News & Updates

Winding down the Blog
Friday, December 18, 2015

There have been some long gaps between posts and that is usually a sign that I've started to run out of ideas.  Now that two growing seasons have more or less been had, there is only going to be more repetition.  A different pest, a different gaffe in marketing, but I feel like I know at this point what our farm is about and the general direction it is going (as outlined in the blog to this point).

The idea was that I was going from being an urban kid, whose contact with rural life was limited to an annual day trip to an aunt and uncle's farm and the odd whimsical stop on a trip to another city, to a country dweller.  Well, it would be a stretch to say that I have become a rural person to the core and that the city with its bright lights, freeways, and long list of cultural events in the alternative newspaper's listings is overwhelming to me now.  But I have come to live a mostly rural life.  I spend an evening a week in the city doing errands and maybe staying at the library for a few hours (we still do not have high speed internet access at home).  But most days are on the farm or at my part-time job, which is also rural, agricultural, physical.

We have a couple of sheep now, along with a doe and a buck, who are together with the intent of the doe being bred.  But they are buddies more than awkward breeding companions.  We have a pig and a bunch of chickens that are still laying even as we approach the shortest day of the year.  We have a couple of geese and a drake, they are an odd crew, wandering together, the geese tearing into the grass, which is still sort of growing, the drake digging under it, looking for something with a bit more meat.  It has been an easy start to winter, after two really long and harsh ones.

We began this life thrown into a winter of major snow storms and a long ice mess - challenging circumstances when you have animals in a barn a couple hundred feet from the house.  We have good pictures from that time.  Carrying feed pails as the dog walks alongside, deep snow.

The start was hard - there was a lot of money going out and hobby wages coming in.  There was a lot of shovelling and digging, the effects of which were satisfying, while the effects on my body will probably present in the coming years, unpleasant surprises in my joints and gait.

I've settled into the reality of local food.  I have gone from being wide-eyed, to being outraged at how little seems to be seized in the revolution we are supposed to be having, to being more aware but also more tempered in my frustrations.

I recently attended a lecture entitled "Urban Food Revolution."  It was about the myriad successes of rooftops, hydroponics, SPIN, food hubs, and about the unfortunate realities of food miles, food deserts, food waste.  It was an array of issues I've learned all about.  It was not new, though it would be to some people.

I made myself give the presenter credit for the fact that his portrayal of local food was mostly valid.  It is bound to be a slow, spotty shift to people being more involved in their food and caring more about how it is grown and shipped.  But I would want to add to the discussion that in spite of the many interesting things happening (apparently Telus and Sheraton are mandating that their towers have rooftop gardens - I think I have that right) much of it is cosmetic.  They mostly just feel good.  And look good.  They ruffle few feathers and break few budgets.  Granted, they do provide some meals and maybe even contribute to the needy who still mostly have to rely on processed foods like canned beans and sugar cereals.  The true value of a small sunned space and some soil is hard to appreciate in the world we live in.

Most of the small businesses I know around local food are struggling to make a living, trying everything they can think of - a new farmers market, a storefront, a great new product that no one else has thought of, and it's an uphill battle.

But we are at an alright place:  we now have a year-round weekly market that is working reasonably well for us and giving us a base income to build upon.  We have hosted a few very fun cooking classes and had a good go of growing winter greens in the unheated greenhouse, which has made us more confident that we can maintain a good variety of nutritious foods throughout the year.

Keep abreast of developments on Long Road Eco Farm's Facebook.

The Election Sign
Friday, October 9, 2015

The past few days have been windy and candidate signs are being blown down.  Given our location (we are right on a busy highway at the entry point of the township) we have the opportunity to catch the attention of many if not most of the township's population.

In rural communities - sometimes well off the beaten path - you find houses with hand-painted signs posted on front lawns.  This past summer I passed a house on a back road covered with such signs, all deploring the Ontario sex ed curriculum....a patchworked lament about how it is destroying a generation, etc.

Our sign is simple:

I'm sure many would agree that this has been a nauseating election race, with a few bright spots - there have been many clear-headed insights and stances amidst the sleazy tactics, such as the many voices reminding the voting public that there are more pressing issues than the niqab's place in citizenship ceremonies.

There are, of course, plenty of issues that are being largely ignored.  Health care policies, aboriginal issues and food.

