Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Warts 'N All

 Well well well, three holes in the ground. Or in this case, just one big hole with a bunch of PEI potato farmers tossed in it by the Feds while politics plays itself out in the theatre of cross border posturing. And one "farmer" sitting up on the edge of the hole looking down, grinning and counting his money.

We all know how much I love to hate Cavendish Farms and the Irving oligarchs. But if this current situation isn't one in which to take a more critical look at them, I don't know what it will take. Of all the businesses and farms affected by the potato wart border closure, Cavendish farms is the one business that stands to BENEFIT from it all. As buyers of potatoes, they now rest as the closest and easiest market for all the potatoes from the fields with wart and now all the potatoes that won't be sold across the border. Desperate farmers who are watching their market go up in smoke will be looking for willing buyers and who will be gleefully rubbing their hands together at an abundance of local spuds at reduced prices? 

Even if the potatoes DON'T go to them, what is their incentive to keep the wart in check? They are virtually unaffected by any fresh potato border closure and are always looking for more product so besides the hassle of extra cleaning of their gear at digging time, and some extra CFIA oversight (for which they have people hired to deal with), why would they be particular about keeping it contained? What is their inventive, as a business that buys potatoes that are not sale-able, and then buys farms that are no longer viable because of lost markets? 

I know there are lots of farmers and employees on PEI who will never speak their mind on the Irvings for fear of retribution, loss of contract, loss of employment, etc. But until we look this exploitive monopoly in the face and call it what it is, we're just continuing to rail at the heavens, clutch our pearls and pretend we don't know any better. When we know better, we can do better and now we know. 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

VHA (vax hesitant anonymous)

 My name is Sally and I am vaccine-hesitant. I'm here because I am scared about the reactions and expectations of people when they learn that about me and I thought if I shared it here, it won't be such a shock for my friends and family when they see me in person. 

My concern is strictly on long term effects. I don't buy into any of the computer chip, anti-science rhetoric, but the companies producing the vaccines will be the first to admit that they have no data on long term effects. I understand how the vaccines work, both the mRNA and otherwise, and I understand the work that has gone on for decades prior to these being available today. Many will think that I have been influenced by radicals or extremists, but the truth is that I just want more information and time before making a decision.

To be clear I'm not all-vaccine-hesitant. All my own and my kids' vaccines are up to date and I believe in the importance of herd immunity against diseases that we know have saved pain and strife for so many over the decades. I had hesitancy against H1N1 when it was all the stir, but ended up taking the kids in for that one as well. 

I will not be supporting my children getting the Covid-19 vaccine in the near future. 

I got my own first dose of Pfizer in early June and it was under duress and great anxiety, but I knew that my province would not allow me to freely visit my out-of-province family without it. Since long term effects is my concern, it is less of a concern for me than what I perceive for children. 

When I compare the data of children contracting Covid as well as the data around children getting ill from Covid, to the data of myocarditis showing up in adolescents (particularly boys) following the vaccine, I cannot wrap my head around justifying the vaccine for kids. Some science suggests that children can pass the disease to others, but with vaccine rates so high, especially vulnerable populations, I continue to struggle to understand the pressure on 12 year olds to receive a shot that carries more risk than the risks associated with the extremely low rates of Covid symptoms in kids. 

None of this opinion should matter, except that my home province of PEI has made it very burdensome to travel without vaccination. For example, my two children who are over 12 and have not been vaccinated will be required to isolate for 8 days upon returning from NB to visit their grandparents who they haven't seen in 7 months. This means they are not to leave the property to go to the beach, to go to sports, to see friends, etc. Given that we usually go to NB every second weekend, that would give them roughly 4 days every two weeks of 'freedom'. Their isolation includes multiple trips to the testing clinic 20 minutes away, and they cannot be tested at the check point at the border, so thats another special trip. 

But again, none of this is even the greatest concern for me. It was a recent moment at a bonfire with friends when it became clear that one friend felt that vaccines should be mandatory and children without them should be kept separate from those who have the shot. I knew these opinions existed, but I foolishly assumed that it would be those on the fringes. Just as I'm sure she thought that those who weren't getting their kids vaccinated were on the fringes. I suspect we surprised each other and it was helpful to hear the perspectives of others. 

