Monday, April 24, 2023

When The Opposite of Popular is Depopular.

 Renting hens is far from central to our business, but it is the most profitable thing we do. And even at that, it's not a make or break part of the farm.  But it does fulfill a value I have of promoting food awareness and food security. It brings agriculture to those who would otherwise not know where to start, not have the opportunity. It builds confidence in people to try things like gardening, canning, try other livestock, start to notice the difference in the quality of food. It gets people thinking about the food their food is eating, which is something most people don't do. 

Yes, renting hens is a cute story and a cool side hustle, but last year we opted not to do it because of the new threat of avian flu. 

I had decided that this year, I would give it a go, on a smaller scale. Partly because the demand was SO high and because there haven't been any cases of the flu here in domestic birds. There were lots of wild bird cases in the sea around the Island last year, but none managed to infect the thousands of poultry that live here. So I felt like maybe it was ok to give it a try again. 

Until we had a little visit from someone representing the perspective of the egg producers board. It was a very cordial visit and ended on good terms but it was clear that how we're farming is a threat to the livelihood of others, farming differently.  We're within a couple kilometres of a couple egg farms who would be affected if my farm was affected. Although, similarly for me, should they get it. 

And when I say affected, they could be forced to depopulate (euthanize) their flocks. Same as me, should they get it. Or similarly, if one of my rental hens should get it, it could be decided that my flock is a threat, even if the rental hen is in Souris and then we're all 'depopulating' (what an odd euphemism). 

While renting hens may not be a cornerstone of our farm profitability, making feed is, and that business could be halted if avian flu is found here due to vehicles being unable to move on and off the property. Kind of hard to sell feed if it can't leave the grounds. Let's not even begin to talk about all the folks who come here to get their feed for their backyard hens. 

So here I am stuck between a rock and a hard place. The pressure and risks of avian flu which may or may not happen and the potential to introduce the love to hens to a bunch of new folks this summer and foster a love of real food connection. 

I lean more and more into libertarianism as I get older and if I lived in the states, I'd likely be laughing in the face of something like the egg board, renting more chickens than ever just out of spite. But I want to be a good neighbour. I want to ensure we keep our feed business going. I don't want to feel like a threat to an entire commodity. I also want chickens to live lives outdoors. I want folks to experience cracking a still warm egg for breakfast. I want kids to train a chicken to follow them around. I want folks to ask what's in their chicken feed and care about the answer. 

I can't help but wonder if our egg and chicken industry in North America is so incredibly vulnerable to a disease because we've built it around breeding of chickens that are designed for one purpose and have no ability to cope with exterior threats? So much so that the barns are airtight, light-tight and so biosecure that workers have to change clothes to go in. What a surprise that they might be vulnerable to different pathogens. 

I suspect that Avian Flu will become like Covid is for us now. Always in the background, a real threat to some and less concerning to others. Does it mean I will never rent hens again? I'm sure some would hope that would be the case. 

So what do I do?  Forego the few thousand dollars and share my values in other, less effective ways? Or snub my nose at the 'guidelines' and my neighbours and send my little hens across this sandbar, spreading the chicken love, one feather at a time?

Friday, March 31, 2023

Duplicitous Denny

In college, at the end of the year, we'd have a night called "Drink the Pub Dry" in the name of clearing out the fridges for the season, in the form of cheap liquor. 

In the agricultural debate that the PEI Federation of Ag hosted this week in the run up to the election, I was reminded of that night, for the first time in years. I listened as my premier bragged about the time he approved a Pump the Dunk Dry during a "drought that was as high as it's probably been" for farmers whose irrigation permits had been 'shut off'. He foolishly went on to compare the sprinklers being used in downtown Charlottetown to the watersheds of the potato belt here in "the middle part of the province".

Denny King's own civil servants had to sit in committee and answer questions from concerned MLAs following that decision by the premier, that he was so proud of and those very civil servants agreed, time after time, that it was indeed detrimental to the watershed, it was against the rules and was a bad decision.
Why the needs of a potato crop would be put before the needs of residential wells or the water needs of a livestock farmer would be difficult to fathom anywhere else in the world. But not here in the Potato Republic. Apparently thats exactly the kind of thing that you can be so proud of that it's central to your debate strategy against the other party leaders in a provincial election. 

