Friday, April 30, 2010

Cranky way to start my day

Argh. I wouldn't be mad if the entries that had won were actually creative, but unfortunately they weren't so I'm in a turmoil. I mean seriously!? Not even an honourable mention!??!! They asked for creative, not entries from old people who managed to submit a photograph by email for the first time in their lives, or boring stories about driving school bus and waving to kids. Whoopee.

Clearly I am not a good loser. I followed the criteria which was 'be creative'. And now I'm following the 'sore loser' criteria which is to be angry and spiteful.

It's because I'm 'from away' and admitted it. Islanders hate that. They like to be the ones to call you out on it.

haha. Feeling better already.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Waxing Poetic

I've always been a bit of a sucker for contests.  Well, contests that interest me. I saw a documentary the other day about these people called "contesters" who make a living (or try to) from entering contests. It's real weird.
Anyway, that's not me. I only enter the ones I'm really interested in or the ones with prizes that I really want. 
So our CBC morning show here runs pretty good contests from week to week and mostly they're just the 'draw the name out of a hat' thing, so there's not a lot of effort required. It's easy to send off a quick email with a picture of a spring scene (new lambs) or my first piece of music (Tiffany cassette for 6th birthday from Jill)but this week's contest is different.  It's judged.  My competitive side LOVES being judged so I kicked it into gear.  The prize isn't even something I love- it's $96.10 (radio frequency) of lobster!  I'm not a lobster fan but I would love to be able to treat some of the people who love it and share it with us each summer, so when I heard the details of the contest were to be creative and come up with 'your best Island Morning' (the name of the morning show is Island Morning) my synapses started firing off rhymes.  Here's the result:

Just a couple years ago
Full of New Brunswick pride
I woke up in Freetown
As a new blushing bride

I resisted the pull
Of the Islander life
And reveled in being that
‘From Away’ wife.

But like the salt in the air
And the turn of the tide
With each passing day
I gained more Islander pride

And how could I not
With the life that I’ve got

I wake up to my kids
Who’ve had enough sleep
“Let’s go drive a tractor,
Let’s go feed the sheep!”

And life on the farm
Well, each day is new
A surprise baby lamb
Or the first set of dew

Each day there’s a wonder
A job to be done
Sometimes it’s dirty,
And mostly it’s fun.

So my best Island morning
Isn’t just one
It’s the crow of the rooster
The dawn of the sun.

The crack of fresh eggs
The pitter pat of wee feet
I’m so glad that I
Did my Islander meet

Since my first morning here,
As I’ve shown in this letter.
My Island Mornings only get
Better and better.

 I also included this photo which Island Morning has posted on their contest site.  I don't have exceptionally high hopes on winning the lobster, but I feel pretty great about my effort!  Hope you enjoyed it!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Catch Up!

Life has been interesting around the farm lately.  Nothing too spectacular, but the weather this time of year tends to lend itself to general busyness and a feeling of anticipation.  Mark and Wendell have been busy hauling, spreading and disc-ing in the manure/mussel shell mix.  Apparently it's going on pretty nicely and they've got quite a bit of ground covered so far.  Mark is hauling more from the plant every week, but they have caught up with the pile, so the smell factor is pretty much down to nothing.  (For us anyway. Apparently a few neighbors are on the wrong side of the wind....errrr...sorry?)
I've been busy too, with spring fever setting in.  It all started when we moved into this house 3 years ago now.  Someone in the community saw Mark in town and was telling him how nice the landscaping is (and it WAS when we bought it!) and how he always admired the 'nicest lawn in Freetown'.  Talk about pressure.  Anyway, with little kids, little extra money and a farm to get up and running, the landscaping pretty quickly fell to the bottom of list of priorities.  And the following two pictures show what happens when you leave previously intensely managed beds to themselves. 
 This bed is in the front lawn, near the road and is exceptionally easy to ignore, except that it looks like no one even lives here (let alone two people with diplomas in agriculture and plants!) So I decided that this was the year.  I was going to fix this thing.  It's been taken over by something Mark's mom calls "devil weed", which spreads by rhizomes and is virtually impossible to get rid of.  I used a pile of old burlap potato bags that are here from the previous years of potato growing and covered every square inch of ground except where perennials exist.  Then I spent some hard-earned cash on some heavy mulch and covered all the burlap.  Below is the result, of which I am very proud!  I'll show you how it looks in September and we'll see how my genius my ingenious really is. 

 Life in the sheep barn is interesting as well.  My first lambs are doing extremely well and are weighing in at around 55 lbs. so I couldn't be happier with their progress.  I specified 'first' in that sentence because there have been some wee miracles appearing lately.  There was a ram lamb last fall who kept escaping his fence and finding his way into the ewes' pen.  Apparently he was a virile little creature and managed to breed at least three sheep.  I say 'at least' because they have been showing up every few days and with each one I insist that that MUST be all, but have been fooled every time, so won't be caught again.  Anyway, they are tiny, but all doing well.  I feel badly because I have been keeping everyone off grain who didn't lamb with the first batch, but they seem to be catching up nicely and not inhibited. One of the ewes he bred was a yearling, who I never breed, but even she is doing fine.  When I went in and saw her lamb there was a big ewe claiming it and not letting anyone near, but when I felt that she had NO udder at all, I looked for the real mother and finally decided that this little yearling must be it.  It took her a while to get onto it, but she's taken to motherhood just fine.  But it was a good reminder as to why I don't breed the young ones, as many conventional farmers do.

