Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Dawn 'til Dusk

One can't complain about working from dawn 'til dusk when you get to see this!

One of the things I love and missed most about Manitoba is the big sky.  It's something that you can't properly describe or explain until someone sees it.  The flat prairie acts as a foil and makes it seem like the sky just goes on and on and on.  You can watch a storm coming for miles and miles -- Or, as Paul says, "You can watch your dog run away for days!"

Give me the prairies over the seaside or the mountains any day.  I'm a prairie girl!

Jon just headed out the door to start his first day at his new job.  He's never aspired to be a feed mill warehouse supervisor, but we are hoping he enjoys it and it works for him.  He's disappointed that he won't be growing anything or working with plants, but I am jealous because he'll get to meet all the farmers in the area! 
It's a little piece of continuity-- my Mom, Aunty Jayne and Uncle Calvin all worked at Feed-Rite when they were younger than I am now, Calvin moved up in the company and had a long career there, which ironically led to him hiring Dale, who hired Jon.  It's all a big circle!

The farm looks great right now.  As of Friday at 9 am, I believe it is officially ours.  The lawyers still have to do some stuff - complicated, expensive lawyer stuff - so I'm not sure about all that, but I have gotten insurance.  Can't be without insurance, that much is clear to me!

Auntie Joan had a good note on ownership.  We don't feel any different now that the farm is "ours" versus when it was Sherman's.  Joan says: "I think the natives are right on this issue.   We don’t really own anything here.   I feel like that with my Italian violin.  We are only stewards for awhile and one tries to look after it as well as possible."  That's definitely exactly how I feel.  We will look after this piece of land for a while the best we can so it can continue into the future.  We're just one piece of it's long history, and grateful that we had some overlap and could get to know the family who looked after it before us.

We bought a ride on lawnmower from Patmore's, which is more powerful than the one we were borrowing.  It feels good to have our own things again.  We also bought a greenhouse that we will put up... sometime.  It needs to be taken down and so I'm not sure when Jon will fit that in.  He's done it before, thank goodness, so knows the process.  LABEL EVERYTHING! 

So, we keep rollin' along.  Mom and Dad are attending a wedding this weekend in Banff and so I'm on my own and looking forward to it!  I wish we could do something fun for Canada Day, but I need to tend the greenhouse and weed the onions.  Been working dawn until dusk and thriving on it.  It feels like we're finally kicking the weeds' butts, but give it 2 days and they'll be ahead again. 

Bye for now!

Teri :)

Sunday, June 26, 2016

So punny shower card

The barracudas commissioned me to make this card for my cousin's fiancee's shower that we are attending today.  They told me a month ago, but it's been a busy month and especially the past 2 weeks, so of course I left it until the absolute last second.  Got up early this morning and started in the dark because our power is out-- just came on a couple hours ago.  Somehow pulled this gem outta my butt -- I even amaze myself sometimes!

Last night we attending a staff wake for Patmore's, which was fun!  So many great people are/were a part of that business.  We bought one of the greenhouses, a ride on mower, and a few other items from Marci, which will be a great addition to our farm, and we are honored to continue growing in one of the greenhouses that were on the property-- you know me and continuity and history!

Yesterday at the market I finally met Darby, Sherman's grand daughter who lived in the house prior to us.  We've connected through facebook, but it was awesome to meet her in person! 

Pails and crates everywhere at Mom's... Sigh...!
We had a big wind storm Friday night (100 km/hr + gusts) and so there are trees down all over the farm.  Jon is going to start cutting them up today.  There was one across the driveway, but luckily there was an alternate route out yesterday as I had to leave extra early for market so I could shower and coffee at Mom's.  Our power was out for a little over 24 hours.  Dad and I came over yesterday afternoon to check the tunnel (totally fine), cut some trees off the lines, and feed the cat and collect eggs.  I worry so much about the place when I'm not here, especially in big winds or other weather events.  5 miles away, a neighbour's barn burned down on Thursday night.  The smell of it brings all the memories of our fire flooding back.  However, we are so over it.  It feels like life just had to clear out some shit to make room for a bunch of good stuff.  Everything has been just ticking along spectacularly since June hit, and I couldn't be happier!

