Thursday, October 29, 2020

An (Anti) Love Letter

Dear Organic Certification,


Do you remember when we first met and we hung out as a group of farmers? We shared all our challenges and successes, yields and input information over coffee and cookies at a kitchen table? Remember how we would read our organic plans to each other and ask questions to ensure that organic principals were being followed? I was so nervous at that first meeting, with my stack of paperwork and over-prepared presentation. But it was so lovely, so warm and inspiring. I learned so much those first couple meetings and eventually I fell in love with you. 

But then things got serious and you made formal standards that meant our farmer meetings didn’t matter anymore. A stranger started coming in and double checking everything. And that was ok for a while. Until the strangers got more serious and cared less about the farm and more about the paperwork because their bosses told them so. As if the paperwork makes the food safer or the farm healthier or the environment stronger. The records to track a single soybean that comes onto the farm, moves to a tank, moves to a roaster, onto a different tank, eventually ending up in a bag of feed, all while intermingling with other soybeans from other places, is enough to make even the most stringent bean counter’s head spin. The paper trail for that organic chicken I traded for veggies is prohibitive to actually certifying it. The fees themselves are high, but not as high as the cost of my time to generate, assign, track and input new lot numbers every time a tonne of grain moves (with its own certificate) from a truck (clean truck affidavit) to to a tank (new lot number) to a dryer (which needs an attestation) to a cleaner (a second attestation) to a different tank (new lot number), to a tote for sale or a feed mill to a bulk truck or bag (new batch number).  Oh, and be sure to have all those weights recorded along the way of that journey so you can double check that we have exactly what we brought in and sold. 


I’ve always defended you, organic certification. I’ve been known to say, “The paperwork isn’t anything more than what any good farmer is already keeping.” But that’s just not true anymore. You’re a time suck and if I felt like all the time was being spent on things that made the certification stronger or our products safer or better, it would be easier to swallow. But as it stands now, you’re a necessary pest and I will stop praising you in front of others. I will do the work, the bare bones required to pass your tests and I will certainly always grow my crops and raise my animals above your basic requirements but I am sad. 

The hardest part is that I feel like you might actually be prohibitive to succession. We’re working so hard to build a future for the next generation, but I’m genuinely afraid that when they understand the required paperwork to farm this way, they will balk. They will resist and find another way to do things or leave farming entirely. And I wouldn’t blame them. If we hadn’t had those sun dappled kitchen table meetings back at the beginning and we had to partner with you as you are now, I can almost assuredly say we wouldn’t. 


You’ve broken my heart. It’s not me, it’s you. You changed. You became a business and turned your face to big corporations and left small farms to tread mud. I can’t completely cut ties with you, but I thought you should know that I can no longer praise you and recommend you for others. The spark is gone and its your fault. I hope you gain the capacity to recognize your failures and limitations and see a way out of this depressing and devastating mess you’ve made.



A disheartened farmer. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Second Week of September 2020

I tried drafting a newsletter on a fancy newsletter platform but it wouldn't turn my photos right side up, so that's off the table for this week. Maybe I'll try a different platform next week and who knows, maybe make a habit of this. But for now, here's my first newsletter attempt, in blog post format. Hmmm...not quite the same is it? Ah well. Better than nothing maybe?