 I have been itching to get into my garden, but common sense has held me back. Until this morning.  I went to Vesey's on Saturday and picked up a dozen asparagus roots.  Asparagus is up there in my top 3 favorite vegetables and I wrote about losing my patch in the lawn excavation that went on here last fall, so I've been eager to get some new ones established.   Thankfully this morning was the kind of day where kids don't mind spending the day in the dirt and I managed to get them all in the ground.  You can see the little white octopus roots sitting on their mounds of dirt and manure, ready for covering, assistant looking on with pride, spade/weapon in hand.   

 Wilson got a fancy new wagon for his birthday (yes, ONE already tomorrow!) so the old one has become my new wheelbarrow (I didn't have an old one).  It's actually better than a wheelbarrow since it's the right height for my main assistant to reach in and help.  Surprisingly, it's a great size to mix topsoil and manure together and it's easy to truck around, so there are some perks to having these kids! hahaha.

 I think my mom and sister have been waiting for some not-so-agriculturally related posts, so I've included some shots of the fam and kids for their benefit.
 my dancing queen
 Wilson is walking most of the time now.
 The Barnyards in their Easter best.

Hope this finds you basking in the sun, wherever you are!


Sunday, April 18, 2010


The top headline for PEI's agricultural publication, Island Farmer, April 7,2010 says,

"Move to Sustainable Agriculture Presents Many Challenges"

Does this mean that we're ready to admit that the current system ISN'T sustainable?

Hmm...well they say the first step is recognizing the problem.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Boards, Blogs and Beliefs

My recent absence from the blog can be explained for a few reasons, although there certainly exists no list from which I can say, "HERE's what I've been doing with my time!"  I feel like things have picked up the pace around here with the illusion of spring arriving, but there haven't been any MAJOR projects undertaken that have eaten up my time.  I think mostly I'm going to blame it on my very recent involvement in various boards and the ensuing meetings that go with them.  I told myself to get more involved with the associations we are members of, and now I'm wondering just how wise of a decision that was.  I don't feel like I'm making a particularly big difference, but I am certainly learning a lot about people, myself and agriculture, so I guess there's nothing bad about that, right?

In any case I've got some issues for this platform (the blog) and I look forward to spewing them onto you.  The first is the plight of agriculture in general and how it relates to the average person out there in the world.  A few weeks ago now I got a call from a journalism student at Holland College here on the island doing a piece on agriculture on PEI, looking for an interview.  This isn't a rare occurence around here and although I usually hand the phone off to Mark in favour of doing something more productive (and besides its always more interesting to listen to his answers) he wasn't around that day, so I settled in for some discussion.  The student had done his research and talked to a few different stakeholders as well as regular consumers and was well prepared if not a bit nervous.  Anyway, he was curious as to the image of agriculture in the region and the perception that farmers are always whining for more help, but yet many of them have big 'fancy' trucks, etc.  He said that he had talked to one frustrated consumer who was fed up with food costs and said that she didn't care if the Canadian farmers all fell through. If other countries could provide her food for cheaper and she didn't have to listen to the whining and keep 'dumping her taxdollars' to the farmers, that was fine with her.
Hmmm..hard to argue with that really.  I mean, there's a reason that the grocery stores bring in meat from Argentina and Brazil and a reason that it sells more than the Atlantic Beef.  There's a reason that people base the majority of their current food dollar decisions on cost over anything else.  But maybe we need to look at the reasons.

I'm convinced that there is a cost for everything.  Let's just take that beef for example.  As consumers, we have no idea how that beef is raised, what conditions it lives in, is killed in, etc.  More than likely, it is on huge feedlots, with very little standards as to the feed quality/content and very few standards in terms of living conditions.  Oh, who cares, it's a cow right?  Well, actually, the living conditions and feed quality of an animal has a direct and obvious effect on the quality of the meat. I've written before about the reasons that e.coli has only in the past 10-15 years become a regular occurence and nearly acceptable risk of eating beef.  That shouldn't be the case.

So our first cost is our own health.  If that's enough of a cost, let's move on.

As I said, the living conditions are unknown so the environmental impact of that feedlot are unknown.  Canada and the Atlantic Provinces in particular, have some very good standards when it comes to manure storage and distribution.  Run-off has the potential to cause serious environmental harm and we are fortunate that so many of our farmers are on-board with taking serious and occasionally costly steps to prevent it.  Many other countries do not have any standards so contamination of soil and water is a way of life.  Entire communities' water supply is totally unusable due to the feedlot that exists miles and miles up the stream.
So there is an environmental cost.  But that's somebody elses' problem right?  I mean, we don't live in Argentina.

