Friday, December 23, 2016

Happy Holidays 2016!

 Happy Holidays!

As we move from 2016 to 2017, I wanted to review all the great experiences and people we've encountered this past year.  We had some struggles, too, but like all hurdles they were good opportunities for us to grow and learn.  Here are some of the highlights (click on any image to view it larger):

We rang in the New Year in Seattle, visiting Jon's sister Stacey and her family (Eugene, Joshua 13 and Genevieve 11).  I had never been there before and so we took a solid 3 weeks and visited Seattle as well as Jon's sister Alyson and her family in Calgary (Dion, Maevey 3-1/2, Caeden 1-1/2).  I also got a visit with my longest friend Casey and her husband Kyle and son Zach (3) just before they moved to the Netherlands for Casey's work with Shell.  And had a great visit with my friend Joanna and her husband Vojtek and sons Kian and Emmet.  Calgary is a nice place for us to visit only because of the wonderful people we know there!  Every time I go back I wonder how I spent 8 years living in such a big city.  I'm sure glad I did though-- that's where Jon and I met!

Upon returning from holidays, we went for dinner at Lydia & Wian's house and met them for the first time, after both spending the past season hearing from mutual friends and customers that we "had to meet".  People had us pegged just right, as we hit it off instantly and have become close friends and colleagues ever since.  They run Luna Field Farm and raise pigs, sheep, chickens, cattle, and hens and are located about an hour South of us, which is still close enough to be considered neighbours on these vast prairies!

In February Mom and Dad went to Florida and I got to partly repay the favour of looking after their pets while they were away (they have 2 and we had 4, so it's not repaid in full yet!).  We were still busy every day washing, packaging, and delivering vegetables throughout the whole winter.  Jon was working full time at Patmore Nurseries (a local garden centre with a long history in Brandon and the prairies) which in the winter consisted of a lot of maintenance and getting ready for the busy season.  Once the busy planting season hit in March & April I picked up some casual work there as well on days when we weren't too busy with the veggies.  We got to know and love Marci who owned and ran it. Jon and I love working together and so it was nice to spend days together again.  It was good timing as I got to practice and increase my transplanting speed before our busy season!

My Auntie Joan visited from the Netherlands in April to look for a place to buy in Canada and stayed with us.  Over the winter we had moved all of the non-Jenkins belongings in the house from the two rooms it was occupying down to one and started renovating a guest bedroom.  It was finished just in time for Joan to be the first houseguest.  We really enjoyed having her stay with us, and had she not partnered with Dad in the purchase of a skid shack, we would have happily welcomed her into our home anytime in the future!  The only Dillon family gathering of 2016 was hosted at our house, and we had a great time looking at some of Gran's old slides.

On April 30, our character was tested when an electrical fire took out the three main outbuildings on our farm.  I (Teri) was home alone at the time, and despite spotting it early and the fire department arriving within 25 minutes of the call, it was windy and very dry and the buildings (which were full of Sherman's tools, chemicals, and equipment) went up like kindling.  We are grateful to the Rivers and Rapid City volunteer fire departments, who kept the fire from spreading and saved the rest of the yard and our house.  We lost a handful of inconsequential personal belongings, a cat and two hens in the fire, and Brown Sugar Produce lost a tractor and the hoops for the caterpillar tunnel we were in the process of building.  We hadn't yet
purchased the property and so the insurance was Sherman's.  Thank goodness there was insurance, but it will never make good for an 87 year old man having to see the farm he loved with all his heart a smoking pile of rubble, and I still have nightmares about the helplessness of watching the buildings burn down. 4 days after the fire, Dad told me "Tough isn't about how many fights you've won, it's about how many you've been in", and I've been trying to remember that every time things get tough since.

May 2 was the one year anniversary of us arriving in Manitoba.  It was -- understandably -- bittersweet.
The month of May was a bit of a blur as we jumped into the busy planting season at the farm with our spirits a little broken.  Luckily planting seeds is a perfect healing activity!  Patmore's was also in their busy season and so Jon was working hard too.  In the evenings and weekends he got our caterpillar tunnel put up.  We had to re-order the steel and so we ended up about 2 weeks behind our target, but the important thing is we got it done!