Every year I've canned something. When I was pregnant with four littles running around, it might have been one batch of salsa. Or throwing some beets in a jar with a sweet vinegar brine. But as the kids have gotten older, and my garden has slowly expanded, I've canned more things, with the intention of actually feeding us year-round. And the last few years have been pretty successful. I think I had buy tomatoes last year, at the end of the season to make enough salsa, but mostly it's items from our garden, put away for the winter, like a good little ant. 
And this year is looking pretty successful. Lots of relish made (probably too much), some new bread and butter pickles I'm trying out (ripple cut thanks to my mandolin- no big deal guys), and salsa. My garden is still pumping out tomatoes so I might try some simple canned, diced tomatoes, but we'll see. Still have my beets left to go, but those are good ones to do later. 
But I was thinking the other day about why I even bother. I have a Costco membership. There's no way that if I count my time (including inevitable clean up!), the jars, the produce, etc. it makes any fiscal sense whatsoever. And then I remembered that most of my life doesn't make a lot of fiscal sense. I raise pigs each year for our freezer, I milk a scowly Jersey, I raise her calf for beef, I grow chickens for meat and eggs, but I'm pretty sure I could make a lot more money buying all that food for cheap somewhere and working off the farm for a pretty little paycheque. So why don't I?
I know where those tomatoes come from and who picked them and if those people are living a healthy, fair life. I know how that pig was raised and that it rooted in the sods and had Jersey milk for breakfast. I know what the cow ate and how satisfying it is to watch her cream turn to butter before my eyes in the KitchenAid. There is no dollar figure for those peace-of-mind parts and that's ok. If it feels good and I'm able to do it, I will. And I gotta say, it feels pretty darn good. 

(I also couldn't figure out why I was running low on jars, when I haven't needed to buy any for years. Then I went to the freezer for a roast and saw my jars and jars of ghee and remembered where all my jars went. Ooops. Not a great year to run out, but a great reason to!)

Return to School

Well, by now the kids have completed two weeks of school and so far so good. I know parts of the world are really struggling with the virus, but we're so blissfully ignorant here, it feels ominous, but far away at the same time. The kids have done well to remember their masks (it helps that they need them on the bus), and don't really have much to say about any of it when they come home. Their stories are pretty normal and it sounds like the staff are doing an incredible job of making everything feel as business-as-usual as humanly possible. 

PEI is doing a really amazing School Food Program and it's a local chef prepping ingredients from local farmers and it's pay what you can, up to $5. I treated myself and bought the kids' lunches today. It's supposed to be PEI Beef burgers (I think they were squeezing in some lentils as well, but don't tell the kids.) so we'll see how that goes over. My prediction is that 3 of 4 will be really happy. Guess who the 1 unhappy camper will be. (hint: starts with a T)

Lucy's Awful Good Pumpkins 


Soon enough these'll be piled up at the farm gate, ready for sale!


I'm too tired this week to share an original recipe, but I've got a humdinger that we've been living off of a few times over the last month and I think everyone needs to know about it. Here's a link to the Lazy Genius Change-Your-Life-Chicken. We can't get enough. (I make a spice rub of random herbs and spices, including a little brown sugar that is different every time and never measured, so use some artistic license and make that part up). It's SOOOO good! And the PERFECT use of those darned ol' chicken legs!!!

Photo From Phone

This week's PFP is the boys at the Dunk River trail. It's one of the coolest trails on PEI (I think but I'm biased because it's just down the road) and it changes so dramatically with the seasons, but this time of year when everything is lush, a little overgrown and heavily laden, it's pretty magical. Accompanied by the imaginations of young boys, it's even more so. Every low hanging branch creates a tunnel. Every obstacle is keeping us from our destiny. Every side route, is a passage to safety. Every turn in the brook holds some mystery, likely an armed foe around the corner. I am doing my best not to take for granted these moments of wonder, curiosity and downright foolishness because I know one day I'll miss them. 

Monday, June 8, 2020

Early June 2020

It's been days of taking a deep dive into my own racism and sitting with it, recognizing it and examining my white privilege a little closer than usual. Lots of learning and being uncomfortable, which feels like a good place to be at the moment. And while I work on my own, my concurrent resolution to ensuring my kids don't grow up with prejudices and understand white privilege before they're in their 30s is the focus of my anti-racism legacy for now.

On top of all that heady internal work, we've all been toiling in the second best season on the farm, thriving on the anticipation and hopefulness of spring. A quick tour perhaps?