On that note, I had a moment the other day when I thought: "savour these moments, this is a time you're going to look back on and think 'Man, like was sweet then!'"  All too often it's only something we realize in hindsight.  I think back to when my Auntie Joan stayed with us this spring, when we had all our buildings and Jon and I were working together at Patmore's most days, and we had a 9 - 5 schedule.  Man, life was sweet then!  It was only a couple months ago, but now Joan is back in the NL, the buildings are gone, Patmore's is closing, and the days of 9 - 5 are only a vague memory in our hectic schedules where we barely see each other.  But despite lots of changes, life is pretty darn sweet right now!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Over the hill

Yesterday was the longest day of the year, so that means the days now start getting shorter and more reasonable.  The work and the day length don't match in our business.  Now, we have light until 11 but we can usually wrap up all the tasks by 9 pm.  In August, we work from the moment the sun cracks over the horizon until I consider getting my headlamp because it's too dark to see.  I would give anything to have light until 11 in August!

I've been wanting to write for a while but haven't gotten to it.  Since I was driving home last Thursday night, floating on a high of having a really organized and awesome day getting ready for the market with the farm team.  And then, all of a sudden, a huge owl crossed my path just before I turned into the driveway.  He looked back at me with his creepy owl face as I slammed on the brakes to look at him.

We hear owls all the time, but I've only seen them about 6 times in my life, always at moments of transition or big changes.  When I see them, I feel that I am on the right path.  I'm SO not superstitious, and I pride myself, Richard Dawkins' style, on being a proud athiest.  So, I joke that owls are my spirit animal and don't really believe it, but take sightings as a reminder to reflect on where I'm at and where I'm going.  Earlier that same week, Sherman visited and brought me a beautiful vase in the shape of an owl.  He doesn't know that I love owls.  Synchronicity!

So, where I'm at: Things are rolling along so smoothly right now!  I am LOVING leading a farm team and didn't realize how much I missed managing people until I had some employees/volunteers on the farm.  It's so inspiring to me to get to know people, discover their strengths and figure out how to make the best of their talents.  I am also really looking forward to mentoring our younger staff who are new to the working world.  I credit so much of my success to my parent's work ethic and my first working experience at McDonald's, where I learned how to meet expectations and stay busy all the time.

Monday's egg harvest.  Nest boxes are working!
We had an excellent Thursday harvest day and I was home before dark.  BEFORE DARK!!  Liz and Janelle and I attacked the weeds yesterday and Andrea and I will do the same today.  Dad and I got all the cultivating and discing done, and I even changed the implement all by myself.  Sherman and Sheri visited to see the wreckage last Sunday and we had such a nice visit.  The peas are going to be ready in a few days, a few weeks ahead of schedule due to early planting and a new variety we tried this year.  The eggs are coming out SO CLEAN!!  Look!! >>
(this means no washing eggs, which is a horrible task that I am so glad to not have to do!)
Jon and I are moving forward on making a new deal for the property, so headed to the lawyers' today.

I met some of the members of the extended Frank family last week at the market, and that evening they all got together and tasted my mead, made with Geoff's recipe. Connection and history are so important to me.  It is SO COOL that Sam and I have connected and she is coming to work on the farm this year.  She is the great-niece of our neighbour Jim, whom the mead making was started for.  Dad and I intended to share it with him when the batch was finished, and reminisce about times with his uncle Geoff.  Jim was tragically killed in a car accident just before Christmas, he was our favourite neighbour, and so we are thrilled to have connected with more of the family.  Sam is the sweetest and sent me this photo, along with an email that I couldn't get through reading aloud to Jon without tearing up!  Her Mom Pam also sent a nice note, and so we have some new wonderful people in our lives!

We had a banner day at the Lady of the Lake market on Friday, the first of the season.  We had more product than ever before at the start of the season, and so many customers!  However, we were mega early so as to be prepared, there was never a lineup more than 2 deep, debit went over very well and we sold 7x more than our first market last year!  We were blown away, ran out of a lot of things, and had to go home and harvest more, which is not something we can complain about.  We are so thrilled that Brandon is so supportive of us.  Then yesterday, a customer called just to tell Mom how good the salad mix is!

