Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sweet Spring Rains

The fall rye is booting*,
Lilacs awake,
Full moon is rising,
For last frost's sake.

The garden is greening,
As plants break the ground,
Fuzzy chicks in the barn
Make the sweetest of sounds.

Put the seeds in the soil
They'll come up, but when?
With rains like these
We're farming again. 

*the boot stage is when the plants are beginning to form seeds, down inside the stem

The other day Mark came in for lunch with a boyish grin on his face, proclaiming, "I guess we're farming again this year."  The wheat was up and looking good. 
And so it begins again!

Hope this finds you rejoicing over small triumphs and drinking in the greenness of this time of year!


Monday, May 24, 2010

In the Strait!!

 Beach day!  Sunday was a warm breezy day and we headed down to Mark's aunt's cottage on the south shore and much to our amazement the water was warm too!

(two pictures removed)

My little exhibitionists showed no shame as usual and enjoyed every minute of it!  I took the two kids to the beach every warm day last summer, but I can already see that it won't be such a simple task this year, with two rowdy fish, instead of one fish and one bump on a log baby.  My children missed the gene with the fear of water, which is better than being perpetually scared, but makes for watchful beach days.
Seasonal eating makes for delicious treats and although rhubarb tends to fall a bit low on my list of favorite foods, it sure does make a perfect ice cream topping.  The picture is of a bowl of vanilla ice cream and stewed, sweetened rhubarb.  Spring in a bowl!  I had a big feed of fiddleheads the other day as well and what a beautiful treat that was too!  Seems as the most fleeting fare is the best.  I guess that's what makes it a 'treat'.
Thankfully our local asparagus is up and I've got a delivery of five pounds on the way tomorrow!  Sounds like a lot, but asparagus is one of those things I like to eat until I'm sick and then not again for a year, at which time I'm craving it again.  What a perfect little green treat...mmmm.  My own asparagus has finally broken ground and I think the chickens only managed to kill two sets of roots, so looks like I'm the one laughing now! Mwahaha!
I picked up a couple new members of the Barnyard Organics family this week and they've been out enjoying some grass today.  My mom is 'downsizing' her flock and I bought her hair sheep from her.  They are the funniest looking little things, but I think they will add a nice element of diversity to my flock.  (Pictures to follow)  So far they are so spooked that I can hardly go near the barn without them skidding into a corner, but once quarantine is over, surely they'll come around.
Soon enough I'm sure they'll be as happy and comfortable as Wilson looks in this last picture! 

Hope this finds you recovering from a big day of sun!  Happy Birthday Victoria, once again your weekend was a beaut!


Friday, May 21, 2010

Food Inc.

I first heard about it from our friend Jen and Roy Vandermaar, who we bought some DEEEELicious pork from.  Then I saw an entire Oprah show about it.  So when Mark and I took a quick stroll through the movie store the other night (really just a stop in for the free popcorn) and saw it on the shelf, we decided it was due time to finally sit down and watch it.
Food Inc.

Amazing documentary that I would recommend to everyone who eats. 
Yes, that would be you.

I was worried that it might be filled with all sort of overblown and exaggerated stories and pictures that would give me nightmares and make me cranky, but it really just reaffirmed everything I keep saying on here, but far more elegantly and with evidence.  We, the consumers, really are the ones making the decisions, everytime our food passes the grocery store scanner. 

So, if you're in your local movie store and you see a DVD with a picture of a cow with a bar code on it's side, pick it up and check it out.  I promise it will help you think. 


Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Hills are Alive with the Sounds of Baaaas.

 Thanks to my dear little ram lamb last year, I have little babies out on pasture this year.  This is by far, the youngest lambs I've had out on grass and I have to admit that it's a pretty beautiful sight to see those little noses come in from the pasture all brown from nosing around the edges of the field and around the buildings.  It's amazing to watch the mothers who pretend not to care about their babies suddenly look up with alarm and blat when they realize they aren't at their side, and the subsequent reaction of the babies who come running, bleating and crying about being left all alone!

Speaking of babies, here's a picture of my baby checking out the flock during their first day of grass and sun for 2010.  You might wonder how a good organic farmer could wait so long to let the animals outside, but because our rotational grazing is so intensive during the summer, we have to make sure we have a good growth established and that we give ourselves enough time so we don't run out of pasture too early in the fall.  It's a fine balance and although the weather has been nice for a while, I always worry that it's too early.  
On the homefront, my garden is finally coming along nicely.  I'm lucky to live on a farm though. Even on a 16th of an acre (if that!) I get to have a manure spreader come in, make a couple passes and have my compost done for the year!  All I had to do was till it in.  One of the benefits of farm living!

