Hiatus

I would like to apologize and explain my recent hiatus from this blog.

A couple of weeks ago, I was house- and horse-sitting at Garry Lean’s house. Between working on my classes and working with the horses, I simply was not able to spend any time on the blog. That weekend, I was also house- and farm-sitting at Russet House, leaving me little time to do anything between all the chores that needed to be done.

This past week has been a barrage of school assignments. I’m actually getting somewhat ahead, in preparation for Adar’s visit for the next ten days. Luckily, I now have every assignment that needs to be done during her visit finished, which will allow me to relax a little bit.

So, some of the highlights over the past couple of weeks…

1) I drove tractors! I ploughed the laneway at Russet House farm while Brian and Sylvia were away, and also drove them at Baxter Farms, run by Glenn Baxter who is the local tractor mechanic around here. I know this is a simple thing, but it was really a big accomplishment for me to begin my tractor learning.

2) I’m writing a crop plan. We are taking Market Gardening and Greenhouse Operations with Mark Trealot and the primary assignment in this course is to create a crop plan, which is the key piece of planning that every vegetable farmer goes through every year. It’s a lot of work, but saves a tonne of stress during the actual planting year. It’s nice to be able to look on a sheet of paper in mid-July and have it written out what you need to do, when your mind and body are already exhausted from all the stress of farming.

3) I’m learning about seed genetics. This is a really confusing subject for a number of reasons. First, there is a lot of biology involved which was never my strong suit to begin with. Secondly (and much worse), there is a LOT of misinformation out there. Seed genetics are closely tied to a lot of controversial topics in farming (GMOs, hybrids, etc.) and both sides of the controversy are very guilty of not giving honest information, which makes it very difficult to wade through it to determine how I feel about it all. I went to a Seed Saving course a couple of weekends ago which helped a lot, though admittedly it was talking to one of my instructors, Sue Chan, who was helping organize the event, who really made a difference. She’s AMAZING at explaining tougher topics.

4) It’s getting warmer! The tarp over my tent is a dark green on the side facing up, and with the changing sun, it is really heating up the tent. In fact, when I come home after school, my water, which will typically freeze solid overnight, is usually melted. I’m not sure how warm it gets during the day inside… but it is definitely above 0° C. Beautiful! I’ll have to turn the tarp over in the heat of the summer so the white side is up, but for now, this is perfect.

That’s all for now… I’ll have another post hopefully coming out tomorrow and then one on Wednesday…

Sincerely,

Adam

Advertisements

A Glorious Learning Opportunity #2

I am tempted, by my own desire to appear impressive, to focus only on the good parts of tent living. Of eating a glorious steak that I once knew when it was still only a bull calf while sitting around a crackling stove listening to an  owl hooting outside.

The reality is that the positive moments have occurred and they far outnumber the negatives. The problem is that the negative moments can be pretty big. When one is living in the tent, something that, in a house would be a mild annoyance at best, can actually be quite destructive and even potentially deadly.

I will now relate one such story… though I should start by saying that you shouldn’t worry too much… I didn’t actually die in it.

As you will know (since I am sure you have poured over every one of my entries and marveled at my photographs), I finished building the tent last Saturday. You will also remember that we guyed out the tent with t-posts.

Guying out the tent is crucial. The tent is a gigantic piece of canvas, which could, in certain situations, be easily confused for a sail. The guying out process helps to ensure that the tent stays in place (more or less), which is, at least from my limited perspective, preferable to letting it cartwheel across frozen fields in the middle of a January night. The thing is, that t-stakes are fairly expensive, almost $10 each, and, I am in the mind to save money as much as possible. My original plan had eight t-stakes, one in each corner, and one in the middle of each side. When looking at my site, I realized that I had a beautifully thick forest on both my Northern and Western sides, which would act as a great windbreak for the most powerful and coldest blasts of winter air. With this in mind, I decided forego extraneous stakes and only put one in each corner, believing that that would be sufficient.

On Sunday, Adar and I returned to the tent and I lay a heavy tarpaulin over the tent, once again tying it only to the four t-stakes. The tarpaulin, it should be noted, can also, in certain situations, be easily confused for a sail.

On Tuesday afternoon, my first day actually living in the tent, the wind was furiously buffeting the South-Western side of my tent, eagerly finding the gap between the tent and the tarpaulin, causing the tarpaulin to rise and fall, crackling with each gust. I should really have been paying more attention. I began to unpack my things, beginning the long process of organizing a tent and making it generally livable. The wind continued to hit. The tarpaulin was flapping more than I would have liked it to. I really should have been paying more attention.