On a less happy note, last week we also found out that Patmore's is closing and so Jon's job ends very soon.  After 4 years of struggling to get the business back to it's glory and much financial burden and stress, Marci and Dale sold the property which was bought by a car dealership.  So, Patmore's as a business will not even continue after 133 years.  After hearing all season about people coming in, asking their questions, and then proceeding to the Walmart garden centre, it doesn't come as a huge surprise.
The level of disrespect culminated in shoppers being lined up for 2 hours when the sale started on Saturday.  Lots of people "have lived in Brandon 18 years and never shopped here" and decided to come pick at the corpse.  It's human nature, but it makes my blood boil and I don't want any part of it.  Jon and I decided not to partake, though he did bring home a dogwood that he's been admiring all season that he was feeling sorry for after nobody bought it all weekend.  I love my husband so much!!  That he feels sorry for a bush and brings it home, he does the same with fish and stray cats.  We are fortunate to have a few trees and shrubs now on our property from this historic business, and will remember the nice time Jon had working there.  We are buying one of their greenhouses also.

Jon has been offered a new job which pays the same and also has benefits, so we will pull through this ok.

If there's one thing I've learned in the bumpy past 2 months, it's not to get too attached to anything because things are changing all the time and that's the only thing you can really count on.  Sometimes all your shit has to burn down and your husband lose his job for things to get better.

A very wise woman with lots of integrity and strength shared this quotation with me yesterday:
"We must let go of the life we have planned so as to accept the life that is waiting for us"
- Joseph Campbell

So, yeah,  Life is good and we are rollin' along pretty smoothly.  Not sleeping or eating enough but getting lots done and lots of fresh air!  We are in a pretty sweet place right now and looking forward to where things are going!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Bad ass, kick ass, lady farmers

Things have been rolling along so smoothly lately, highlighted by the month of May where everything seemed to be falling apart.  May 2016 just plain SUCKED, and we got through it.  June has been amazing!  I love working with people and teaching them and showing them things and sharing the farm with them.  My real talent in life is managing people, I love it and I love the relationships that form through it.

We've been working with Andrea, who was working as a cook at Remington's and so is now in between cooking jobs and volunteering with us for a few weeks to learn more about growing vegetables.  She and I have lots in common and a similar sense of humour, so we've been having lots of fun and getting tons of shit done.  It's incredible how much more you can get done with two hands.  We've been weeding and cleaning and seeding and harvesting and packing in warp speed all month.  It's awesome!!

Janelle has also joined the farm team, part time in the evenings after her day job.  Last night she and I weeded about 1/2 an acre of potatoes with our stirrup hoes and taking turns on the wheel hoe, in 2-1/2 hours.  She's 9 years younger than me and so I'm feeling my age today... Or maybe like a 60 year old!  She's a tough farm girl and so has run tractors and done lots of hard work, you can tell immediately.  A great person to have on the team!

Liz is working a couple days a week.  Her day job is on the computer so she likes the change and being outside and active.  She has a passion for gardening and lots of ideas for us, and she approaches the work with a respect and care that I really appreciate.  I've only worked with Liz one day but I look forward to seeing her again this week!

Brianna's work permit arrived yesterday.  She is 14 and will work 4 days a week in the summer, weeding and picking and packing.  We had to get a work permit because she is under 16 and it was no big deal at all.  Brianna has very supportive parents who will transport her to work each day, and we're so glad to have her!  She says she likes picking cucumbers... We'll see if she still likes it by the end of the summer!

Sam is the great niece of our neighbour Jim who passed away in December.  She has been working at Patmore's and I could tell she was a keeper, so as she is getting laid off the end of the month I snagged her in the parking lot after work last Saturday.  She's stoked and I just know she'll be a great fit for us.

Fran is continuing to volunteer with us on Thursdays getting ready for market, which will be fun and super helpful as she already knows some of our systems.  She also helped me with the Employee Handbook because she is an HR expert.  Amazing!!