Harry, Ron and Hermoine have settled in quite nicely. We're still shutting them in at night, just to be safe and we let them out in the morning after we've separated the milk and brought them the extras. Milk is the best way to make friends with pigs and these ones are no exception. 
As you can see they're pretty enthusiastic about their dairy intake. 

Petunia's cream has taken on it's lovely yellow hue for the season and ya can't help but wonder what extra nutrients we're getting this time of year when the cream alone is about 10 shades darker.
My new culinary challenge and kitchen staple: Ghee. A step past clarified butter. Butter without the lactose. A higher smoke point so it's good for frying, unlike butter. Flavour city. Countertop stable for months. SO GOOD!

The layers are enjoying their summer pasture and since there's only 30 of them now, after renting out the rest, they're quite content in one spot for a few days, as opposed to the daily moves we used to do. Soon enough to new pullets will be here and needing more frequent moves but for now it seems we're all happy with this set up.

The meat birds made the move to pasture a couple weeks ago and have been doing great. It hasn't been without its challenges as the neighbourhood fox and her kits have been about, but after a night of me sleeping in the truck with a gun in the pasture, we tightened up the fence, heated up the fencer, added a second layer of fence around the shelter and knock on wood, have slept mostly pretty soundly since. 
 Wilson has been stewarding some giant pumpkin seeds from his grandfather. He and I built these little tents for them and tonight he covered them with the frost warning in the forecast. Fingers crossed!

We managed a lovely beach day last week and it was exactly what the soul ordered. Low tide on the south shore is the best beach on PEI, hands down. Don't come at me with your north shore beaches, I won't be swayed.

After finger weeding, there were some windrows of couch grass rhizomes gathered at the bottom of the field where the weeder had been lifted. Some of them edged out into the field so we went around and gathered them up with pitchforks. Although we're not scientifically convinced that this physical removal of roots helps reduce the weed pressure, it is so cathartic and satisfying to dump several large tractor bucket fulls into the woods. 

I've been contemplating if people are still reading blogs. It feels to me like it might be a communication method of the past, since I personally only remember to check a blog if it's linked directly from something else. A weekly newsletter might be a solution? I receive a Sunday morning newsletter each week from a local author that basically briefly tells a quick story about a few photos from his phone that week (or from the past). It's become one of my favourite parts of Sunday mornings. Maybe we could do the same? 

Monday, March 30, 2020

Grace in the time of Covid

Some of us have guarded ourselves against this uncertain time with a thick sweater of fear. It’s got a big hood that droops over our eyes and a wide, heavy neck that lets us sink our heads nearly out of sight. Sometimes the fear manifests as anger, indignant condescension or rarely, pure rage.  Rage at folks who so plainly don’t understand the simple rules of staying home and keeping physical distance, or worse, don’t seem to care. 
Classic cable knit sweater illustration by @aj_lim_ -
But if we reach down into the bottom corner of the pocket in that heavy sweater maybe we can find a small thread of grace. 

Grace for the alcoholic whose meetings are cancelled and because he’s older and on a limited income, doesn’t have a computer or internet to participate in the online check-ins with his sponsor.  And for who the stress of being home all day is exacerbating the risk of falling off the wagon without a short chat with a couple of his fellow addicts in a quiet place. 

Grace for the single mom struggling with food insecurity and has a quiet agreement with an overwhelmed farmer with kids at home during planting season who needs her house cleaned in exchange for some vegetables and seedlings. 

Grace for the co-parenting father with his young kids in the grocery store, who has no one to leave them home with. 

Grace for the cashier who forgets to sanitize the counter between customers because her mind is on the lost income of her partner who is home struggling with depression and needs support they can’t afford or access.

Grace for the wife living with an abusive partner for whom that trip to the grocery store is her only real freedom during a time of quarantine and lost income. Grace for her spending too much time perusing the flower section, seemingly in no rush to leave. Grace for her feeling, guiltily, like a hospital stay might be a welcome alternative to the life waiting for her at home. 