My main concern is not even the rash decision or the bragging about it. My primary frustration with this scenario is Denny's duplicity. You can be sure that his debate notes (spoiler, he doesn't really have any because he's so condescendingly confident and cocky) for the Environmental Forum didn't mention this wonderful decision he's so pleased to take responsibility for. Pulling from the handbag of tricks of the greasiest politicians of yore, King will say whatever it is that he thinks the people he's talking to want to hear. This was evidenced when he was recorded making statements about the drag and trans community, or even, for heaven's sake, CBC radio! He had to backtrack and pretend that they were out of context and apologize. But we all know that he is that kid in high school, so eager to be voted onto student council, that he'd sell cigarettes to the smokers, while simultaneously helping to draft the petition to get rid of the smoking area with the try-hard kids.

I started this election as a sincerely undecided voter, but it's become increasingly clear to me that the current government has no interest in my opinion, my water security, land use, reforestation or any other number of topics relevant to voters here on PEI. To our faces, maybe, but once we're out of earshot, it's just an eye roll and a shake of the head, a dismissive snort and back to the game of selling PEI and her resources to the highest bidder and the best lobbyist.

PEI is not a pub to be emptied of the old booze, and we're not a bunch of college students, all too eager for cheap drinks that we'll swallow whatever drivel you're feeding us. 

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Questions for Candidates

The Canadian stereotype of politeness is often dismissed by some and certainly there is no shortage of examples to prove otherwise, but I think that Maritimers may be particularly polite, if not downright friendly, as a default. With the provincial election called here on PEI this week, it reminds me that sometimes folks find it hard to strike a balance between polite and assertive when party candidates show up at their door. 

I've only ever had one politician come to our house and it was years ago, when nitrate levels were the topic du jour, particularly in our potato belt district. This particular politician tried to convince me that what had been overlooked in all the hullabaloo about fertilizers, was graveyards and the amount of nitrates coming from decaying bodies. Needless to say he did not get my vote and he remains a household joke to this day. 

Here are the nominated candidates running in the P.E.I. election | CBC News

Mark's family are not overtly political, unlike my roots. So I expected to have more politicians arrive through the years, vying for my/our affection. Then I made the move of outwardly supporting one party, which likely quashed any chances for candidate visits. *sigh*

But this year! This year, I'm a clean slate, a truly undecided voter. I'm certainly leaning but its not definitive like other years, so I'm hopeful for a door knock and an opportunity to be swayed. To prepare, I've made myself a list of topics from which I'd like to hear candidates' thoughts and figured maybe other polite Islanders might find useful as a reference.

  • If you could pick two main priorities for yourself as a candidate and also for your party as a whole, what do you think they would be?
  • How do you spend your leisure time?
  • If you had a significant surplus, can you think of a better way to spend it than to give everyone making less than $100,000, a $500 bonus at tax time? (hint, the answer should be yes)
  • Deforestation is a major concern of mine and there seems to be very little willingness to wade into the topic by government. What do you think should be done to address deforestation in the province? What can be done to encourage diverse plantings of native species on available land? Are you aware of the impacts of deforestation on a region and the greater community?
  • Just what the heck is going on with the GEBIS and the land down in Kings County anyway? The whole thing is shady and I want to know what your party has planned to address the issue of land limits and those who are skirting them with loopholes.  This includes the Irvings. If your party is elected, how would you address conflicts of interest in land sales when currently final approval comes from Executive Council?
  • On a related topic, how do you feel about the water use legislation and the permitting process for new irrigation wells? What is your party planning for water conservation going forward? Does your party have anything in the platform regarding water use in this province?
  • What's your take on the rent control situation here on PEI? Has it been fair to both renters and landlords do you think? How could we do better?

  • This one is particularly for the incumbent candidate but regarding health care, it was nice to see some ideas and plans in the platform but why were these held off until an election?  They seem like ideas that should have been implemented a year ago when it became clear that we were headed for disaster. Why wait until now and why should I believe that you'll implement anything now and not just decide to wait until the next time you need votes? 
  • And if it's an opposition candidate, what are you most proud of from your party in the last term?
That would probably take as much time as they could give me for that day, and the answers to the first couple might tell me everything I need to know to form an opinion. 

Feel free to make use of these questions when you get a knock at the door!  This might be the only time you ever hear from your representative so you might as well make it count now!

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Let the Games Begin

I've been spending the last few days trying to figure out why I haven't been reading commentaries like the one I'm about the make.  Is there some risk to one's social license? Is it politically dangerous or unpopular? There must be some reason because surely I am not the only one critical of the current wave of temporary green and blue garbage covering the Island in the name of the Canada Games. 