It's taken some time and some sweat, but I'm determined to go with my old favorite method of permanent raised beds (which really means not so much raised as dug out ditches).  I did it before and loved it for a couple of reasons. a)it keeps me organized.  There are no half rows of different vegetables here and there.  It's easier to tell yourself you're going to weed two beds, rather than an indefinite amount of rows. It won't make sense to everyone, but it works for me. b)(and this is the most important reason-)the kids know where they are allowed to be.  Telling them to stay "between the rows" doesn't mean anything when they might interpret that to mean 'stay between the rows of dirt and on the plants'.  So this way, "Stay in the DITCH!!!!" is pretty clear. 
Anyway, I lost all my hard dug ditches when we did the water work last fall so it was starting from scratch this year.  It's a strange shape now, unlike my old reliable rectangle, which made for some odd beds, but overall I'm really happy with it.  I've got everything in except my starter plants (which I gave up starting a couple years ago).  We eat a lot of peas here and two years ago I vowed to never grow peas again (not worth the work and the worms), but because I'm determined to be more food self-sufficient I went ahead and made one of my biggest beds, my pea bed.  I won't be at all surprised to make the same pea ban again come mid-summer, but I'm going to give it a good try at least.  I'm looking for potato seed for a variety called Fabula, if anyone knows of any.  I discovered it when I bought NB potatoes in PEI (AHHKK!! If I don't write again in a few days you'll know I've been lynched!) and fell in love with the buttery, smooth, almost sweet variety.  I used to think that all those PEI'ers who went crazy over different varieties were ridiculous-a potato is a friggin potato, right!?  NO!!!   Not if it's a Fabula!  Anyway, if there's any seed out there, please let me know!!!
It's spitting rain out right now and Mark is doing a rain dance-saying 'our livelihood depends on it.'  Not sure it's that desperate here yet, but the ground is pretty darn dry for sowing season. 

Hope this finds you sowing and smiling.


2010 Organic Farmers of the Year

About a month ago, at the PEI Certified Organic Producers Cooperative (COPC) annual meeting, Mark was presented with the Organic Farmer of the Year award.  Technically it was to both of us, but everyone knows, or should know, that it's really Mark's award.  Ironically however, I was the one who went to the meeting (in an attempt to drum up some more business for my organic certification consulting business), so I accepted it on behalf of both of us, feeling foolish for two reasons; the first, as mentioned, since Mark is really the deserving one and secondly because I was looking out on a group of our peers, but our mentors in the organic community.  There were people at the AGM who have been organic farmers for decades and without whom we wouldn't certainly wouldn't be organic.  It was a humbling experience, but a great one.

And it's the gift that keeps on giving.  Part of our reward was an amazing getaway weekend at the most exclusive inn, in Charlottetown and a meal at a beautiful restaurant, Sims.  (As a side-note, we were at the Inns on Great George and ate at Sims at the same time as Gellman, from Regis and Kelly-just call me the paparazzi!)  Anyway, it was an absolutely spectacular weekend and such a perfect reward for a couple of tired, country bumpkin parents of two.  (We even had sorbet at our meal!  Sorbet!! I thought the waitress made a mistake and brought up someone else's dessert by accident...yes, I get out a lot...)

Anyway, so if that wasn't enough, this Saturday we had a front page spread in the weekend section of The Guardian, the Charlottetown newpaper.  Complete with a number of colour photographs (sorry no pics on the website-just on hard copy) and a great article that spanned a full page and a half.  If I can't sell lamb now....  hahaha. (Speaking of which, Barnyard Organics is on facebook now and has a section for placing orders for chicken and lamb! Of course, you can always contact us via email as well.)

So, needless to say, we're pretty excited about it all and not just sure what to do with our newfound 'fame'.  I hope it brings some new chicken customers and helps to put a face to some local farmers in the area.  It's just so good to see a good news story about agriculture.

I'm sure I'm not the only one seeing a bit of dichotomy about the fact that I was in the other PEI paper on Friday, spouting and pouting about the lack of future in Canadian agriculture, but I think there is a link to be made.  While it's true that we are in a great industry right now and the organic community is growing and proving itself to be sustainable and profitable, in general, agriculture in Canada is headed for some very rough times.  I was fortunate to get myself mixed up with the likes of this big islander boy with his head on straight in terms of seeing the future of farming, for now, but there are no guarantees for the next generation.  Until EVERYONE begins to change their mentality about food and eating, we will continue to see an exodus from the industry and an increase in food imports that are bad for both our health and our farmers.   

