Posts Tagged ‘mind’

“Being Neighbourly” by Cindy

So, John is out interviewing today while I keep the dog company and cross my fingers that at least one of the organizations will be smart enough to realize they cannot continue without him.  I’m also waiting for the plumber to come and help us determine why we are the only people in our fourplex without hot water.  Really, a hot shower is my reward for getting out of bed in the morning, so if there is no hot water, why should I emerge from my warm cozy nest?  Fortunately, we have a generous neighbour who was kind enough to let us use her shower this morning, so the stench we accumulated over the weekend has dissipated a great deal, and John was able to go to his interviews smelling as good as he looks. 

Speaking of neighbours, our move back into the city and the space between jobs has given me cause and time to think about the current state of neighbourliness.  I have lived a number of places where I never even met the neighbours, never mind got to know them well enough to borrow their shower early on Monday morning.  So, what is the difference here? 

These days, we often think back to those seasons of running around the neighbourhood not worrying about whose lawn we were tramping across, and we wonder why we don’t know our neighbours anymore.  We try to say hello and smile every time we see them, chat about the weather, and make a little inoffensive joke.  This makes us civil, but does not seem to actually make us friends.  So what did John and I do differently when we moved in here that allowed us to get to know our neighbour so quickly? 

The answer is simple.  We asked her for help and accepted her help when she offered it.  Then, we helped her when she asked for our help.  First, she offered us some extra plates  that she didn’t need, and which, it turned out, we did.  Then, we asked her to dogsit Bobo when we had to go out.  We left our back door open so she could rescue him from the agony of being left alone in the apartment.  I really believe that this combination of asking for help and showing trust allowed us to become actual neighbours – just like in the old days.  We gave her a ride to pick up her kittens and tried to bring her a couch in the truck (it’s not our fault it didn’t fit down the stairs).  We share bread and cookies when we bake, and when we go to the store (and remember), we ask if each other needs anything.

It used to be necessary to get to know your neighbours so that you could help each other in times of need.  When someone was sick, the first thing you did was send someone to the neighbours’ house for help. Nowadays, our society values independence so strongly that we have forgotten that it is OK to ask for help.  We tell children to ask for help when they need it, but do we show them that it is OK for adults to ask for help, too?  Or do we tough it out until we can take care of things ourselves? 

When we ask our neighbours for help, we tell them that we respect them.  We show them that we do not think we are better than them, and we build a connection that no simple greeting can create. It is not enough to be willing to help your neighbours should they ask for it.  It is not enough enough to shovel their driveway when you can or bring over their misdirected mail.  A real relationship is a two-way street – in addition to giving help, you must also be willing to ask for it.  Repeatedly.

We have lived in this apartment for a month and four days.  Many people live places for years without getting to know the neighbours – I know because I’ve done it.  I have also been reticent to ask people for help.  Independence was highly regarded in my family, and if you could do it without bothering anyone else, that was best.  Of course, we asked for help when we really needed it, but otherwise, we had to try it on our own. 

My family was not alone in this.  At some point in our cultural history, we subscribed to a sink or swim philosophy that led us to believe that we were failing if we couldn’t do it without help.  Struggles build character, we say, and “if you got up that tree by yourself, you can get back down,” or “you made that bed, so now you can lie in it.” This might be true, but it seems to me that this forceful independence is not the kind of character that builds community. 

I used to take a lot of pride in my independence, but now I value community and relationships more.  I remember how surprised I was the first time a friend lent me her car because I had learned to regard cars as sacred properties.  Now, I see cars as nothing more than the tools they are, and I am grateful to be in a position to lend my tools to people who need them because people and relationships are so much more valuable than things.

Ask yourself honestly – when was the last time you asked someone for help and accepted it without feeling guilty or trying to somehow even things out with the person as soon as possible?  I admit that I still struggle with this.  No one wants to be a “mooch”, so I am always looking for ways to show that I appreciate their help.  At the same time, though, I do not expect this from people I help, so I am working on letting this go. Most people like helping more than being helped, so it’s OK to accept their help, even if you can do nothing in return.  You may be able to help someone else later, or maybe you have already helped someone who was unable to repay you in any way.  Even if it doesn’t even out in the end – does it really matter?  Is it all really some elaborate score card?  I don’t think so.