In a province crumbling under a health care crisis, dealing with their first real experience of a significant community of folks suffering from homelessness, still very much in recovery from a hurricane and shaking off the weights of pandemic restrictions, it is truly astounding that no opposition politician is asking a single question regarding the budget for the Games and how any (inevitable) overages will be managed. 

Tickets for P.E.I.'s Canada Games selling well, say officials | CBC News

One oil truck driver claimed that he has been dispatched to the nordic trails every day since November, to fuel up a generator for a snow-making machine, which made the snow onto a wagon that hauled it into the woods by a Games-purchased tractor, only to melt over the following days. Like some kind of manic, oblivious manifesting would keep this mild winter at bay and continuing to throw money at the problem would solve Mother Nature's shortfalls in the snow department. 

That is but ONE tiny part of this massive undertaking, so lauded as the saviour to the local economy. A local economy that is seeing a VERY significant portion of its population gone to the tropics, taking advantage of the unnecessary extra week of holidays as a result of the Games.

But my questions about foolish choices and over-spending are nothing compared to the shock I'm experiencing from the lack of empathy or consideration for the folks hardest hit by this whole show of fiscal foolishness. Working parents who cannot afford to take one or two week's vacation and must now find child care that they also cannot afford for the extra time their kids have off school. And those lower and middle income kids for whom even the $10 entry fee to any of the events is cost prohibitive.

So essentially, we've asked the folks who are already hurting, to take on just a little extra financial stress in the name of the goddamned Games, that are not even accessible to them. 

Perhaps the thing that irks me most, is that rather than standing up and giving me a hint that any of the politicians share even one of my concerns, they're all too eager to get big toothy photo ops with the Games mascot, Wowkwis, causing one to wonder which has more stuffing in their head. With the writ expected to be dropped before the green and blue banners have even been taken down, or the jackets taken to the Value Village bin, there is a drunken energy in the air around any incumbent, no matter the colour. The tone-deafness of politicians celebrating about taking in multiple events, during most people's working hours while for many families, even one event would exceed the entertainment budget of many households, rather than taking the opportunity to take the government to task is a bit of a shock. 

If I have to see one more picture of a local politician with their arms around that fuzzy, big-headed fox, grinning like fools, expecting that their enthusiasm for this show of money and mismanagement will impress me, they can Wowkwis me arse.

Edna Flood - Chief Operating Officer - 2023 Canada Winter Games | LinkedIn

Friday, February 3, 2023

Extreme Cold Prep

 Frigid. Arctic. Extreme cold.  Whatever you want to call it, the weather is finally doing what it's supposed to be doing, which is to say, getting cold. Perhaps a bit colder than we'd all like and maybe for not quite as long as the traditional "two-week cold snap" we often encounter in January or February but at least this winter we're going to get temperatures cold enough to hopefully give some of those summertime pests a dent. Last year's mosquitos seemed more numerous and voracious than I ever remember (do I say that every year?) and I attributed it to the too-mild winter. So I'm hoping that when I'm walking out to water the bull on Saturday morning in -50 degree, 100km/hr winds, I'll remember those August nights of mosquito swarms while I shut in the hens. 

The curls on Beowulf, the Belted Bull. Doesn't he have the best head?

I know the Galloway cattle are better prepared than most for cold temperatures. Their ears are covered in long, shaggy hair and they've got curls for days all over their heads.  Their thick coat is lush, they're pretty fat and they've got pretty stellar instincts.  Combined with the barn I shouldn't think twice, but of course I worry and wonder if there's more I should do. One of the girls seems to have shed some of her ear hair and I know when I'm laying in bed on Saturday night I'll be wondering about her ears. Oh #13, I hope you snuggle up close with #16 who seems blessed with especially long hair. 

We've had to designate one cattle barn as beef and the other as dairy, which is hilarious, given that only one inhabitant produces milk but "the cow barn" was leading to far too much miscommunication in a relationship that already has its fair share of communication mishaps.

Anyway, the dairy barn is housing the beef heifers while they are weaned, along with Petunia, and their door is to the west so we're planning to shut it once things start to really cool off but the heifers have never really been in a barn, and are still a little worked up about the weaning so I hope they appreciate the warmth more than they're stressed about being shut in. 

