Monday, August 29, 2011

Why you should go to county fairs/exhibition

Mark can attest to the fact that there are many things that make me nostalgic for my Kent County home, but there is little that makes me crave to be home more than Expo-Kent, or "St.Mary's fair", as I will always know it to be.  It is one of the few 'real' fairs left in the region and a true treat to those who remember how it apparently 'used to be'.  The original and true point of a fair was to compete against your neighbours, celebrate a (good) growing season, discuss the weather, crops, livestock, markets, kids, grandkids, family, milestones, remember those lost, take home some prize money, a lot of pride and a bit of celebratory relaxing after a busy summer and somehow, St. Marie's hasn't lost that.
Being a pseudo only-child, to older parents, I was given the glorious opportunity to attend a lot of fairs each summer and while I loved each of them, I was sad to watch many of them descend into nothing much more than a midway and some display cases.  Some exhibitions still bring in a few animals but there is no 'show' to speak of and very little in the way of the public's interaction with the farmers or agriculture in general.    
But it's obvious that since I grew up loving fairs and spending my favorite part of my summer at one, that I would have lots of reasons to want to be there.  So here's just a few reasons YOU should go, followed by the real reason we should ALL go.

-find the quilt display.  Stand back and admire the colours, the patterns and the variety. Now get close and look at each of those tiny little stitches.  Which quilt has the tiniest ones? Can you tell the machine quilted ones from the hand quilted ones?  Can you picture the woman who sat around that big quilt, putting each stitch in and out and in and out and maybe the song she was humming, or the curse she made when she pricked her thimble-less finger, or the sense of accomplishment that came with binding it all up and displaying it at the fair for a red, first place ribbon? 

-stop by the vegetable/fruit/flower displays.  Try to figure out what makes a group of five green beans place first over another group of five green beans.  Admire that anyone has a pepper that big so early!  Check out the names on the tags so that the next time you're plunked down at a community supper, a baby shower, benefit dance or some such event you can turn to old Auntie (whose not even your auntie) Ethel and make her day by saying, "Ethel, I noticed your gladiolas took first at the fair, do you plant a lot?  Those are a lot of work, digging up and replanting every year!"  or to Winnie and say, "I saw the red ribbon on your pretty felted wall hanging, I had no idea you were so crafty!"  or to Mark, "Your soybeans took first place, good for you.  First in a class of one, is still first! harhar." 

-walk politely through the commercial booths. They pay to be there and deserve a little of your attention.  Besides they always have ballots to fill out for some free draw to win soap or a prize pack of a windbreaker, a mug, a frisbee and some coupons for their product/service.

-of course, there's the midway and even if, like me, just looking at the rides make you queasy, we all know that the best people-watching happens at the carnival.  The carnies themselves are a fascinating crew, let alone the vast array of ride-goers.  And who doesn't love a little harassment as you pass through the game alley?  "Come on big shot! Win the lady a puppy!  All ya gotta do is hit the bottles! EASY! Watch, I'll show ya! SEE? Just like that! No problem! Ya CAN'T lose!"  Or my favorite "Hey princess, try this one, a Prize EVERYTIME".  Where else can you go, drop a few twoonies (ok more than a few) and come home with a crappy stuffed snake, cotton candy in your hair, a tacky cowboy hat, a lighter, a goldfish, and cow manure on your shoe?

-since you're in the midway, go for a trip on the ferris wheel and while you're stopped at the top (which you will be, especially if you're not a real ride/height lover), look down and think about the organization and cooperation it takes to pull together multiple days of such a successful event.  It takes a committee of some of the most dedicated people from around the region, a whole year to even begin to prepare for a week of entertainment for you, and I.   

-stand by the tractor display until a little boy comes along (don't worry, it won't be long) and just watch his face as he scrambles up in the cab, onto the seat, and grabs hold of the steering wheel. 

-walk through the horse barns and blink at the shiny tack in every spare corner. Listen for the tinkle of bells and the creak of leather.  Breath deep.  Mmmmm.

-make sure you go at a time that a livestock show is scheduled.  Find a good seat and spend some time figuring it out.  Track down a showbook if you want.  Put the animals in order of how you would place them, in your mind and see how close you are the judge.  After a couple classes of watching him, try to put them in the order you think HE will put them in, based on his previous placings and reasons.  Why is that one so much bigger than that one, but the small one is winning?  Are any of the show-people more skilled than others?  What's with the combs in the pockets? 