There was a candidate's meeting in Kingston last week on the issue of food security, and it was my chance to see what those running in my riding were like.  In rural ridings like mine, the candidates are not always suave.  One was a bit wooden in his delivery, and mostly reverted to platitudes, one read directly from the party manual in a monotone, one was more seasoned and charismatic, and fairly articulate, one didn't show up (I'm sure I don't need to say which party was the no-show).  The riding will most likely go to the latter candidate.

After the opening remarks and a couple of questions, I had to get up and stretch.  I stepped out of the room, and then stood in the back when I came in.  I wandered over to the banquet tables, where coffee and muffins were set out, and got a drink.  I gazed around the room, picking out the candidates' handlers, mostly in suits (mostly sharper looking than the candidates themselves).

It seemed that the questions all bled together and the responses suggested that there were no bright ideas on how to get more out of our own country's capacity to grow good food and make it available to more people.

This makes people like me second guess my hope for a better food system.  No matter what evidence there is to suggest that big changes in agriculture are necessary to environmental sustainability and the welfare to farmers (consider the idea that currently, crop farmers work off-farm to make up for the losses in their farming venture - essentially subsidizing the large seed and pesticide companies they buy from regardless of their own profitability) no politician with serious prospects of being elected would support anything much outside of the status quo.

These issues well up over time as they are neglected.  Health care becomes less sustainable and slowly sinks into crisis as the population ages.  Aboriginal communities become more alienated from government and less able to trust them.  Food eventually becomes inedible in spite of its abundance.  Farming, already unsustainable for the farmer, becomes phased out as new generations are less willing to swallow the bitter reality of working two jobs for the income of one.  This is where I am reminded of the fact that, although Canadian politics still rolls its eyes at my farm and calls what I do a quaint hobby, its general tenets are really the inevitable direction of food production (small-scale, local and not reliant on large, powerful, litigious companies patenting seed) and something that will continue to take hold and evolve as politicians strategize over their latest niquab issue.

Squash Harvest
Saturday, September 12, 2015

Although today, as I write, it's been raining steadily (it's the first rainy day we have had since the spring I think - though we have had an almost ideal rainfall this year - often overnight or short bursts during the day) yesterday I spent most of the day harvesting squash, weeding the struggling strawberry rows, and setting up beds for greens that will go into the fall and serve the first part of winter CSA shares (before winter sets in and we will use hardy vegetables grown in the greenhouse).  It was a beautiful fall-weather day.  The sun seemed less intense and not as high for as long as I've been used to, and the air was a bit drier andcrisper.  The trees in the forest are still fully green and in their shade it could just as well be spring.

The last couple of weeks of August were hot and humid, and work had become so repetitive and unsatisfying that I got frustrated and morose, even thinking about getting as far away from farming as I could and soon.  The shift in the weather, and seeing the squash patch cleared - and a good abundance in the shed where they'll be left to cure, has shifted something in my mood and outlook.

I welcome fall and winter. Life goes more at a pace that suits me - the hard work of farming is generally satisfying, and one of the things that drew me to it, now that I think about it, is the idea that the pace of life is slower.  (That's not the case in the summer, when we are scrambling to make as much in sales as is possible to offset a slower winter season).  There is no way around the fact that the modern world demands a constant speeding up of life's pace.  The man credited with developing the cell phone was recently on CBC lauding his invention for how it improved productivity and allowed more people to do more things at once.  But it's probably more a mixed blessing.

I have noticed that most of the time since I've been farming, I've felt that this is the pace that is compatible with my own physical and mental functioning.  Life in Calgary in 2005, and life in Toronto in 2012 were both a constant, blurred rush.  I caught a lot of colds, and felt more often than not that I was in a sort of soldiering-on mode.  If there were ways to live a more mellowed life, I couldn't see it.  It's a tall order in 2015, and I think it's something many of us are seeking at the core.

The P Word
Friday, August 14, 2015

Thinking back on the evening, it was like a strange dream.  We were set up at the market, ready to go, when the power failed.  The band cut out and the vendors running cooking devices all looked back to some unspecified spot where power happens, or around for some unspecified person who could make power happen again.

Then, like little ants scurrying, we unplugged cords, tried other outlets, reconfigured our various plug-in arrangements, and slowly, power came back on...first the band came through the speakers and got back into their set.  Then the Indian food vendor went back to frying samosas.  Somehow we were still without power.  We rallied the organizers to find a reliable outlet for us.  There was one strangely set into a tree, about two metres up from the ground.  The cord wouldn't reach.  Then there was another atop a lamppost (again, it was like a strange dream) and that one was out of order, we realized, after climbing a ladder to plug it in.