The days are long in June and the work load is lighter, so at Brown Sugar I worked at getting the new farm team trained and being ready for the busy season.  Jon was very busy at Patmore's.  We saw less and less of each other and got used to the summer routine.  We did go out for dinner with Sherman and my Dad for Father's Day, which was nice.  Abby picked up hens for us and herself and so we had fresh eggs again!

In July at Brown Sugar Produce we began our first ever CSA program, (Community Supported Agriculture, a weekly subscription to a bag of veggies) The Veggie Lovers' Club.  It was a smashing success and we connected with 62 wonderful local food lovers in the Brandon area for the 16-week program.  It definitely made our efforts more efficient in 2016 and it is a model that we will continue into the future.  I loved writing weekly newsletters for the members and sharing recipes for our veggies (read them on our Brown Sugar Produce blog).  We shared a pickup location with Luna Field Farm which made it a one-stop pickup for many of our shared customers.  It felt like a real community, and I got to see my good friend Lydia every second week!

We also enjoyed getting to know the gals who made up the Brown Sugar Produce farm team.  Andrea worked full time and came to us from Remington's (a restaurant we used to supply that closed this spring): she and I had lots in common and shared a love of food.  Sam's great great uncle and my Dad have a history of enjoying mead together, and she has a great bubbly personality to match!  Janelle is a hard working farm girl who looked after all our lettuce plantings like a champ.  Brianna needed an underage work permit to join the team as she was only 14, and I hope she learned lots at the farm this summer.  And the ever-lovely Fran returned to help bag, so I guess we didn't wear her out in 2015.  She is so nice to be around and always laughing, which is so welcome the long & hard work days at the farm.  These are not the only hands that helped get through the season, by any means -- Paul is the reluctant "slave in the onion mines" who looks after equipment, infrastructure, and much of the cultivating.  Aunty Jayne was also a huge help, especially in canning season, and any friend or neighbour who stopped by would invariably end up placing some type of vegetable in a bag or pulling a few weeds!  We can't do this alone, nor would we want to-- it takes a village to grow a garden!

In June we were disappointed to find out that Patmore's was going out of business and so on July 6 Jon started working at Masterfeeds (formerly Feed-Rite).  It is a feed mill where Jon works in the warehouse getting shipments together and helping customers with orders.  My Mom worked there 35+ years ago and so did Aunty Jayne, and Uncle Calvin spent his full career there -- so there is a long family tradition!  Dale, Jon's boss, is Marci from Patmore's husband, and also brother to Mark who Jon worked building a house with in fall 2015.  Mark is married to Abby, daughter of Mom and Dad's close friends Dave and Kathy.  It's a small world here on the prairies!  This whole family (including Marci, who grew up in Hamiota and knew my Grandpa Tom) has played a big part in our lives since we arrived in MB, and we are grateful and proud to know all of them!

We were very sorry to see Patmore's go.  It was a historical business, running since the 1880's, and founder Henry Patmore has had a huge impact in this area, all across the prairies-- introducing many different trees and shrubs to the area.  Brandon is a chain store kind of town.  It's disappointing, but at the very least we found a good friend in Marci and we purchased a greenhouse when the store closed.  We disassembled it in August, somehow.  Not good timing, and it was hard work!  It will go up at our place within the next couple of years.

On July 1, on schedule with the pre-fire plans, we purchased the farm from Sherman.  As the clock switched to 9:00 am, the farm became ours.  Nothing really changed, and it doesn't really feel any different than before.  We still welcome Sherman & family to the farm anytime!  Around these parts, it seems your farm is always known by the last name of the people who owned it before you.  Ours will forever in our hearts be Myrah Farm!