-find a farmer sitting around (you shouldn't have to look too far).  They will be more than happy to answer ANY question you have (and believe me, there's nothing they haven't heard).  Or if you just want to pass by and tell them what a nice group of animals they have, it would be much appreciated.  Think for just a minute about what it took to bring 12, freshly washed and fluffed sheep, or five cows, a calf and big bull.  And you thought that stroller and backpack was a pain in the behind.   

The real reason that everybody should go to a fair/exhibition is because, at it's root, the fair is a symbol of our food system.  I don't mean french fries and candy apples.  I mean, farmers bringing their very best to compete against the very best of someone else.  That cow and calf in the ring is representing the best of what we are eating everyday.  They will go on to produce more calves who will end up a plate somewhere, due to the careful breeding and selection done by that farmer standing there in the buttoned down shirt and grubby ball cap.  If we can't support the best of what our farmers are doing, by paying an admission fee to admire the years of hard work they've put into their craft, then we probably aren't supporting them when it comes to the grocery store either.  It does not bode well for the long-term of our food system, if we can't support the best of what we have for a day and spend the rest of the year complaining about the price of our groceries.   

So next year, plan to spend at least the day.  Take it all in and go home knowing you just contributed to a collection of the best of what agri-food has to offer.

Hope this finds you cleaning the manure off your footwear after a misstep from being temporarily distracted by the steady pounding of giant, black, shining draft horse hooves on hard packed ground.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Veggie Death Notice

SALLY'S NIGHTSHADES "Tomatoes and Potatoes"- May 2011-August 2011
Sally's Tomatoes, of Freetown, PE were found, Sunday afternoon, in a mass of black and grey leaves caused by late blight.  Born in Brookvale, lovingly raised by Jen Campbell, the tomatoes grew up with a strength reserved for the best that organic can offer and had an impressive showing in growth and production.  It was the unfortunate and damp weather of this summer, combined with their placement in the buckle of the potato belt which made their continued existence, nearly impossible.  The Bernard family was able to enjoy one ripe tomato prior to the wipeout and was able to recover a collection of small potatoes, but the pain of the loss was exacerbated by the large box of beautiful green tomatoes which promptly turned to grey slop. The tomatoes were survived by their sisters, the potatoes until they all crumpled at the thought of existing without each other. (or from late blight.)  Both families are survived by some very sad looking corn, overgrown beans, non-producing peppers and leafy cucumber-turned-squash plants.  The onions were too busy drying successfully in the sun to notice.   
A private ceremony was held with close family members and internment occured at the hottest compost pile.  Donations to a seed bank of the donors choice would be greatly appreciated by the family.

Hope this finds you making big plans for preserving and canning, with your own veggies or otherwise!  :)


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A (Life) Lesson in Fun

While there is little more in life as alienating as an inside joke, this blog began as an update to my family as to my life here on PEI, so I'm going back to my roots on this one.  If you aren't familiar with my family you won't get this video, and it's completely unrelated to the farm.  But you might enjoy it anyway.   
It's a year since my sister passed away, leaving us all in a cloud of confusion and sadness.  Thankfully, she devoted a huge part of herself to making everyone else laugh so we have the memories that far outshine the sorrow.  My sister, April recently asked for some clips of the two of them in their 'alter ego' characters. Unfortunately, I think I was always laughing too hard to hold the camera straight long enough for a video, but I did manage to snap a few still shots of the fun, now and then.  This is a little collection of just a few.   (Make sure you have your sound turned on and up.)
And to my brother Mark, sorry for the short joke, it's all relative.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Summer of Stupids. And Earwigs

This is just a quick post on a sleepy Sunday evening, but one I've been meaning to make for a while.

So, a few months ago when my last lambs were born, as I always do, I commissioned a neat little creep feeder for them to get in and enjoy some grain without having to compete with their bigger, more experienced mothers. This has never been a problem before.  Once the lambs figure out that it's easier and more readily available, in the feeder, free from overbearing mothers, they sneak in and snack.  Well, three creep feeder designs and nearly five months later and my lambs cannot figure it out.  I even went to the extreme  of shutting them in the feeder for a few days, making the grain available and showing them that it comes twice a day, at the same place.  Just be there.
Apparently, these lambs prefer the head butting that they endure when they dare to stick their heads in a place where their mothers and aunts may think for a minute that there might be a rare kernel of grain left.  They are the strangest lambs I've ever dealt with, and I have to admit that I will be glad to be rid of these ones.  They're jumpy and scared and make the whole flock nervous.  They tear around like small wooly jumping beans, never really relaxing and always ready for flight.  Here's hoping them make delicious chops!  Fresh lamb will be available soon, and it's limited, so get your orders in now!

