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It was around the end of November 2012 when the Mr. and I drove out to our old farm field in Yarrow, BC to work on putting things away for the season…only to discover that our faithful little tractor had been stolen from the field in the middle of the night.  Sadly, at that point we were getting relatively used to farm theft…but it still hurt. I cried a few tears and we filed a fairly hopeless police report and started on our insurance claim.

Now up until that point, we had planned to stay farming in Yarrow, BC for a while…moving to Ontario to farm on Patrick’s family land was but a dream, fuelled by desires to have a secure place to farm that we could invest in for the long term. We like to think of the loss of our first little tractor in a more positive light now – a minor farm tragedy that tipped the scales in favour of Ontario. That, and the cute little house we bought in Clarksburg that I had been pining over for a year was still on the market…and far more affordable than any house we could have ever found living in the Lower Mainland in BC.

Over the next few months we made our arrangements to shut down Skeeter Farm, finish up our consulting contracts and say goodbye to family and dear friends. On February 27th we started our great migration half way across the country to begin our farming dreams in the Beaver Valley…

Road trip!
Road trip!
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It’s a good thing she loves us so much.

If you’ve been following along with us since the beginning, you may remember that we took our belated honeymoon in Thailand just before heading off on our migration.

Can't take us anywhere...
Can’t take us anywhere…

While sipping on some soda pops at the beach…we mustered up some farm goals for our first season.

We like goals…should probably get going on writing our 2014 ones. Although we didn’t do everything that we managed to dream up on that beach in Thailand, looking back, I am fairly impressed with the amount that we have accomplished.

To recap, we arrived at the farm in March, managed to get our farm field started from scratch….like clearing brush and witching for water from scratch, and have a full farmers market/CSA season. The farmers market/CSA combo was not a new venture because  we were doing that back in BC…but the whole growing season/weather/frost/snow!/pests/soils/water situation was brand new, and not without its challenges. We also ramped our farmers markets up, way up, from what we were used to. We did a grand total of 54 farmers markets last year between May and October, which was about 42 more markets than we had ever done in a season, and most certainly way too much for one couple to manage in perpetuity. We’ll be scaling back on that for this season.

I feel like the CSA was a success. It was much smaller in terms of shareholders than we have had in the past, but it seems like most of our customers were quite happy with the experience and the produce that they received. In retrospect, I am happy we started smaller and had happy customers, rather than tried to go all out with the CSA in our first year only to have to ration produce. The plan is to scale up the CSA slowly year by year until that aspect of our business matches the revenues we bring in at farmers markets. That is the balance we have had in the past, and despite the structure being somewhat challenging in terms of crop planning on our small farm (generally for markets we have found it’s best to have more quantity over variety and for CSA more variety with just enough quantity so that the shareholders aren’t overwhelmed), we feel more comfortable with a more diversified business.

Week 1: Onions, rainbow chard, kale, basil, spring mix salad, sunflower sprouts, peashoots, cherries and garlic scape pesto.
The very first CSA share to go out the door sometime in mid July

We whole heartedly delved into livestock with the addition of hogs, turkeys and laying hens to the farm in the spring. It would be dishonest if I failed to mentioned that there were moments of panic throughout the season, and that the experience of slaughtering animals that we had shared so many laughs and cuddles with was quite hard and continues to be hard. However, overall, the livestock have been a fantastic and rewarding way for us to round out our farm operation (yay good compost!), provide a break from the occasional monotony of the veggie season and to meet a whole other amazing group of customers who are into buying meat from small farms.

The beauty of a brand new litter of tams and the heartbreak of losing a sweet little babe a day later.
The joy of a brand new litter of tams followed by the heartbreak of losing one sweet little babe a day later.

For this next season, we’re planning to continue with the pasture raised pork, turkeys and eggs and we’ll also be trying out some pastured meat chickens. There are a couple of small bee hives arriving at the farm in spring which we are very excited about.

Back at the beginning of the year we wrote about our goal of finding the farm-life balance that we have been struggling to find since starting to farm six years ago. I am not sure we really moved towards that goal in 2013. This past year felt particularly unbalanced as we were really pushing ourselves to get things up and running. We also ended up taking on a bit of off-farm work in order to finance more of the infrastructure we need at the farm and to keep things running on the home front. I am working part time with an organization that delivers environmental and business programs to farmers and we’re both working on similar consulting work that we thought we had left behind when we left BC…but has found us again. I didn’t think this would be the case, but I am actually really enjoying the balance that more work, and different work brings to our lives. We both enjoy being connected with the broader community through work and for now, it eases our financial stress as we get through the start up years of the farm.

All this work on the farm and elsewhere hasn’t really left much room for play, and at times it can be taxing on our relationship which is very much entwined with our farm and other work…but perhaps that’s just the farmer’s way? I don’t know…we’re still trying to figure that one out.