Life in August, September, and October was very busy.  Days begin before the sun is up and finish long after dark.  If not for Jon, the entire farm would have fallen apart.  He kept up with the farm work (growing pumpkins, squash, sunflowers, dried beans, garlic, tomatoes, and peppers for Brown Sugar Produce here), looking after the animals, yardwork, and all the housework, while I spent 6 or more days a week running to catch up.  We hardly saw each other.  It's not ideal, but we both recognize that this is a means to an end towards the life and lifestyle that we want, which will be achieved very soon!

At the beginning of September, Jon's sister Alyson visited for the long weekend with her husband Dion and our niece Maevey (4 -1/2) and nephew Caeden (2).  It was definitely one of the highlights of the entire year for us!  We don't spend a lot of time around kids and so seeing the capacity in the field of such young kids was amazing to us.  Maevey is a better tomato picker than many adults I know.  Caeden mimicked everything we did, including digging potatoes and pulling carrots!  He looks a lot like his mom, and therefore like Jon, and it was the first time I really, truly pictured us having kids.

Right after they left, I was really sick for a whole week.  I mentioned it to Mom and she agreed, "I'm tired, too!".  This was different.  I found out I was one month pregnant!  I don't even know how my completely wrung out 118-lb frame sustained a pregnancy that far, so at that moment I started eating for two and I haven't stopped since!  I guess there's more to do during Manitoba summers than just grow vegetables.

On October 1, we celebrated Mom's birthday with Andrea cooking a farm feast and we also welcomed an overnight guest from Nova Scotia-- Patricia from TapRoot Farms, where we used to work in Nova Scotia.  Later in October Casey, Kyle, and Zach visited all the way from the Netherlands.

At the end of November, Lydia and I traveled to Omaha, Nebraska to the Acres USA Conference.   It was a great trip and an excellent start to the winter, which in farming involves a lot of reflection and thinking about improvements for next year.  Now our heads are full of ideas to brood over winter with.  I came home with two kittens from Lydia's farm to join our family.  We have been wanting another cat for some time now, and decided that we would best enjoy kittens in the winter, so got them now.  In the spring, the girls will move to the barn and become outdoor cats.  For now, they are great winter entertainment!  King Samson is handling the change with more tolerance than I thought a cat could possess.  We are so happy they all get along!

My Dad did a lot of work at our farm this summer getting the fire debris cleaned up.  We had to wait until the investigation was finished, where they determined it started from a worn extension cord.  If Paul didn't have large equipment I don't know what we would have done-- it was a mess of vehicles and tractors and half burned lumber and tools, with the concrete foundations still firmly planted in the ground.  He cleaned it all up and then laid a gravel pad for the site of our new building by late August.  We took out a mortgage on the property and got Mark to put up a 42' x 60' pole shed for us.  The building will be used for equipment storage and also for veggie prep, storage, and transplant production.  In the spring, we will install a walk in cooler, lay concrete, and build a mezzanine over the Southern 1/3 of the building.  For now, we have a place for the tractor to spend winter!

Our summer CSA was such a success that we ran a fall program, which concluded on Dec. 13.  Following that, Mom and I decided to close for 6 weeks to allow us some time to catch up and get some rest.  So far it's been a busy week, but there are 30 people expected at Mom's for Christmas (weather permitting) and so we have been busy getting ready.  We also plan to get our seed orders done with the pressure of weekly orders off.  We will resume in February, but have sold a large amount of our stock already.  We have parsnips, celeriac, squash, carrots, beets, potatoes, and preserves left.

Things have been going well with the pregnancy, and I am just at the half-way mark now.  We found out it is a girl this week, which only confirmed our feelings since week 6!  She will be named Myrah Janice and is due to arrive in early May.  Next year is going to be a game-changer for sure!

Plans this winter include renovating a room to become a nursery.  We have been very busy getting the farm house cleaned out this fall.  Jon is spending Christmas and New Years' in Calgary with his sisters.  Masterfeeds is busier in the winter than in the summer and so it is great he has winter employment.  Mom and I had a great first year being business partners and don't need to seek off-farm employment this winter, and will spend some time strategizing the best way to move forward with a new member joining the family.  We plan that Jon, Myrah and I will grow at our place and Mom will scale back but continue to grow at her place (and have some additional Grandmother duties that I know she is thrilled about!). 