But as I slipped away from the fire to take some deep breaths and consider what I was feeling, I realized that a lot of my anxiety about going home, finally, after all these months, lie in worry over the opinions I'll meet there.  Will my assumption that family ties are stronger than emotions about vaccine choice prove true? Can I hug everyone without worrying that someone will turn away? Will I be invited to all family events, knowing that some in my small family have chosen not to vaccinate? Will anyone confront me and share anger over my choices? Will my 'home' be a safe place? 

It's this anxiety over what this pandemic has done to relationships that breaks my heart and keeps me up at night. I 100% support the choice of everyone to do what feels right for them. I am so glad that there is a vaccination that helps people feel safer and able to move around again. If it doesn't make me feel safer, and in fact feels scary, where do I stand with the people I love? Can we agree to disagree or is my family a perceived threat to those who feel vaccination is necessary? I'm at a loss to reconcile these parts of who I am and I am so tired of the all-consuming space its taken up in my head and heart. 

So there it is. Are we ok?

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Barnyardigans Grow Up and Get a Schedule


The closest we've ever come to a strict schedule around here is "No one works on Sunday (besides the mandatory livestock chores)".

But with planting season approaching and the feed mill busier than ever, we're testing the waters of a new scheduling system which is going to require a little more planning on the part of our customers. Any orders of feed being shipped directly to them, including retailers, should expect two delivery days per week. We have been, to now, shipping on demand, but to streamline things a bit for space and human resources, we're hoping that a regular schedule will help (and maybe even get us some better shipping quotes?).

As for folks who pick up at the farm, please note the daily shut down from noon-1. This is going to be a tough one, since it seems that many customers like to come at meal times, but if someone comes between those times, they may have to wait until 1. 

Behind the scenes of all this is a more scheduled feed mixing schedule as well. We're hopeful that Monday and Wednesday will be enough to complete the orders for the week. So for example, if you place an order on Wednesday night, it means that it won't be made until Monday morning and then shipped the next day, Tuesday. We recognize that this could pose some real challenges for folks who have gotten used to our on-demand service.  We will be flexible for the first few weeks, but are hopeful that we can all transition to this schedule in order to ease the pressures on everyone at this busy farm.

I hope that this does not create a difficult challenge for you, outside of a little added planning. Happier feed millers must make for better feed?!?

Thank you so much in advance for your understanding and willingness to give this a go. 

Mark & Sally

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Our Hideaway Homestead - Balcom Family Farm

Farmer Feature

I'm hoping to start a new series where we highlight a customer of ours and feature their farm and products on social media, but I wanted it to also exist in a larger, more permanent format, so to the blog we go!

If you're a superfan, you might have noticed that the photos of goats on our website recently got a major facelift from the stock photos we were using (not having any goats ourselves), to having the sweetest faces of some beautiful Nubian goats that look like they're part of the most bad-ass band cover shoot ever!

Those beauties spend their days in the beautiful area of Sundridge, NS, just outside Pictou.  Our Hideaway Homestead is the dream of the Balcom family who nourish themselves and their community with the harvest of their thoughtfully raised products. 

You can find their Facebook page under Our Hideaway Homestead Balcom Family Farm and their photos will make you dream of your own little piece of paradise in the country. With their kids, Cory and Michelle raise pastured pork, beef and chickens. Michelle is passionate about her beautiful goats and is a Registered Nubian Breeder (CAE and Johne's tested herd). You might be one of the lucky ones to be on their list for their consciously raised meats and eggs. Or maybe you're looking to get into goats and want to make sure you start with the best breeding stock, in which case, there is no better first stop than the Balcoms who have kids available each spring. 
If you're new to this sweet little farm and in the area, don't put off contacting them. Their products sell quickly and you'll miss it if you're not on the list!

If you needed another reason to love these hard working farmers, they recently won the $100 Barnyard Bucks contest that we held and opted to donate it back for us to provide a deserving family with... a surprise that will the topic of another blog. 

We're so pleased to count these folks as customers and we look forward to their updates and growth in the seasons to come!