All the while the band played on, the crock pots a few booths down simmered on, the smell of frying permeated the square.  And yet, there it sat, the little griddle seeking a current.  Throughout the ordeal, we kept telling people they could still take their food home and heat it up themselves, but it was a lost cause.

With an hour left in the market, we shrugged and started slowly stacking our boxes, sitting there. The consensus among our fellow vendors seemed to be that it had been a stellar day.

Driving home, we couldn't help acknowledging that there is something pathetic about the whole business of being market vendors for a living.  Pathetic might be a strong word for some.  Most vendors downplay poor showings at market, saying, "there are good days and bad days," or, "well, had a few new customers so it's all good."  Most jobs have petty sides, boring sides.  Plenty of good, reputable, well-paid jobs have a shady side.

Being in the local food business gives us a certain street cred - when you tell people you have an ecological farm, it sounds wonderful.  But I suspect that when they catch you in the moment of scrambling with the extention cord, flustered, bordering on desperate, the glow dims a bit.

A Third Trip for the Fat
Monday, July 20, 2015

We have learned the hard way that slaughterhouses are places not only of killing, but also of a more mundane kind of shady business. We had been going to a local abbatoir for our pigs until we realized, on our last visit, that they had shorted us by about two dozen pounds of meat – meat that would be sold for $11/lb. It was not a negligeable amount. Though, which cuts were missing, we had no way of knowing for sure. The fat was particularly low, though.

I use fat to make lard for pastry – it is of significantly better quality than Tenderflake, the standard store-shelf lard, which is heavily processed and hardly digestible. Good lard is hard to find – few farmers who keep their own lard have enough to sell, and I don't know where the rest of it goes, but abbatoirs don't seem to have a lot on hand.

We went to another abbatoir further away this last time – in fact, a good hour away, hoping that we would have better luck. Sure enough, upon returning from our second long trip to pick up the meat we had delivered a week previous, we realized the fat we had requested had been left out altgother.

We made the third trip this week.

Since we began farming, we have had no expectation of taking summer vacations, but this was an opportunity to make use of a business trip to enjoy a few hours of leisure before heading back to do afternoon feeding, weeding, strawberry picking, watering, steamed bun making, wood stacking, goat herding, garlic scape picking, and supper.

What a day it was: we got to the abbatoir minutes before they were to close for lunch, picked up the bag of white mass, stuck it in the cooler, and drove back towards the tourist towns of the county, stopping along the highway at a couple of farmgates – little tables set up in some places, others elaborate structures, some stores with proper cash registers.

We took note of the way people interacted, the displays, and the food itself. Generally, there was nothing memorable – cherries, raspberries, a feta and spinach pastry with a waffled surface, a loaf of bread – but it was certainly more satisfying than what we usually accept as road food.

As we were driving on the 401 earlier in the day, I had noticed Denny's after Denny's,  McDonald's after McDonald's, Tim Hortonses everywhere...and asked XB, “isn't it strange that these few companies, owned by a tiny proportion of the population, people who live far away and have never been to Napanee or Picton, are everywhere, absolutely everywhere except for dying towns like ours?”

We headed south at the County's main town, wound along nice two-lane highways, and after a few turns and twenty minutes, arrived at the winery owned by people who vend at one of the farmers market we do.

We were served samples of five wines, and two cheeses, and I, for the first time, noticed interesting flavours and characters in wine.

The little detours brought out an enjoyment that is hard to come by when you have more time and money than you need. There was no time for the squabbles and boredom that happen on extended vacations, nor was there enough spending opportunity on the few stops we made, to feel like money was pouring out.

We bought a bottle of wine and a block of cheese and drove back through the main town, across the lake, and stopped on the native reserve just outside of Deseronto, at a tiny cafe.

We ordered a coffee and a smoothie, browsed some of the native crafts, the bear cream, the wall of aboriginal artists' CDs. The owner invited us to stop out back and see the yard where summer concerts are held, and have a seat in the teepee, drink our drinks in there if we wanted. We sat down, it was comfortable, cooler and nicely shaded.

After a few more minutes by the water, seeing people waterskiing, hearing the buzz of motoboats, and breifly revisiting the Canadian dream, we got back in the car and drove back to the farm.    

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