Whew, exhausted my soapbox again, even when this was intended to be an announcement of our big win!  We are so excited and happy to receive it!  May it help to grow the organic community and spread the good word of sustainable production, in every sense of the word!


Friday, May 14, 2010


For anyone interested in the presentations to the Standing Committee on Agriculture that I referenced, here's an article in today's paper (featuring a picture of yours truly...of course, who else! hahaha) Journal Pioneer.  It doesn't give many specifics, but highlights a few comments made.  It went ok.  I think more interestingly, I attended a reception the night before, put on by our MP, Wayne Easter, who was taking the opportunity to wine and dine the other MP's on the committee and introduce them to a few locals.  I made Mark come with me and it was certainly interesting.  I was so glad I went because I got to see the committee in their true element, very relaxed and personable, whereas during the hearings they were very deadpan, serious and a tad intimidating had I not gone to the reception. But I did, so when Bev Shipley, tory MP for southern Ont., asked me a question at the hearings I felt confident that he was full of crap and I wasn't intimidated at all.

Afterall, anyone who pats me on the back and says, "Good for Yooou, a WOMAN farmer," deserves a good kick in the teeth anyway.  Good for you Bev, you managed to wipe your own arse this morning instead of having your staff do it for you. 

As you can see, it was an enlightening experience!  :)  I told Mark that I'm pretty sure I could be an MP someday. There was a hilarious french lady, MP for the Bloc, who made me suck back an oyster by tossing it in my wine and I thought...I'm no crazier than she is!  Better stop writing inflamatory things on the internet though, those'll come back to haunt me come vetting time! haha.


Chicken feet

Farm kids and city kids aren't all that different in many ways.  Lots of studies have shown that many kids play the same way, despite their surroundings, but I think it's safe to say that in general, farm kids tend to play with different toys than city kids (or they used to).  What about a good game of dried-up cow patty frisbee?  Or a good round of snaring lamper eels out of the brook (NOT a fav of mine!)?  One of my personal favorite, farm-exclusive toys was the chicken foot.  Chicken killing time is a hilarious time for farm kids in itself; what with headless poultry bouncing around the yard in a wildly hilarious dance routine until they stop and OH! the next one is at it!!! The plucking and cleaning is maybe not quite so fondly remembered, but there was always the fun of the chicken foot.  Find that slippery white tendon that makes the 'fingers' contract, put it up your sleeve and scratch somebody's neck.  That sort of fun never gets old. Until the farm dog continues to drag chicken heads to the front door for a week following killing day, but that's another entry.
In any case, those chickens that I laughed at all those years ago and the chicken feet that I carted around, pulling on tendons, have come back to haunt me.  They've sent avengers and I'm going to go crazy.
I have been planning my master garden. the new creation since tearing up my lawn last fall, and have been working away diligently, waiting the moment when I can drop those seeds into the perfectly prepared soil.  I finally decided that the soil was good enough (far from perfect-but able to sustain plant life at least) and got to planting lately. 
It started with my asparagus, then the strawberry plants I got from my sister-in-law, Lisa.  My hens have super hearing and as soon as they hear me even begin to turn some soil- even just to drop a tiny radish seed in the ground, they come running, ready to scratch it out and gobble it up!
I will be shocked if half of my $$ asparagus plants even survive, as that is their favorite area to have a dust bath.  I have just come in from planting my beans, peas, carrots, parsnip, greens, spinach, radish, beets and squash and I know that those little brown demons were watching me from under the hedge into which I'd chased them numerous times and as soon I made it to the doorstep have mangled my entire afternoon's work.
One might think that having 'helpful' two and one year old sous-gardeners would be challenge enough, but I'll take a few kids size 6 rubber boot prints and lose a few fistfuls of topsoil to a hungry toddler anyday, over those damn birds.
Those chicken feet aren't so funny anymore.