Thank You for reading and Thank You for being a part of our lives.  Without the support of family and good friends, we wouldn't be half as far towards our goals as we are.  We've definitely made loads of progress this year, with the purchase of the farm, the new building, and a baby on the way.

 Jon and I wish you all the best in 2017 and look forward to it being a great year, just like this one was!

-Teri Jenkins
December 23, 2016
Jon and niece Maevey (4-1/2), our best tomato harvester all season!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Day 1 of holidays!

 Mom and I decided to close for 6 weeks this winter because otherwise we never get a break!  There are nearly 30 people coming for Christmas this year and so we have 11 days to prepare.  This first day off I am enjoying as a true day off, wearing my pyjamas all day, making soup, and doing some minor housecleaning.  Punctuated by treks into the blistering cold to collect eggs before they freeze.  Seriously, it's somewhere around minus-a-billion Celcius out there!  Those ladies are sure impressive, still laying at over 80% in these frigid temps and short days. 

Finally a photo of all three kitties where you can sort of see the scale.  The babies are 1 kg each (versus Samson's 5 kg), Ruby has the white on her face and is adorable and she knows it!  She's like one of those devious little girls who bat their eyelashes just to get out of trouble.  She chases Samson's tail and then complains loudly when he goes after her for it.  Darlene is a classic Tabby (named Darlene because she looks like Roseanne, who we lost in the fire and had named after the TV Mom), who is also known as "Adventure kitten" because she's the first to try anything new and get into something.  She and Samson love to play together, though he is still learning how to scale his excitement to match something 1/5 his size!  A sharp "miaow!!" and claw to the face usually does the trick.  We are blown away at how great he has adjusted to the babies.  We were hoping they would be company for him and it has worked out great so far!

 Dad thought something was wrong with these kabocha squash we grew this year, because we usually grow orange and green ones and this year we grew orange and blue ones.  They are not rotten, they are supposed to be that colour, and kabocha squash makes THE BEST soup.  Not to mention, look at the pop between those two colors!  Gorgeous.  We eat with our eyes first!  I love kabocha squash because it's thick and meaty and sweet and flavourful.  Here's a recipe for a great soup using this type of squash.  I can't say I'm being a saleswoman here, because we sold the last 2 last night!
And, I braved the minus-a-billion temperature outside to go a little out of my way and get a photo of the shed from a different angle.  There are 8 windows on the South side.  Eventually that space will be a veggie prep/storage/growing area.  For now, it's too cold to pour concrete and so it is just a shelter from the winter for the tractor.  We are also planning to park our cars in there this winter as it's just a short trek to the house and will save us cleaning them off.  On the far left you can see the hoops from the caterpillar tunnel.  Just right of the shed you can see the house in the background.  On the far right you see the crappy building that should have burned down!  Still have to take care of that next year.

There's a new billboard at the 18th Street bridge that catches my eye every time I cross the bridge.  It's a MB Hydro one and reads "Fire Safety Tip: Replace damaged extension cords".  Certainly learned that lesson this year, as well as one about hoarding.  We have gone to the dump over 8 times this fall with full loads of stuff from the house.  Ranging from unmarked agricultural chemicals, a truckload of coal, slimy magazines from the water damaged basement, to a dated set of encyclopedias.  At times it feels like every single scrap that came onto this property never left and very discouraging.  I think we can do better than that, so we have been working hard at getting it all cleaned up and "leaning" up our property.  Thank goodness we hadn't really started cleaning up the outbuildings yet, as it takes an immense amount of work sorting through everything, carrying it up or down stairs, and disposing of it.  Everything I touch now, I think, "have I used this lately?  By the time I want to use it, will I remember it's here?  Does having this add anything to my life?"  More times than not, I chuck it.  (By chuck it, I mean recycle, burn, donate, or otherwise properly dispose of it). What's the sense of having everything you've ever owned and no room to live?

New shed!

It's been a long process, but we finally have a new shed!