We also have Jacey, who won't be starting until August but who is also a chef and will help fill in the later season gaps when everyone goes back to school.  Thank goodness!!  She's been helping create some recipes to share with the Veggie Lovers' which is a huge help.  Jacey is sweet and funny and I am looking forward to working with her!

So, it's not what I intended, but we are an all-woman farm team at Mom's place this year.  We can't forget Jon and all his hard work getting our place going.  He's been tending the tunnel like it's a living thing (it pretty much is), and looking after the field crops and even doing some improvements to the property.  Like yesterday, he cut down the ugly shitty chokecherry mess at the corner of the driveway.  It was covered with black knot and overhanging the driveway.  Now we have the corner clear it looks so much tidier and you can see the chicken coop from the house, which is so awesome!!

June has brought real, hard work.  May wasn't as busy and so I fell off my schedule and lost my momentum a bit.  The harder I work, the harder I can work, the harder I want to work.  After kicking those potatoes' ass last night, I awoke this morning at 4:30 ready to kick today's ass too.  And that's what it's all about - kicking each days' ass as hard as you can and getting as much done as possible.  It's the time of year when I can actually get through my ambitious to-do lists if I try really, really hard, so I do and it puts us in a better place exponentially later in the season.

It's funny, the work this time of year reflects that, too. For instance: We've been squishing adult over-wintered Colorado potato beetles in the potato patch.  They are laying eggs and having lots of beetle sex.  I keep telling the gals, every beetle we squish now is one less beetle to lay eggs and then those hatch and lay eggs and then we're infested.  It's stupid work squishing bugs, but we have made a huge difference and haven't seen any larvae yet.  So, every thing I organize or set up in June, every weed we pull is exponentially less that we'll have to do later in the season.  Every ounce of energy I devote to training the farm team pays back when we have a solid hard working functional team later in the season when we are so busy we can't spend that individual time with each team member showing them how things are done.

So, rah rah for June and work that pays off exponentially!  It's very satisfying, especially when you have hard working people to share the work.  I never wanted an all woman team, and I don't want our farm to turn into a feminist farm.  That's the opposite of what I want.  We can acknowledge that we are all women, but drawing huge attention to the fact that we are an all-woman farm team seems like the opposite of feminist empowerment to me.  Yeah, we're all gals.  So what??  Why is that of more note than if we weren't?  I tried to hire men and they didn't work out.  So, thank goodness for all the strong, hard working women that we have connected with.  We are going to have an excellent season together!!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

2 Year Anniversary

Two years ago today we got married in Nova Scotia.  It truly was the "Best Day Ever" and we remember it vividly, though it went by so fast!  So many wonderful and amazing people made it out for our special day and we'll always remember it.

After the wedding we took a week long family trip to PEI with Jon's sisters and their families.  The year we got married we did a project growing salad mix with the farm we worked at.  On August 10th, an orange kitten appeared in the field and we kept him - Samson!  At the beginning of September I changed jobs and worked for the winter with Andrew Bishop, who became a great mentor for me.  In March of 2015, we assessed our life and our goals and decided to move to Manitoba to join my Mom's business Brown Sugar Produce.  We arrived in May 2015 and hit the ground running, having the best year ever on the farm and many successes.  We moved into a farm property 25 minutes away and began setting down roots at our dream farm.  In April of this year our strength was tested when our buildings burned down and we learned so much about ourselves and each other as we battled our way through a tough situation and came out the other side as better people.

It's been a memorable 2 years and I feel like we've made real progress on our goals.  Our dream to have our own farm is a reality and we are part of a successful business which is a huge help as we move things forward.  We get to dream more than ever now as we plan the new building that we will put up this year.