The second stupids on the farm and the pasture chickens.  It usually only take a day or so in the pens to figure out that when the pen is moving, you should run the front to a)get the fresh grass and b)avoid the oncoming back wall of the pen.  Nope, not this year.  There is one pen in particular who seems to have an extra bad case of the stupids and has yet to figure out how it all works, twice a day. 

And I'm sure, if you live in an earwigged area, that you've noticed that this summer in particular is devastatingly bad for the disgusting (and hearty) little insects.  The farm is simply crawling with them and anything left on the ground is guaranteed to be an earwig condo within hours.  I am increasingly amazed at their resilience and determination, even though I truly hate them.  I wondered aloud the other day to Mark about how they know where to go to find good hiding spots and he responded, "I'm pretty sure they just keep going up.  They're at the top of the 40 tonne tank and I don't think they knew it was that high when they started." 

And speaking of bugs, I don't know whether to be ecstatic or disgusted, but I have found a new, bizarre joy of Lucy is to squish potato bugs (the fat, red, soft bodied larvae) with her bare fingers.  She likes the pop and explosion of guts.  She's a welcome weapon in my garden! 

Well, if I don't go to bed soon, I'm going to add myself to this list of summer stupids for 2011. 

Hope this finds you warm and dry, free from earwigs and pleasantly exhausted.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Summer= Little Blogging

Many a blog reader has been asking me for an update on the fox situation.  I have been saying that I keep waiting for an update to post, but alas I can wait no longer.  Tonight while moving the chicken pens, Mark stumbled (literally) upon a fox carcass in the grass.  We celebrated momentarily over the possibility that maybe he had actually injured one bad enough one night that it up and died right in the pasture.  I hate to be a buzzkill, but I also noted the the grass was greener and lusher around it, and it was more mummified than rotted, suggesting that perhaps it was not  Anyway, let's all pretend that it was the very one who wore herself out carrying 81 chickens away and simply could not escape the eagle eye skills of the great Bernard hunter himself.  Yes. That must be it.

I also haven't been writing because the summer somehow seems busier than any other time of the year. And despite the weather, it is in fact summer.  Old Home Week is next week and is always the Islander marker of the end of summer, so I guess we missed the hot part somewhere along the way. 
Anyway, if I had to itemize what I've been doing in all the 'busy time', I'm not exactly sure what that list would look like, but I suspect that a blender would play a role somewhere along the way.  And I only wish that included exciting, tasty blender drinks.  Instead I've been making soooo much baby food for Thayne, the 6 month eating wonder, that I feel like 'puree' is my middle name.  I don't remember feeling this overwhelmed with baby food with the other two, but I just can't keep up this time around.
So in the moments where I might otherwise be blogging on a quiet evening, I'm tearing up Freetown with blended carrots, squash, peas, sweet potatoes, beets, chicken, beans. 

Here's the culprit.  The newest Speerville convert.

 I've also been doing a fair bit of summer 'relaxing', by which I mean, spending time with family.  I think I've been 'across' more this summer than most and it's been great.  I grabbed this shot of a sleepy Wilson on the way home from West Branch on one of our recent trips.  As you can see, he was too tired to even eat his last mini oreo, care of Poohie.  Not letting it out of his sleepy grasp though.  Funny, we all sort of feel that way after a good weekend away.  :)
And, just hosted another good Wilson Weekend here and am starting to get caught up on sleep.  I love seeing my nieces and nephews carrying it on.  And the food.  Man, it seems like we never stop eating. 
Speaking of which, Mark and I have started running together this week.  I have to admit that I actually really enjoy running with someone else, although taking a long break is NOT as easy to recover from as one might think.  I have big ideas for some upcoming races, but we'll see how those play out.  (wink wink Mark!)

Anyway, the farm moves along. Sheep have been sheared, wool has been bagged, first (few) chickens will be ready to eat/freeze next week (Aug. 10th), lambs are ready to ship (finally!), ewes have been bred, organic inspection completed, compost has been turned, hay put in, winter wheat being closely watched, plough is getting ready to go and garden soldiers on. 
OH!  Please check out the website for the Meet Your Farmer Bike Tours being organized by (who else!) ACORN. There is one in each Maritime Province this summer and it is a brilliant idea.  Turns out, Barnyard Organics just HAPPENS to be a stop on the PEI tour and we're so excited.  September 4th will see 25 bikes roll into the farm for a tour, snacks, etc.  The NS one is full and the NB one is coming right up (Aug 13th) and sounds super good.  Worth checking out.

Hope this finds you enjoying every bit of sun that makes its way to you.