Saturday, March 13, 2021

High Capacity for Ecological Ruin

 It's a sunny Friday afternoon and this rock of anxiety that has been sitting on my chest all week as the new Environment Minister, Stephen Myers, has bullied and forced his will on our PEI ecology with a certain disgusting kind of joy. So I do what makes me feel better. Write a pointed letter. 


"I’m writing today as a farmer in the Wilmot and Dunk River watershed. We farm 550 acres smack dab in the middle of the potato belt. In the last few years: 

  • we’ve witnessed several new 'ponds' within a 2km radius of our farm (4 in the last 6 months), in addition to the ones built prior to that. 
  • We’ve had the land around and beside us bought up by the devious workings of lawyers and the ineffective enforcement of the Lands Protection Act. 
  • The stream that we fish and play in and was pumped below safe levels after the approval of our government representatives during a severe drought this past summer. 
  • The hedgerows that hold the snow and cut the wind, and the wooded areas that serve as wildlife habitat and corridors have been decimated and removed at incredible rates to make way for larger fields and bigger, heavier equipment.


Premier King & Minister Myers, it is at your own political peril to let the lobbyists and CEO’s of food corporations convince you that the naysayers are merely a handful of pearl-clutching protesters who hold no influence. We live here and visibly witness the continued disregard for the ecology of this area, because the policies to protect it are either ineffective or non-existent. Our livelihood as farmers is threatened not by the climate as much as it is by weak leadership that makes it possible, and even paves the way for an exploitation of our natural resources and landscape. 


The rising tide of land clearing, holding ponds, shady land deals, high capacity wells and a dismissal of public concerns is making for some very strong swimmers and we will not be drowned by your turning a blind eye and reminding us that we’re not the boss, as our newest Minister of the Environment is all too happy to share. 

A change in tone, a backbone and some policy with teeth (and shorter deadlines) would go a long way in ensuring not only a longer political career, but healthy soil, air and water for Prince Edward Islanders."

Saturday, March 6, 2021

The Ageless Octogenarian

 My strong-willed mother turns 80 today and as a way to honour her special day, I wrote a tiny, broad memoir as a tribute. Re-reading it, I realized it sounded like a long form, slightly irreverant obituary. So I contemplated not sharing it, wanting to avoid offending anyone, but I still think it's a decent story of a great life thus far (and I know Mom appreciates a well-written obit anyway-haha!) so here it is:

Born March 6, 1941, few who witnessed the tiny jaundiced baby, struggling in the shoebox by the woodstove would have predicted the spitfire she would become. Never one to let her small stature determine her ability, she flourished as a middle child of four under the guidance of her strong and capable mother, Mabel, particularly during the years that her father, David, was at war. It is likely during those years that the seeds of a fierce independence and an unrelenting work ethic took root that formed the foundation of the determination to come in Winnie’s life. 


She graduated early, and top of her class, but don’t be fooled into thinking she was a bookish wallflower. On the contrary, her quick wit, easy smile and smooth moves attracted the admiration of a certain tall drink of water from the country. Seen together at Frankie’s Dance Hall, rumours of Fred and Winnie’s dalliance soon proved true with an engagement and beautiful June wedding. (It’s a rare bride who can still wear their wedding dress at their 60th wedding anniversary.)


Winnie never questioned her desired future and happily jumped at motherhood with enthusiasm. Never one to do things half-arsed, she dove in headfirst and had her first four babies within 2 years. Decidedly in the thick of things, she maintained a pace of bread-baking, diaper washing and face wiping to sustain 8 babies in 10 years. One might think that that would be sufficient, but evidently Winnie and Fred disagreed, proving their agelessness with one more baby a meagre 12 years later, just as their first (of 23) grandkids were beginning to arrive.

Maybe it was her strenuous start to the world, but Winnie is ever-reluctant to show a moment of weakness. A volleyball knee injury in the 80s was the target of a mean-spirited ram a decade later, which brought her down, but only temporarily. Another nasty sheep some years later levelled his tender shepherd with a direct smash to the nose. None of this hardened Winnie’s heart to her livestock and she is always at the ready to fend off even the fiercest beast by whatever means necessary, firearms included. 