Well, what about our farmers?  Do we really need them?  Obviously someone else is doing it bigger and better somewhere else, is there true value to them as members of our communities?  Currently, that argument might actually hold up somewhere, in some obscure corner of a city where kids think eggs grow on trees and cheerios grow in fields somewhere out in the world.  It's too true that we import so much of our food and so much of our food is processed to fit our 'busy' lives.  But times they are a changin'.  As the cost of oil creeps up and the price of shipping food climbs higher and higher, that cost is going to get passed on.  At some point, in the not so very distant future, we will stop considering food to be a right and it will suddenly become a privilege.  Buying asparagus in November will be laughable and accessing fresh bread with Canadian whole grains will be a treat.  Then we'll look around and ask, "Where are those damned farmers now!?  Now that we need them, of course they're not here.  Figures."

That's the trouble with farming; it's a skill, a lifestyle that is best done when it's passed on from one to the next.  It's true that there is a whole group of 'back to the landers' out there who are buying up the derelict acres of old farms in an attempt to make a living at growing swiss chard and pumpkins and I sincerely wish the very best to them. I hope that they will be enough to sustain an entire generation of people who are so disconnected with their food that they truly consider that chocolate milk might actually come from the brown cows.  But it is the old farmers, the ones with no one to pass their life's work onto because their progeny has gone (wisely) off to make an actual, monetary living doing something unrelated to producing food, the old farmers who we are losing and with them, the skills to sustain ourselves.
So, to that woman who could do without her local farmer, I'll leave her with this quotation;

Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms, and grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country. - William Jennings Bryan 

Ah, to be so wise.  So next time you go to pick up that steak on sale or that squash from Mexico, or those apples from Chile all because it's so much cheaper/easier/more accesible stop to think about the REAL cost.

Hoping this hasn't scared you off from the blog. Will return to lighter fare next time.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Jeepers Creepers, listen to those Peepers!

That's right! It's April 6th and the spring peepers are suddenly all out together, singing their annual chorus of welcome warm weather! 

Apparently when I was very little I was terrified of 'that noise' coming from our pond, but tonight, as I was returning from finishing mucking out the sheep pens (another sure sign of spring!) I couldn't help but smile.  Like fireworks, spring peepers seem to have the effect on me of feeling like a kid again.  Like when I used to curl up on a lawn chair with Mom on a cool summer evening, under the old green and yellow afghan and watch the bats chase invisible flies. 

The farmers 'down east' are planting potatoes like crazy apparently and when Mark tilled up our lawn today to get it ready for seeding after last fall's "repair" job, it was dry before he was even out of the yard.  By the sounds of it, it could be a very dry summer. 

So, while I love the warmth, and while I really appreciate the nostalgia that comes with hearing the spring peepers for the first time every year, I get a little anxious about what is to come when I killed my first housefly today. And I'm not talking about one of the fat sleepy ones left over from winter in the cracks of my windows.  Hold on to your hat soil, it's gonna be a dry one with lots of pests!

Hope this finds you poking your head out the door to have a listen yourself. 


So You Think You Can Garden...

Part of the reason I write this blog is because I really enjoy writing.  It's a skill I neglected for a while after leaving MtA and my english degree behind in exchange for propagating plants and turning soil, but something I never forgot and am now back at.  Someone the other day mentioned to me about how much they enjoy the blog and that I should do more writing and I responded without thinking, "Yeah, I'd love to make a living from writing."  I'm not sure I've ever said that out loud before, or even meant it at that moment, but ever since it slipped it out, it's been on my mind. 
So it seemed pretty curious when last night I opened up our internet browser and up popped a contest to become a blogger for Canadian Gardening.  There are hundreds of entries and I'm sure with my relatively limited experience I don't stand much of a chance, but as I hurriedly threw together an entry (deadline is today) I fell in love with the idea of being able to support myself writing about things I love.  I didn't have a lot of time to browse the other entrants entries but it was clear that most of them were focused on flowers versus food.  I also know that Canadian Gardening (as with most gardening magazines) is more about 'beds' versus 'gardens', but I think that in this world of uncertain food times, there is a move afoot to go back to basics and learn how to produce our own grub.  So I made that the point of my entry.  It's probably another reason I won't win...ticking off the flower lovers, those rose-fanatics and gladiola corm-loving seniors. 
Anyway, if you want to check out my entry (or any of the others) it's HERE.  I got an email from Canadian Gardening telling me that getting my friends to go read it and comment might help my chances of winning, but I'm optimistic that surely this contest is not that frivolous and that is just a blatant attempt to get more readers to the Canadian Gardening page. 
And if you think I'm naive enough to imagine that the $500 dollar prize is enough to 'support myself', rest assured, I have carried a mortgage long enough to know better, but one blogging role could lead to the next right? 

Hope this finds you basking in this ever-fresh first true warmth of spring (and not thinking about the dry summer ahead).