The other animals of concern are the hens, who will hopefully avoid any frostbitten combs. We put plastic over their windows and made alternative watering arrangements for when it inevitably freezes up. I'll give them some cracked corn the next couple evenings to warm them up from the inside out while they sleep and try to gather the eggs every hour or so in the mornings. 

Other than that, I'll be curious to see if Hagrid, the maremma opts to head to the barn at night. He so loves the cold and snow that it's so rare to see him choose the indoors, but Lennox, the Australian shepherd has been sleeping in the barn at night for a few weeks now. 

As for me, I'm off to NB to pick up our bacon and hams and sausage from our favourite butcher and tuck in with my parents in what we jokingly are calling the hottest place on earth, which is my Mom's kitchen with her sweltering wood stove working overtime at all times. Mark is going to hold down the fort, on pipe duty and Lucy is going to be on egg gathering and animal watering. 

In unrelated news, I have been having a horrible week on the board game/card game front. I have lost miserably and I don't just mean not first. I mean, I've been bringing up the rear in the score of a 5 person game! I am not accustomed to this, nor comfortable with it.  Last night after losing badly in Carcasonne, I insisted on Five Crowns, which I promptly lost as well by 200 points. I was tempted to insist on one more game of something in an attempt at redemption, but opted instead to go to bed, knowing if I lost another one I'd hardly be able to sleep.  Ugh. Tonight is hockey, so let's hope my losing streak doesn't translate to the ice!

I'm trying to think about what my future self might want to read and I think they will feel like I'm already stretching it with board game stats, so I'll sign off for now. 

May this find you putting up your thermal curtains and digging out your heaviest quilts and looking forward to the hunkering down.


Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Dear Past Sally, thank you!

 I've been struggling in this new year to really settle into my goal of reducing my use of social media in favour of working towards my goals of writing more, reading more, playing more guitar and just generally being more present in the now. That subtle addiction to short, intriguing Instagram posts and videos is unbelievably powerful. 

After making an action plan for how to combat that omnipresent pull to pick up my phone, I decided to check out some old blog posts. when I used to share farm and family stories weekly, or even more frequently. Seems like 2010 was a banner year for posts on For the Love of the Soil and this post from October had me simultaneously laughing and incredulous that I have very little memory of the life detailed within.  I know my house was fairly chaotic at that time and it's inevitable with little kids that things will be unruly, but I am so thankful that I documented all of it!

And thankfully, re-reading those old posts has inspired me to take back up the sharing of stories from the Barnyard. They're decent reading, but more than anything are an invaluable snapshot of life that I am so thankful to have to look back on.  Future Sally will inevitably love these posts as much as current Sally is enjoying the old ones. 

So here's a start:

Last week I picked up our pork and beef from our favourite butcher shop. Our three pigs, Destiny's Child, and Thor, the jersey steer came back in banana boxes and the 6 of us worked hard to get them all vac-packed and in the freezer quickly.  That large vac-packer was probably overkill for the CSA at the time, but it's been incredibly useful, however infrequently. That said, I think I'd like to try wrapping some things in butcher paper next year. The roasts, and chops with bones don't do so hot with the vac-packer, often puncturing the bags and missing the point. 

What a blessing and glorious fruit of our labour to have the freezers full of the meat we raised! 

(No, we're not selling any.  Seems we 6 humans eat an awful lot!)

We FINALLY got some snow after what felt like a never-ending mud season in January of all months! It wasn't a HUGE dump or a terribly nasty storm, but there's enough to cover the fields and make some drifts. The kids have been taking advantage of two snow days off school to wear the bottom off one of their (expensive) LL Bean snow tubes but hauling it behind the four wheeler and seeing how many of three can stay on while the fourth tries to whip them off by doing donuts.  Lucy hit the frozen, heavy concrete planter by the front step hard enough to knock it over, so they're getting velocity and momentum!

The Belties are doing great and thoroughly enjoy their barn.  One of the OGs, #25, came into heat late last week, but by the time we managed to get her in with the bull, we had missed the heat, so it's on the calendar for next month.  I was torn about breeding her now as it'll mess a bit with the schedule for next year, but it seems more prudent to have her calf in October than let her get too fat all summer on grass, only to get bred in September.  

I'm trying to take the positive out of this situation, which is to say that I THINK she's the only one who came into heat, which hopefully means that Beowulf, our bull, did in fact manage to breed the rest of the herd. 