Hope this finds you productive and planting!


ps. Dad, I just looked up 'lamper eel' on google to make sure I had the right spelling and nearly had a stroke when the first thing that came up was a picture of the mouth! BLECK!!! Nightmares for sure tonight!  I will NEVER ever forget that friggin moment in the middle of the brook. I wasn't long heading for the hills.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

4-H Public Speaking Skills

I'm pretty confident that anyone who was ever involved with 4-H will remember the time of year that, for many of us, meant gut wrenching, sweat inducing, speed talking, public speaking competitions.  You know the ones, where you write your big speech and anything at all and present it to your club, your family and friends and most importantly, the JUDGES!  As with most things, my mother was right when she kept insisting that it would be the most valuable thing I would take out of 4-H.  It has followed me to this day and I know that I'm a better public speaker for it.

That is not to say however, that I am a GOOD public speaker; only better than if I hadn't participated in 4-H. But I'm about to turn once again to those skills and put them to the test.  Thursday, tomorrow I am representing the National Farmers Union to the Standing Committee on Agriculture for the House of Commons and I have been given 5 minutes to speak.  Following that there is a Q&A session in which I will be asked questions from the committee.  The committee has held hearings like this before, but this specific one is focusing on young farmers and why we are losing them at an amazing rate, and also unable to attract new young people to the field of agriculture.  The Committee wants to know why that is and what we can do about it.

I've been agonizing over this ever since I found out that I'm doing it.  I wasn't given much of a choice since I'm the only 'young' farmer in the NFU (an indicator right there of something I'm sure.), and in a way I'm sort of glad I didn't have any way of getting out of it, because I know I would have.  It will be a great opportunity I'm sure, even if I do freeze up or stutter or read like a racehorse.
It took me a long time to be able to verbalize what I was wanting to say, probably because I'm so passionate about it, but I feel ok about what I have now.  I think I may expand a bit more on the domestic fair trade idea, but for now, this is what I've been rehearsing.  It's a bit long for a blog entry, but I figured if there are any farmers out there, they might as well know how they are being represented.  Whether they like it or not, is just too bad, since I'm the one doing it! haha! Enjoy.

I’m here as a concerned young farmer and at first glance that probably appears to be my primary role.  I would argue however, that my role as a mother in a farming family is perhaps more valuable in this circumstance.  More so with agriculture than any other career, farming parents hope to build a legacy and a business that they can pass on to their children, in the hopes of allowing them to raise a family and a living on the land that has been so vigilantly cared for, for generations before them.  Even in a growing sector like organic grains, my family is increasingly uncertain about the likelihood of having anything to pass on at all.  So as a young farmer it is difficult to get excited about spending my life building a company that no one will want to take over or even buy. 
As Canadians grow more and more dependent on imported, cheaply produced food, our agricultural community here at a home is taking a bigger hit every day.   With truly sustainable agriculture relying on a systems approach (such as grain produced for animal feed relies on fertilizer from those animals), once one component of the cycle is gone, the entire community collapses.  Unfortunately that is exactly what we’re seeing now. 
Conceivably it seems that current policy would suggest getting rid of the commodities that are not making money and focus resources on those which are profitable or new.  Admittedly this might seem like a wise fiscal move but is laughable in the logic of the cycle of sustainable food production.  Until the recognition of the importance of every aspect of farming is accepted by everyone in positions of authority, Canadian agriculture will continue to decline at an increasing rate.  This decline is directly proportional to the rate at which we will continue to lose young farmers and fail to attract new ones. 
Efficiency has been the buzz word of agriculture for decades now and statistics show that farmers have risen to the challenge and in fact surpassed all expectations of efficiency, no matter how seemingly extreme they might be.  Over time, farmers are able to adapt to a wide variety of market, climate and political challenges, but they can only be stretched so far.  I am afraid that we have reached the breaking point. 

However, very recently the NFU began working on a project to look at the development of a Domestic Fair Trade system within Canada.  After a series of consultations with various stakeholders within food production (including retailers, marketers, chefs, eaters and of course, farmers) some logistics were laid out in terms of developing such a system.  It was agreed that farmers are not making money for lack of it because we know that the money is within the wider system from consumer to farmer.  It is being ‘allocated unfairly within the food system because of a gross economic power imbalance between farmers needing greater market power to deal with increasingly concentrated suppliers, buyers and retailers.’
There are consumers who genuinely care about the survival of the family farm in Canada and however well intentioned, simply don’t know how best to support it.  A domestic fair trade system would be based on mutually beneficial relationships from the farmer receiving fair price to the consumer paying a fair price and the people in between taking a reasonable fee for distribution expenses.  Using the marketing of a fairly traded product to assure consumers that they are directly supporting a farmer and not a corporation would pay dividends not only directly to Canadian agriculture, but would help to increase awareness about the importance of maintaining our own food system.  Domestic fair trade would serve to create a new level of trust about the origins and safety of food, building long term relationships based on respect and confidence between consumers and producers. 
If Canadian agriculture cannot create an enduring connection with Canadians our agricultural sector is doomed from the start.  A domestic fair trade system would begin to create a link between consumers and where their food comes from, ensuring a strong market for Canadian agricultural products right here at home. 