When wind blows against a house, it is easy to push it out of mind. You may hear a rattling burst of it as it hits the windows or finds a crack underneath a particular draughty door. Perhaps, as you open the front door, the wind will rip it from your hand swinging it wider than you feel comfortable and testing the hinges in a way they were never meant to be tested. Or perhaps it will slam said door behind you, hitting you forcefully on the backside or slamming closed in a perfect mimic of a preteen tantrum.

When wind blows against a tent, you know it is happening. You hear the snap of the tarpaulin against the canvas above you, you feel the canvas walls shaking, perhaps you even see a little puff of smoke shoot out of the air intake on the front of your stove as the flue backdrafts. And you can tell when a particular gust is just a little bit more powerful than the ones before. But, perhaps, you have never really lived in a tent that, let the reader remember, can,  in certain situations, be easily confused for a sail. Perhaps you are used to living in a house, in which a wind storm the likes of this will, at most, make you reconsider going to the mailbox. So you do as you have learned to do and you push it out of mind. I really should have been paying more attention.

When the wind hits, especially a magnificent burst that whole-heartedly outpowers every gust that you have, as of yet, experienced, when it hits after all the previous gusts have caused the tarpaulin to strain the t-posts that they are attached to, gusts that, individually are too weak to loose the post, but collectively can cause enough structural weakness in the soil around the t-post… you can see it. You can see that suddenly, the roof above you is letting in more light than you are used to. You see, not clearly but through the canvas, that it appears, as if, in the North-East corner of the tent, there may not actually be a tarpaulin there anymore. You see this enough to be confused by the sudden change in your environment. But you do not see it enough, at least in the time that you were given to see it, the time that lasts perhaps the half second that a burst of wind takes to blow, to understand what this means.

You do not see the t-stake, still attached to the tarp but now free of its earthly confines, as it launches itself heavenward in a fit of ecstatic passion, thinking perhaps, at least as much as t-stakes are able to think, that perhaps this is what an angel feels like. You do not see the t-stake reaching the maximum height of its trajectory, soaring beautifully through the air, before succumbing to the omnipresent force of gravity coupled with the its still attached earthly tethers and plummeting down from its celestial voyage like a wrought-iron Icarus.

Now picture the final battle of Moby Dick, as Ahab harpoons the great white whale. But picture it from the perspective of  Jonah, who admittedly was not in that particular whale but who, in my retelling of it, was. Unlike Jonah however, you are not repenting of your disobedience to God. You are doing the much more mundane task of organizing your underwear drawer while wondering why exactly it is so suddenly bright in the North-East corner.

And then the harpoon comes through the roof.

There are a lot of things that go through the mind when something completely unexpected happens. It’s always amusing, in hindsight at least, to review the mind attempting to come to grips. Why is there a hole in my roof? Why is there a long piece of metal coming through my roof? Why is the t-stake no longer where we had both seemingly agreed that it should be?

There is the sudden realization that the tarp is now flapping wildly in the breeze, perhaps getting dangerously close to the scalding hot stove pipe.

And then there is the realization that, had I not been organizing my underwear drawer, but instead, had I been organizing my pantry in the North-East corner of the tent, the story of my year in a tent would have had an unexpected twist that not even Shyamalan could have predicted.

After cussing in a way that would perhaps have made Jonah’s sailor friends blush, I ran out, armed with a roll of sisal twine that I had purchased the day before and tied down the flapping Southern edge of the tarpaulin to the grommets in the tent side. I ran up to the barn at Russet House, grabbing the t-post driver and ran back to the tent, hammering the errant t-post back into its home.

The wreckage is fairly big. Three holes are in the tent. Two of them are minor, but the third is over a foot long from tip to tail. Other than a perfect circle where it had melted after connecting with the stove pipe, the tarpaulin was unharmed and covers the holes enough that, temporarily at least, they have not given me too much grief. I will sew them up soon.

The following day, I purchased four more t-posts, hammering them in thoroughly and connecting them with twine to keep the tarpaulin as taut as possible, hopefully preventing future gusts of wind from effectively weakening any one post enough to repeat this episode.

That evening, the evening where I almost met my untimely demise in a way that would have made Meliville proud, I cooked a glorious steak that I once knew when it was still only a bull calf, sat down around a crackling stove and listened to an owl hooting outside.

Living in a tent is a beautiful experience. But, like anything new, there is a lot to learn and many trials to overcome. Like my instructor Gavin Dandy of Everdale said in his first class though, you learn five times more from a mistake than from a success.

Here’s to a year of learning.