Plus, our neighbour makes some pretty delicious cookies.



“Feelings, nothing more than feeling” by John

Today is Friday, and that means it’s harvest day. The day when we get to walk around the farm, see all of the wonderful foods that we have nurtured into being, and harvest those that are ready to nourish our customers.

Usually harvest day gives me quite a lift. It’s a chance to look at the farm for the bounty it is producing, rather than the work that needs to get done. It’s a chance to remember why we’re doing this (for the food!). It’s a chance, too, to get into the zen of the harvest – focus purely on the plants in front of you and on finding the best they have to offer. It can become quite meditative at times.

Today, harvest day was … just another day. Even though we were picking blueberries for the first time. Even though Joan harvested tomatoes for the first time. Even though we have 26 things to bring to market tomorrow and lots of all of them. Despite all that I was just … flat today. Flat at best.

I should have written about this earlier, but three weeks ago I HATED farming. We came back from a visit to Ontario and were faced with massive crop failure of our June bearing strawberries (due to poor weather), a complete overrun of pernicious and perennial weeds (due to poor planning), and a feeling of hopelessness at ever being able to make things work. We were worried about money, we were worried about the weather, we were worried about the amount of work to be done, we were worried about our bodies … we were worried about everything!

Coincidentally, it was around this time that we came to the realization that we didn’t want to stay on the farm for another year. This decision wasn’t come by easily and probably all started with a job interview in Victoria, and had less to do with one bad week than with future goals and plans, and is still something we’re agonizing over – but we’ve made the decision. We won’t be renewing our lease come September 1st. We’re planning to stay till October 1st to get all our crops harvested, but after that our merry band of house-mates disbands and we’re off to new adventures.

But back to feelings. On harvest day of the bad week everything turned around. The day-neutral strawberries were producing well and we had an amazing bounty to bring to market. This didn’t change my mind about needing to leave the farm, but at least it let me feel like we were accomplishing something while there. The good feelings lasted for a full week and on to another harvest day and then, abruptly, left.

Since then I’ve been, ambivalent about farming at best. There are good days and bad days and good moments and bad moments and on the whole I can’t seem to drum up much enthusiasm either way.

But, the farm marches on and so must we. Cindy and I have been developing a set of rules/lessons learned from farming that we need to write down at some point. The ducks are growing and we’ve been learning how to herd them from the pond to their home each night. The raspberries are producing as are many other crops and we’re feeding ourselves, supplying a restaurant, selling at market and filling orders for private sales and we’re selling eggs as fast as they can be laid. There’s lots to do and lots to enjoy and lots to record before we’re through. Hopefully it won’t be quite so long till our next post so that we can keep you all entertained and so that we’ll have a record of what the heck we were doing later in life. Cindy and I were wondering if, when we’re 85, we’ll ever believe that we used to use large sticks to chase ducks out of a pond, around a blueberry patch, and into a poorly constructed a-frame home each night. Maybe we’ll get it on video so we can prove to ourselves that it really did happen.

“A farming weekend” by John

So I read in Eliot Coleman’s “The New Organic Grower” that you should take one day per week to do something other than farming – it’s good for the sanity. So I decided to take his advice and on Saturday went to the Nanaimo Disc Golf course to play three rounds with Kelly and Steve.
I know, I know, when I work 5 days per week at an off farm job I hardly need another “day off” from the farm, but I figure I’ll get almost no chance once summer comes so I took advantage of the opportunity.

Today though, was some good farming action. Got some chores done, got the rototiller returned to it’s rightful owner (thanks Steve) and almost exorcised the super angsty dream I had last night that we really really needed a way to dig up the earth but no one could remember the name of the machine to do it (rototiller for those of you keeping score at home) and the only one we had wouldn’t work for some reason. Doesn’t sound so bad now, but it was full of anxiety, I promise.

