management Canada. From there he attended a Holistic Management Conference, workshops, and linked up with some influential people. He explains how building a farm from scratch with a family is a challenge, with only so much time to go around. Finding a community of like minded individuals was important to him.

“The program allowed me to come underneath an umbrella. The most important thing for me was being accepted in and being a part of a bigger thing. And that’s so huge for me. It’s like I am a part of a family,” says Slade.

Slade and Hannah have kept in contact with the people they took their Holistic Management Course with to this day. They also connected with the Northam Family that is farming about 25 miles away from them, who also participated in the Regenerative Accelerator project. Doug and Carol Northam are going to work with Slade and Hannah this spring to bring cows onto their land and slowly grow their herd. 

After 3 years of drought, Slade thought it was important to focus on water management. Their project was to design and implement a system that would hold water and would be resilient in the current climate conditions. Slade and Hannah’s goal for this spring are to have cows on pasture. It was critical to have a way to supply water to all parts of the land, so they could implement planned grazing, without having to haul water from paddock to paddock. With the funds from the project they constructed three different water sources, and also purchased equipment to pump the water out of those spots and into holding tanks for the animals. 

Slade says their farm’s objective is to improve the soil, the water infiltration, and with that grow some of the most top quality forage, which will lead to growing nutrient dense food. He hopes that one day Heartleaf can be a demonstration farm for what regenerative farming practices can do! Showcasing for people where you can start and just how far it can go. Slade hopes this will help others to make good choices and educate themselves and try to do what they are doing on their farm. 

With the help of EOV monitoring every year, Slade hopes to be able to have the supporting data to show just how much the land is improving.

“I’ve learnt a long time ago that I’m not in the convincing business. Let’s let the land and the quality, all that speak for itself,” says Slade.

Slade and Hannah are already seeing big changes in the ecosystem that is their farm since they started implementing regenerative practices. The forage diversity is the most notable change. After rotationally grazing their chickens, pigs, ducks, and horses on the land, they’ve seen a lot of different species come back in those areas. Slade says that he has seen such a large increase in wildlife too. The different birds, bumblebees, butterflies, and other pollinators are now a part of the community on their farm. Being so close to a National Park, Slade thought you’d see more wildlife around. But describes it as almost lacking in the beginning. 

What’s next for Slade and Hannah? They will be working on a project with the Northam Family. Doug, Carol, Dan, and Crystal all manage Northam Farms. Together they are going to build two mirroring food forests on each of their lands. They are going to plant roughly 250 – 300 meters of fruit trees and fruit bushes in a swell system. The plan is to have their animals graze in-between the swells. Adding more diversity to their farms to improve community dynamics and provide both families with plenty of fresh fruit! And it doesn’t stop there. Slade is eager to keep learning and growing and working alongside others that share common goals. 

“It’s one thing to do something on our farm, it’s another thing to be able to grow within the system. I just don’t want to hit a point and stop” explains Slade Doyle about future education opportunities with Holistic Management Canada.