We castrated the little bull calf that arrived on New Years, Buster, which was a bit sad, given that he is purebred to fancy genetics, but my management capacity can't at this point manage two bulls with the mere hope of selling him as breeding stock. (That's one thing I was stunned at reading my old blogs. It seems we had unlimited optimism and confidence as younger farmers! Breeding sheep, getting a dairy cow for the first time, purchasing extra chickens, making first-time dairy products, all with multiple babies underfoot and almost no experience with any of it!  I don't read much doubt or worry in any of the posts. Just a wide-eyed wonder and enthusiasm that seems to have more-than carried over any hardships. While I don't feel "old" I think that is a defining characteristic.  Am I overthinking it all now or was I under thinking it all then? Good on ya young folks, you're what makes things tick along at break-neck pace!). So all that to say, Buster will likely be our first taste of Barnyard Organics beef at some point in a couple years!

Mark's new blue tractor is meeting all expectations and making him a very happy farmer. There's some talk about PTO problems or implements not matching the power of the tractor or some such thing, but generally things seem to be working fine.  Here's to optimism for planting season!

Our farm hand, Browen, is away for the month of February, which adds some challenges in some ways, but also reduces Mark's mental load in ensuring valuable work for someone else. It also means I'll have to step up to be the feed miller more reliably, which is fine. 

The kids are well. I'm really enjoying raising teenagers (which is incidentally the mantra I repeat when Lucy is particularly difficult to deal with). 

I don't want to risk losing my audience (is anyone even out there?) too soon so I won't go on with further details just now, and I have to get out and make sure my bull has water on this chilly morning but I'm thrilled to be back! Stretching these particular writing muscles feels like a deep, delicious yoga I'd almost forgotten. 

May this find you feeling some winter sun on your face and crunchy snow under your feet!


Thursday, January 12, 2023

Eating Each Other's Food

Our household isn’t growing by numbers anymore, but our collective appetite is in a stage of exponential growth and one I expect to continue for a few years yet. Mark and I are not small people and neither are our offspring and we all love to eat. We acknowledge, nearly daily, how lucky we are to be able to raise and eat the food we do. We say the name of the animal and the part we’re eating, we talk about the farmer who grew the veggies, or the country from which some exotic ingredient came. We’ll research how something we’re not familiar with grows, how it might be harvested, how it gets to us. We’ll marvel over the colour and stain of a pickled beet, the yellowness of creamy, summer butter, the orange brightness of egg yolks from pastured hens and the flavour of the milk when the cow moves to fresh clover. We’ll all give a new cheese a deep whiff, gently poke at rising bread, nip some chilling cookie dough from the fridge and crunch into a sweet, cold carrot from the winter storage, gripping it with a mittened hand as we make our way back to the house with a bunch for supper.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t get in a rut and tired of cooking. Some days, especially if I haven’t prepared anything in advance, it feels like drudgery and I start to resent this part of my job. I’ll mutter to myself about time wasting and hastily throw together a meal of relative convenience that checks bare-minimum boxes of completion and nutrition, but is hardly inspired or inspiring. Like, who decided that rather than just eat wheat, we should have to grind it up, make flour and then turn that flour into arduous pasta, or pie crusts, or bread or crackers. Why do we go to such lengths to put together some elaborate cream sauce when we could just eat some garlic, drink some milk, chew some herbs and save all the time and effort?


So this year, with my usual new years resolution gusto, I decided I wanted to avoid those occasional resentful moments in my kitchen. And I got to thinking about an idea I heard a couple years ago that suggests that at the most basic level, our entire purpose here, as humans on earth is to eat each other’s food. 
We might have grand ideas about the change we’re making in the world, or the importance of our careers, our goals, etc. But at the foundation of it all, at our very core as part of humanity, we’re here to be a member of a larger community and within that community, we eat. 
Why not make it awesome? Why not perfect that favourite sauce, why not make the fluffiest pancakes, use the sweetest cream from a cow on alfalfa pastures, find the best variety of corn for our garden soil, explore new flavours and interesting ingredients? 
When I’m able to think about it in that context, I start to think that we’ve actually been tricked into thinking cooking is drudgery and the kitchen is a jail cell. It’s easier for the profits of food companies if we think that so that we’ll buy more convenience foods, we’ll rely more on others to keep us fed so we have less control over what we eat and how it’s made. If we believe the lie that food is complicated, expensive and better left to someone else, we’ve missed the entire point of being here. 
To eat each other’s food.

to be continued...