Meet Annika and Kevin, owners of Wildhaven Farm. Wildhaven operates as both an animal sanctuary and eco-glamping destination. The couple recently moved from downtown Toronto to rural Nova Scotia to fulfill their dream of merging wildlife rehabilitation and hospitality. We visited them on their farm, met the animals including an incredibly cute retired alpaca, toured their wild gardens, ate homemade veggie pizza and talked to them about city life, the pandemic and their big move to the country.
When did you both become interested in farming and how did you come up with the concept for Wildhaven?
A: Funny enough, both of us have no interest in “farming” whatsoever. We’re barely farmers at all. We had both worked in and around events and the service industry for the last ten years while I also was diving into my passion of wildlife rehabilitation, sustainability and conservation. It was during the pandemic that we had the time and space to dream up a place where we could merge the two. We’ve worked together for years and love designing spaces together. Both also having dabbled in the film and art industry, we wanted to weave together an artistic space where people could relax and reconnect with animals and nature, while appealing to that trendy event style bohemian vibe. We are both big travellers and used Airbnb as our main traveling website. With that, we really wanted to hone in on what we enjoyed/ felt we needed from a space that we were calling home while on the road. You’ll see a lot of this reflected in the domes.
K: Honestly, if you had asked me five years ago if I ever saw myself living on a farm in rural Nova Scotia with 43 animals, I would have probably laughed in your face. It wasn’t until the pandemic, like Annika said, that we started to feel the weight of the city and started wondering if there was more out there for us. So we worked out the concept between us and took the leap!
Tell us about the change from going from city-living in Toronto to living on a rural farm in Maitland? Are there any challenges that rural living has presented to you both? Do the benefits that you find from your new slower lifestyle outweigh those challenges?
A: It’s been an adjustment to say the least! Though Nova Scotia is technically my original home, as I was born here, I never felt that way. Toronto has always been my home as I’ve lived there most of my entire adult life. We both have so much love for Toronto we miss it all the time! It’s such a fantastic city. We lived right in the middle of the downtown in a tiny little apartment on top of a Thai restaurant. However, as I was getting more into gardening and studying animals, it was getting too small for us and we weren’t using the city for what it’s for. I had a little measly garden on my deck and always dreamed of having more space to use. That’s when we started thinking hey, maybe we can do this on a larger scale in Nova Scotia. It was extremely appealing to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and get back to the ocean. South Maitland is absolutely stunning and our little community has been so welcoming.
K: At first it was a shock to the system. Being roughly 20 minutes from the closest town took some adjusting to, but now that we’ve re-wired our habits and expectations, the serenity of our area had been life changing. While the pace hasn’t slowed (it’s just different work), the feeling we both end up with at the end of the day is much more fulfilling. I do still miss a hot July night in the Flight Deck at the Rogers Centre, though. And our favourite noodle spots on Queen West, of course.
Tell us more about your “Wild Garden”?
A: This is a topic I love to talk about! The whole premise behind our business is about living in harmony with nature in its wildest form. A wild garden is an environment created by a gardener that serves as a sustainable haven for surrounding wildlife. We can achieve this by planting specific habitats that cater to native and local plants, birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects and mammals. Instead of a manicured property, we keep the micro biome of the soil and build gardens that emulate the environment that was present before the residence was built. This renders the garden similar to intact wild areas nearby (re-wilding) that allow natural systems to interact and establish an equilibrium. We also find the messy, wild flower and weed riddled aesthetic chaotic and beautiful, hoping to inspire those to reconnect with their childlike wildness.
Is there ever a day-off on the farm? What do you two like to do in your spare time?
A: At this stage, there are no days off at the farm. As this was our first full year open, we run everything completely by ourselves with no employees or volunteers. By the end of this last summer, we were almost fully booked out for domes, which means 7 days a week, full cleaning duties, laundry, check ins, and of course mingling with excited travellers with lots of questions! We also have over 43 animal rescues who need to be fed, their stalls cleaned out, some medicated, and given attention to. The most important thing for us is the wellbeing of the animals and the biggest complement we receive from guests is “wow the animals look so happy and healthy.” We are first and foremost a sanctuary, so we get animal rescue inquiries, which we have to process and reply to. We also run our own marketing and like to reply to any questions we have regarding the animals or events we hold, which we sometimes don’t get to until later in the evening after finishing all the chores. If and when we get any “free time” at this stage in the game, we like to keep it low key with family and friends.
K: Like Annika said, there are no off days at the farm. Even the lightest days are still filled with chores and things to look after. But the animals make the effort worth it.
All of your animals seem to have such personalities! Tell us about a couple of your animals.
A: They sure do! We laugh about them all the time. A fun fact is that we have kept all of their original names from where we rescued or re-homed them from, which can be quite funny and random. They’re all so busy! I’m a big chicken gal, anyone who has been here has heard me try to talk to them about roosters. Another fun fact - we are actually one of the only sanctuaries in Nova Scotia that takes roosters! We like to say the birds are like our Real Housewives drama series. They have mean popular girls, bullies, flirts, jealousy, toxic masculinity and best friends. The drama is never ending, but hilarious to watch. I’ll let Kev talk about the herd animals.
K: The herd animals definitely keep me busy. The saying “stubborn as a goat” was certainly not an accident. Each one of them has a different vibe and different needs, but the one thing they all have in common is that they love to do exactly the opposite of what I want them to. Willow, our Alpaca, is the exception. She is the sweetest, most gentle creature, while also keeping the whole group safe and in line. Willow is really the glue of the herd animal group. We also recently took in two young calves, Rosie and Otis. Needless to say, they have melted our hearts and watching them grow everyday has been incredible.
Is Wildhaven both of your full-time jobs?
A: Kev is the backbone of Wild Haven. He is here full time and is the animal keeper, the cleaner, the plumber, the carpenter, the gardener, the problem fixer, the cook, the host - there honestly aren’t even enough titles. He can literally do anything. Since he spends the most time with the animals, they consider him to be the big mama. They all light up and come running when they see him. If this isn’t dreamy enough, he is also an incredible singer and songwriter. After a long day of working on the farm, he plays gigs at a few different venues in Truro. You can also listen to his music on Spotify - The New Dakota.
Myself, I work half the week in the city as a Vet Assistant at Eastern Shore Vet Hospital and Dartmouth Vet Hospital. This allows me to expand my medical knowledge and experience and I get to work alongside some of the best in the city. My absolute favourite work day is a long day assisting in surgery. As someone who’s mostly only worked with exotic animals and wildlife, it’s been an eye opening experience to see what the vet industry has been up against since the pandemic. They genuinely are superheroes. I also teach a couple classes a week as a Pilates instructor at my sister and brother in law's stunning new studio, Kinfix Health and Fitness. Fitness has always been important to my mental health, and they’ve created such a beautiful space and community. I feel very lucky to be able to be part of the team. I look forward to teaching my classes before heading back to the farm for the second half of the week.
What’s on the horizon for Wildhaven Farm?We are both big dreamers and we’ve got a lot up our sleeves! We have about 30 acres that we look forward to keep expanding and filling the fields with animals in need! We will be adding about 3 more domes as well as creating a boutique wedding venue in the next couple of years. As we grow and expand, we would like to add to our team with employees and volunteers who believe in what we are trying to achieve. In the longer term, we’d also like to work with local school programs about educating youth on topics of climate change and sustainability as well as the importance of disconnecting from screens and connecting to the world around us.
To learn more about Wildhaven Farm or to book their beautiful eco-domes, visit their website. You can also follow them on Instagram to stay up to date with future events and happenings and check out all of their animals.