Sincerely,

Adam

Introduction: Part 2 of 3ish

I’m a firm believer that one of the largest problems facing modern agriculture is the recent loss of the rural culture that was so prevalent for much of human experience. Of late, there has been massive urbanization throughout the world, with the result being a chronic shortage of people left in rural areas. There are a myriad of reasons for this, which I won’t go into today, but the shortage of people in rural areas, coupled with the growth of the consumer culture has largely devastated most rural  communities.

I’m really cognizant of the fact that I am heading into rant territory, but please bear with me. I promise I will not actually rant, but will only skirt the line momentarily.

I believe community is important for all people in all places and at all times. I believe it truly allows us to be fully human, in fact it is required in order for us to truly experience all of human existence. I believe however that it is especially important in rural areas.

Recently, I was driving across Ontario and was blessed to see a group of (I believe) Old-Order Mennonites doing hay. They had two teams of horses pulling the wagons and at least six people loading the hay onto the wagons. I compare this to how most modern farmers do hay, which involves a lot fewer people and a lot more tractor, and the difference is startling. Though I do not believe the Old-Order Mennonites are perfect, I do admire the importance they place on building community, especially through the discipline of work. I would also suggest that a lot of how they farm is incredibly sustainable, and has proven so over a long period of time. I believe there is more than just a coincidence there.

When I first thought of moving to Lindsay, I wanted to take part in building community, in a number of ways. I’ll discuss more of these ways in future posts. One way though that I wanted to build community was to find people I could live with. People who I could learn from, both within agriculture and also in other ways. Our homes are the building blocks of community. From there, from the everyday working out of daily lives, community begins.

While I will relate more details next week, I am happy to say that I have met an incredible family who have agreed to let me stay with them… a family from whom I will learn a LOT from! Let me say that I am so incredibly stoked to be able to get to know them next year.

And no. They are not Old-Order Mennonites.

Introduction: Part 1 of 3ish (con’t)

First of all, a very happy Thanksgiving to all of my Canadian readers. Having worked in the gardening/farming world now for four years, I’ve spent a lot of time considering this holiday, which, for the record, may be my favourite holiday of the year. Like many people, I spend the time leading up to it counting my blessings and realizing how thankful I have every reason to be. I won’t create a full list here, though I think there is merit for taking the time to write that stuff down. Rather, I will share one specific thing that I’ve realized I am very thankful for, something that I never thought of before I began farming.

As I mentioned last week, I love farming and all the physical and mental and emotional work that goes with it. And so, this Thanksgiving, this harvest time… I’m thankful the growing season is finished for the year. This may seem bizarre, after all I’ve been waxing on about how much I enjoy working the fields… but right now, I’m looking forward to not have to pick and pull and bend and sweat and to being able to have dirt-free hands and… I’m looking forward to the blessed rest from farming that autumn and winter bring. And I’m looking forward to doing it all again next year.

Also, a very special shout out goes to my Mom. Who “liked” my last post on The Facebook.

And herein begins this week’s post…

Starting next January, I will be attending Sir Sandford Fleming College in Lindsay, Ontario, for their one-year, post-degree program in Sustainable Agriculture. I like saying post-degree as I feel it lends an extra element of credibility to my choice to go back to school. “Sure, I’m going back to school… but this time, it’s a post-degree program. Kind of like a PhD.” I also like saying it’s for sustainable agriculture since it makes me look especially hip and earthy. Certain segments of the population actually think I’m a hero for wanting to becoming a farmer. Another segment (largely though sadly made up of disillusioned farmers) thinks I’m quite stupid for doing this. In a way, they’re both right.

The program itself is a one-year program, as mentioned above, which is nice because I am getting old(er) and don’t have the interest to spend too much more time in school. The first semester seems to be a bit of an introduction to sustainable agriculture, which is nice because the word sustainable can mean a number of things to a number of different people. The second semester is an internship on a farm of my choice. The final semester is spent figuring out all the really exciting details, such as legal and business matters. At least that’s my idea of what it will be like. I suppose I’ll find out more in January.

Back in 2011* I decided to tour the program while on a trip to Uxbridge to visit my family. I managed to sit in on a lecture and meet and chat with some of the students. It was a very exciting time for me (the lecture was on sustainable grazing methods… I remember this because I am a dork. I actually still have the notes I took that day. See? Dork.).

Afterwards, I went on a private tour of the campus, which has a lot of really interesting sustainable systems (green roof, living walls, massive composting system, gigantic wind turbine/sundial…). The gentleman leading the tour was one of the primary administrators/founders of the program, so it was a great opportunity to ask all sorts of questions.

That’s when I knew I would be attending in 2014. I’m going to be a farmer!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Adam

* I’ve been trying to figure out what year I toured their campus and met the students and the program administrator/instructor… I thought it was earlier than this but it must have been this year… I believe it was late spring/early summer.