There are very few who would argue that life on the farm is an ideal place to raise a family, live a healthy, quality life, producing food for oneself and others.  Through farm tours and school visits, many farmers will tell you that there is a genuine interest in many kids to know more, spend more time and consider a lifetime of farming.  The point at which these dreams die is most likely around the time that the value of a dollar kicks in, and the headlines regarding entire agricultural commodities falling away takes centre stage.  When there are so many opportunities for young people today, weighing the options between a well paying job and a non-paying job is not a difficult choice.  The simple fact of the matter is that farmers are not getting paid, so it is inevitable that there is no one to continue the legacy of food production in Canada.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

New Beginnings, Again...

 Tis the season to shine up the equipment, change various filters, fix a tire, burn through some serious cash and get some crop into the ground! Yahooo!
Mark and Wendell have been busy these last few days tilling the soil and getting it ready for the big moment of seeding.  After spreading the cocktail of compost and mussel shells, they worked it in and are getting closer to the big day.  The picture above shows a modification that we've been talking about since we started growing soybeans, but have only now completed, for some reason.  It's a pretty simple implement, if you can even call it an implement, and a lot of seeders have them on, and now, so do we!
It's proven to be especially important in the growing of organic soybeans, to have exact sized row spacing and CONSISTENCY.  Since one of our weed control methods is to cultivate between the rows it is vital that there be accuracy between them.  I've tried to run the cultivator and I have to admit that it takes a very certain, careful personality who is made of patience and particulars.  There is a very little room for error when it comes to cultivation, due to the width of the tires and the exact positioning of the teeth on the cultivator.  So when the rows aren't consistent, it can mean having to sacrifice an entire row of lush, green bean plants; powerless to the seemingly razor sharp tines that slice the plants right off at the soil surface.  Harsh I know.  :)

Anyway, as Mark likes to say, he put this row marker on so that even I could seed (how kind), but I should note that it hasn't been me in the past who has seeded with row inconsistency....ahem.
So we've yet to try it out, but if I know Mark, it has been built to an exact science and barring no hydraulic problems (which seem to be a chronic illness around here) will work like the charm that it is.  I feel confident I'll be able to show you a field of exact precision in a couple months, even after cultivation.
Mark will really love this picture of himself.  I always insist on taking a picture when we finally find a cache.  This demonstrates his enthusiasm..feigned.
A few years ago Mark and I had our eyes opened to the world of geocaching.  I'm sure most of you know what it is, but for those who don't it's like orienteering, but ramped with new technology and a world-wide treasure hunt.  People from all over the world, have hidden little caches all over the globe.  They enter the GPC coordinates of those treasures on, others download the coordinates and try to find the caches.  It can be as big as a tupperware tote full of books or a tiny film canister with only a piece of paper inside.  Anyway, it's absolutely fascinating to me and one of my all-time favorite things to do on a Sunday, or any day.  Plus it's completely free, which is another favorite thing of mine; free things.
So since the kids were born, we find it harder and harder to get out and about, since sometimes it takes a LONG time to find the item after we've made it to the location and around here at least, they tend to be around waterways, bridges, wooded areas, etc. so not exactly toddler friendly.  But we still go out now and then, the four of us, on Sunday afternoons in search of the treasure.  Something has happened though.  Mark and I seem to have lost our searching ability.  Or our finding ability at least.  We usually try to find 4 or 5 in one area, and we've been lucky to come out with two.  Discouraging, but like my contest affliction, the wins keep me going.

I've started back at work this week and it's going great.  As part of my community outreach initiative I've started a blog about the Trout River Environmental Committee; finally I'm getting paid to write!!! hahaha.  Spent most of my day hiking the trails of the Devil's Punchbowl in the Trout River area, central PEI.  Once in a while I'll come across parts of PEI that take me right back to home and this morning was one of them. There's not a lot of woods around here, but the Devil's Punchbowl was just like when my Dad and I go walking for mayflowers in the spring.  He knows all the best places and the clearings and it smells just right and the sun trickles in through the thick overhead of branches...and for a second I was home. Looking forward to this summer.

Hope this finds you happily nostalgic for simple times.