If you asked me 4 years ago why I quit my well-paying and perfectly acceptable job running an organic fresh department at an independent grocery chain, I would have said we were chasing a lifestyle where we could put our hard work and efforts towards something that we are passionate about.  Our dreams are not unreasonable.  We want to grow healthy delicious vegetables, raise a few animals for our own use, and spend each day working together outdoors and running a successful business and growing our local food community.  I used to describe it as "waking up each day and doing stuff", and if you use that description we've achieved that!  Today (when Jon wakes up, one of us has a penchant for waking up at 5 am and blogging!), we will spend the day together "doing stuff".  The "stuff" consists of things we need to do, things we want to do, and things we have to do -- "Stuff" required to keep the farm ticking along.  The list today includes cleaning the porch and kitchen, doing laundry, cleaning out an old barn that is going to be torn down and salvaging useable contents, weeding the garlic, checking the tunnel, tending the hens and rabbits, planting a tree, watering the flowers, harvesting stinging nettle and drying it, a trip to the hardware store, and an errand to pick wild ladyslippers.  Sounds like a banner of a day to me, and I'd rather spend the day at the farm labouring with my husband than anywhere else on earth!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

5 years, 5 photos

First Date June 2011 Calgary
Jon and I celebrate 2 years of marriage on Tuesday, as well as 5 years of putting up with each other.  Here's a photo from every year we've been together!  Above is our first date.  I was recently single and Jon invited me to a charity benefit that the company we worked for had donated to.  Shortly before going I realized it was not a work related invite, so I confronted Jon about it (of course I did, lol), and the rest is history!
Driving to Nova Scotia February 2012 (Thunder Bay)
 Here we are at Jon's friend Michael Hunt's property near Thunder Bay.  We were on our way to Nova Scotia and on about day 3 of the journey.  Julie made the best vegetarian pizza ever that night!  We spent a couple weeks driving out and visited lots of people. 
Below: We came home to Calgary and Manitoba for Christmas in 2013.  It was one of only 2 times each we were able to visit when we lived out East.  We had an amazing trip and wished we could do it more often!
Home for Christmas December 2013 Calgary

Wedding Day (looks like it should have been weeding day instead) June 7, 2014 Port Williams Nova Scotia
 I hope some day people are like "what is this all about??" with the above photo.  It cracks me up.  The long story is that Jon and I did a salad growing project on the side that year, but if you don't know that it looks like us holding hands over lettuce... Because we ARE!!  Lol.  Spent a lot of time in this field that year so I'm actually really glad we have this photo.  Also, weirdest thing ever: this is literally within feet of the spot where we first met Samson.  It was fate!!
July 2015 - Elton, Manitoba
Here we are working in the field after moving to Manitoba in May 2015. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

What is a Barn?

Of course I know what a barn is, but I've been thinking a lot lately about what a barn is functionally.  The photo above is a barn.  A beautiful one that was used to house dairy cows a long time (50+) years ago.  For that purpose it had concrete staunchons and a huge beautiful hayloft.
What does Wikipedia say about barns?
A barn is a structure, and it's a "barn" based on the purpose it is used for.  Being beautiful and historic is nice, but at that point it becomes less about function and more about being a showpiece.  It was lovely to have a showpiece on the farm, but decadent in the sense that we don't need a showpiece.

Here's the building I have recently dubbed "Our Barn":
Our new barn is smaller than our old barn.  It used to be a grain storage building, so it is divided into 6 sections inside.  One of them has recently turned into a chicken coop for my hens, a perfectly functional use for the space.  The new coop is bigger than the old one and so the hens have more space and the humans who care for them do, too-- it's really nice!  This barn has lots of space for us to store things for various uses. 

It has a good metal roof and I'm going to paint it soon to preserve the outside and make it less ugly.  It is conveniently located near the metal bins, the smaller ones where we store things.  One is becoming a fuel shed, one has Sherman's things in it, and one is becoming a shop.  Things that burn-- understandably-- make me nervous these days.  Keeping jerrycans of diesel and gasoline in the garage is not cool.  So, we are going to keep them in a metal bin which we can lock and then not worry about it. 

This barn isn't a showpiece, but it's a completely practical building to use for the purposes of storing things and keeping hens.  We had two barns all along and didn't know it until one was gone.  Eventually we will seal it better and possibly rewire it, though not having power in there is not too much of a hardship until you try to use power tools.

We will need somewhere to store the tractor in winter.  At the very least we will renovate the garage (leaky roof and broken door = useless) so that we can park the tractor there and plug it in in the winter for snow clearing.  We plan to put up a pole shed where the shop and quonset were, but need to see what the financial viability of that is this year.

So, meet our functional new barn!