Grace for all those who are doing their best with what they know. Guilt-inducing social media posts about the carelessness and ignorance of folks who don’t stay home, who take too long in the stores, who take their kids with them, who don’t achieve appropriate social distancing, who simply don’t do what seems so black and white to you, in your heavy sweater of privilege and fear.

So maybe instead of sharing yet one more opinion on the failures of others or calling the telephone reporting line on a stranger, choose to tug on that small thread, unravel that heavy, fearsome sweater, let it fall away and slowly knit back together a lovely, cozy comforting blanket of humanity, empathy and most importantly, grace. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Hatching and Dispatching Barnyard Organics Style

Need something different in your newsfeed these days? Looking for some real food security and thinking of raising your own chickens? Let us help!

Thursday, January 9, 2020


The idea of ‘hibernation’ is not an uncommon one to hear in the post-holiday time when everyone feels a bit spent (in more ways than one) and in need of a good wintery rest.  And it certainly is a comfortable sort of idea; imagining a roly poly mammal who has eaten a bit extra now cozying down for a couple months of a deep sleep, ready to wake in the spring and start over. For some at this time of year it feels magical and even a little aspirational that a sleep could be so deep and presumably restful. It’s not surprising to see and hear so many wistful references to hibernation at this season, in our society of chronic over-tiredness and rush-rush from one thing to the next. 

While there is value in considering the idea of a human version of hibernating, I wonder if we’re not better suited, in our relatively northern climate to consider vernalization instead. By definition vernalization is: 
"the exposure(artificial or otherwise) of plants (or seeds) to low temperatures in order to stimulate flowering or to enhance seed production."
That is to say, like many wild flowering plants or a winter wheat or rye seed that is planted in the fall, it will produce some lovely ground cover with grassy leaves and then head into the winter for what seems like a certain death.  Yet, come spring, as long as the ice hasn’t been too cruel, they will burst forth with fresh growth and be the first crop to produce a yield come late summer. They are the go-getters of field crop production and are often an organic farmer’s dream, combining the beauty of great cover crop and a low maintenance, low input early-season harvest.
If planted directly, without the vernalization in the spring, there will be some growth, some leaves, but no slender stems and most certainly no seed production. Without that winter rest, the plant produces none of its beauty, does not fulfill its purpose, does not flower or produce anything enduring. 

Hibernation is a sleep and wake. Necessary, yes, but little is different before the rest to after. With vernalization, the act of resting is the mechanism that allows and even forces the flowering to follow. Without the vernalization, we’re merely a spent seed with nothing new to offer. Rather than just a rest for rests sake, perhaps we should rest, recognizing that it not just feels good, but is physically necessary in order to flower the following spring. And not just flower, but produce a bounteous replica of all the good it started with.  

Farmers have been attempting human vernalization since the beginning of agriculture when for most, winter is a season of planning, perusing seed catalogues and pondering equipment purchases. It’s a season of financial analysis, fiscal considerations, invoice gathering and paperwork wrangling. Farmers do not spend the winter merely catching up on the hundreds of hours of Netflix they missed during the growing seasons (although they may do some of that). A good farmer is using these cold days for reflection, analysis, adjustment and preparation for a fresh start. So while they could simply rest, sleep longer and then wake up ready to repeat the following seasons, most farmers are taking the time to adjust and adapt for a more productive or sustainable growing period to come.  

In order to produce and be the selves that we were meant to be, we must slow our roll and find moments of quiet in this darker season. As the wind blows hard against the windows, rather than lamenting what feels like house arrest against the weather, what if we instead hunkered down for an earlier bedtime, but also some moments to consider what our own personal flowering looks like. What does reaching our potential mean to us this year and how will we get there? Setting resolutions, goals and intentions is lovely, but it’s not vernalization until we aim them at our larger purpose. 

The beauty of vernalization is that it repeats. But only if given the chance to rest. 

Image result for vernalization