In all, an amazing year, a crazy year, a hard year, I am glad it happened, but I am happy it’s behind us. Here’s to more news on the blog as things unfold this season.

Thanks for reading and caring.
xo
Amy

Again it’s been forever since posting up here. Last weekend was our final farmers market of the season. Our  CSA program still runs for four more weeks, but we have a lot more free time so expect to see us back in blogging action, catching you up on the events of the season. We went for a lovely fall walk just before Thanksgiving and we thought we would share some photos with you. I am pretty excited about Ontario fall, it’s my first!

-Amy

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The title of this post is a little tidbit of wisdom shared with me by a much more experienced farming friend from BC.

A little history…it was the summer of 2009, which was my first year farming at our old farm. Our friend, who happens to have an awesome pasture raised poultry farm, was headed on his annual family vacation and asked me to take care of his farm for a week or so while they were away. I was thrilled and jumped at the chance to hang out with their hundreds of chickens, turkeys and various other farm animals. I was new to the poultry game, so it took a little bit to get used to the birds and 100 pound bins of feed that I had to tote around, but everything was going great. Until…one night, after spending all day at my desk job, then at my own farm harvesting for the market, then back to his farm to feed the horses and check on the birds, then back to my own farm to finish off harvesting I was finally getting to sleep around 11:30 when the thunder and lightning started. I laid in bed for a bit, listening to the rain pound down on the roof and then the wind howling in the trees…after about 15 minutes, I begrudgingly decided go back out and make sure those silly chickens made it inside the barn (they were allowed free access to the inside and outside all day and night). What I found when I went out was more than just a few soggy chickens… the chicken’s outdoor shelter had been picked up by the wind and had blown up on top of the horse barn! From where I was sitting, the shelter looked fairly mangled, but perhaps salvageable. So after an hour chasing 50 or so wet chickens inside the barn, I climbed up the side of the barn and pushed the shelter back down to the ground. It all ended up being fine…the shelter was easily fixed, no chickens died, and nothing was harmed other than my beauty sleep.

When my friend got home from his trip, I told him about my horrible night  in the storm, along with various other stories about chickens and turkeys escaping from their pastures and he merely shrugged and said “You’ll learn Amy…In farming, there is always a crisis”.

And so, we have learned over time, that this is true. A few (now almost laughable) examples of farm crises of the past…

Having our hoophouse plastic torn off EVERY time Patrick went out of town for the night…resulting in several panicked phone calls between business partners (at our old farm) and several nights off ruined.

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Crap.

Having our tractor stolen, last November, in the middle of the night…never to be seen again. This was quite sad at the time, but we now see it as the event that instigated a whole chain of events that led to us being here in Ontario this season.

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Little Benny was a great tractor!

And more recently…

Putting up our entire hoophouse and then realizing that we forgot the bracing along the bottom – A fix that would require us to unbolt the hoophouse from the anchors, likely stripping the bolts in the process.

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The jury is still out on what we’re going to do about that. I am favouring some kind of improvisation, whereas Pat is considering the proper fix.

Our new walk behind tractor developing a major oil leak (which was quite concerning) on the day that was scheduled for prepping the soil for planting 2000 strawberry plants in the ground (strawberry crowns don’t like to wait around for these type of things).

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This crisis was solved by our friendly BCS dealer. Thank goodness!

And most recently…coming home after Sunday night Mother’s Day dinner in Toronto to discover that our tomatoes that, in addition to being freezing cold due in the May blizzard, were being killed, one by one, by crane fly larvae (a common lawn pest) that had crawled through the pots that had been left and on ground in the hoophouse…and then spending the next two hours picking worms off the remaining plants, still dressed in our Sunday best.

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Delightful little things aren’t they?

These are just a very select few examples of the “crises” that we have come to deal with in our careers as farmers. In fact these little setbacks happen so often, that we don’t really think of them much as crises, but more as ongoing milestones that we must to pass on our way to becoming better at what we do. As time goes on, we are more readily shrugging off the small stuff, learning from our bonehead mistakes, constantly readjusting our priorities based on the needs of the farm at the time and realizing that so much of what happens on a farm on a day to day basis is determined by mother nature.

Don’t get me wrong though, we are certainly not immune to hardship, and there are times when the trials and tribulations of farming have gotten the better of us. In these moments of weakness, it helps to think that however big the crisis seems to be, the plants always tend to grow and are incredibly resilient, the sun will always come out at some point, and that this life we’ve chosen is worth every little bump in the road that we’ve encountered thus far.

With that being said… I am not going to pretend that I didn’t cry a few tears after we finished up 1:30 am last night, only to find that Layla used one of my favourite summer ballet flats as her chew toy while we were out on worm duty.

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Grrr! It’s a good thing we love her so much.

Thanks to you for reading about the less glamourous side of our farm…it helps to know that there are people like you who care 🙂

Until next time,

Amy