What she lacks in patience, she makes up for with quick judgement and decisiveness and it has served her well. In turn, she serves her community well, playing leadership roles at several levels of the church, at school committees and boards, at the local agricultural fair and within the sheep breeders organizations. Specializing in the role of secretary, any organization is lucky to have her ability to sift through the extraneous (BS), give a well-timed, murmured piece of advice to a chairperson and keep everyone on task. 

She honed the skills as the captain of her home ship, delegating tasks with the expectations of a small but mighty army general. With a low tolerance for laziness, unfinished work, deceitfulness and adult men in gym pants, Winnie suffers no fools.  


Some of her greatest joys include looking out at rolling pastures with bouncing lambs, lilac bushes bustling with a rainbow of busy birds, reading a good book beside a sweltering stove, being in the middle of a spirited get together of her kids and tightly-knit grandkids and enjoying a glass of sweet, cold wine while winning at a game of cards. 


Some of her skills include, but are not limited to puzzling out connections from the obituary section, shooting a deadly and well-aimed stink-eye, listening to multiple conversations at once, turning a meal for two into a meal for 8 in 30 seconds flat, identifying medical ailments of strangers at 50 paces and in her semi-annual swim, floating effortlessly with her feet out of the water and never getting her hair wet.


A woman whose cookbooks have dirty pages on the best recipes, who can quilt a perfectly straight line while discussing the new babies in the community, whose bread and pie crusts are renowned, who is as likely to have tail docking bands in her pockets as pink peppermints and whose squeeze in church can say either “This is lovely” or “You better sit down and be quiet you little bugger” as clearly as words, is as proud of her kids as she is of their partners, but not nearly as proud as she is of her grandkids and great-grands, who all know her as perhaps her favourite title of all, Poohie

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

I Dissent

What does Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the late and celebrated American Supreme Court Justice have to do with agriculture on PEI? Perhaps not much, but her famous dissentions have inspired this letter. Because like Ruth was, I am a member of a collective in which I am often the minority opinion, and likewise, my opinion is rarely represented or supported by the collective, in this case the PEI Federation of Agriculture. I am a farmer and I support other farmers, which is why I continue to support farm organizations and hold membership with them, expecting them to represent my voice and values to higher authorities. 

Sadly, I’ve watched my representative organization continue to rally around decisions that support economy over environment, corporations over small farms and commodities over communities. The most recent push to remove the moratorium over high capacity wells and increase the capacity for irrigation has me feeling like a very small voice in a large room. 
I receive newsletters encouraging me to contact my MLA regarding “the water issue”, assuming I will rally support for increased irrigation and water usage. But as I work in the buckle of the potato belt, waking to the whine of sprayers most mornings, watching soil wash into our deteriorating waterways, washing blowing red dirt off my siding, I struggle to get behind the chorus for measures that would facilitate even more industrialized exploitation of our resources.
Three new ‘ponds’ have been constructed within 5km of our farm in the last few weeks and while I of course do not support the use of high capacity wells for golf courses or leisure activities either, I cannot allow those objections to prevent me from acknowledging the short-sightedness of further loosening of regulations around our water. And while I abhor the pressure that farmers feel to take perfectly arable land out of production to build huge well-water-fed ponds, I again cannot let my empathy for their position overshadow my concerns for the water the future farmers and generations will be able to access. 


So while my farming organization calls on politicians to consider the plight of drought-affected producers, with irrigation as the solution, I dissent.

Escarpment Blues by Sarah Harmer

If they blow a hole in my backyard
Everyone is gonna run away
The creeks won't flow to the Great Lake below
Will the water in the wells still be okay?

We'll keep driving on the Blind Line
If we don't know where we want to go
Even knowledge that's sound can get watered down
Truth can get sucked out the car window
We're two thirds water
What do we really need?
But sun, showers
Soil and seed
We're two thirds water
The aquifers provide
Deep down in the rock
There's a pearl inside
If they blow a hole in the backbone
The one that runs across the muscles of the land
We might get a load of stone for the road
But I don't know how much longer we can stand