Got asked today if we would buy the farm we’re on if G isn’t coming back. Good question …. Comes at an interesting time as my tenants back in Ontario have put an offer in on a house and might be moving out of our place soon ….

“Being a farmer” by John

A while back Cindy mentioned a New Year’s resolution to blog more. Technically I think I came up with that one, but looking at the blog currently it seems like Cindy has been taking it on (thanks sweetie!)

Part of the reason I want to blog more is to document the process of life here on the farm so that in the years to come we’ll have records to look back on.
Part of the reason is that I want to keep a journal for myself and I know I’m more likely to do that if other people are reading it and holding me accountable.
And another part of the reason is that if there are other people out there interested in starting “growing” then maybe this will be helpful either as inspiration, instruction, or … some word that means “AAAAGGGGH – don’t do this – what the hell am I thinking” but ends in tion.”

So, I’m going to try to blog at least weekly about my thoughts on being a new farmer, as well as whatever else comes to mind. If you, gentle reader, get sick of it and want me to keep it to myself, let me know. If you like it though, let me know that too – positive feedback can be nice once in a while.

Ok – so I’ve been wondering lately what it takes to be a successful food farmer in this day and age, what it would mean to be “successful” and if it’s even possible. I specify “food” farmer because I’m not interested in growing hundreds of acres of corn, or wheat or soy which is then going to be used to create any number of junk “food” items that don’t really serve any purpose other than entertainment (or bribes to get three kids to behave and go to bed for a babysitter when mom and dad go out … or was that only my family?) I’m also not interested in growing horses (though I’ve heard they’re edible) or growing mass quantities of beef, dairy etc for industrial food chains because I’ve yet to see a way to do that and still maintain both the nutritional content of the food, and then environmental integrity of the process.

I think my definition of being a successful farmer is to be able to earn enough money from producing and selling food to meet my monthly budgetary needs. If I have to have an “off-farm” job, then I am not successful enough. That’s the business side. There’s also a vocation side which says to me that to be successful, you need to feed people. I don’t think I’d be happy growing grain for animals unless I was also growing the animals, and I don’t think I’d be happy only selling to up-scale markets and restaurants … everyone should get to eat good food.
This is not to say that the numerous farmers I know who have off-farm jobs aren’t successful – as long as they feel like they are I’m happy – I just think it should be possible to only work on the farm.

So, if the goal is to earn a living wage from working on the farm, then the question becomes how?

A lot of the groups I’m involved with like to talk about government policy, trade barriers, regulations and the way things used to be back when agriculture was funded. I think those are all important discussions to have, but they don’t answer my question for the moment which is, basically, what can we as growers do NOW in order to be successful. Is the answer CSAs? High end organics? Specialty products? Specialization? Diversification? Sharing resources? Better marketing? Value added processing? Something else entirely?

Of course the answer lies in a combination of solutions, from individual action to consumer education to the work of food security groups to governmental policy work (after all, complex problems require complex solutions, it’s not like we’re only try to launch a space shuttle here, that’s just a complicated problem) but given that I can’t influence all of those things, what can I influences as an aspiring grower? How can I do the best job I can do to keep myself in business while I work to make other pieces of the puzzle to come together.

I’m not sure how or if I’m going to be able to answer this question, but it’s the question I’m currently interested in. I have a vision of gathering some “successful” farmers together to talk about these questions – if I do, I’ll let you know how it goes.

And of course, if anyone has the answers – please do clue me in.

“More Later” by John

There was one more item of stress weighing on my mind that Cindy didn’t have to deal with – in fact that Cindy even knowing about would relieve the stress but bring on feelings of guilt and shame.
It wasn’t terrible, but it was hard, and it had been a factor in my life for months, coming to a head in the last few weeks of uber-stress.
Finally, on Wednesday of last week, the stress was relieved – and this was the result…

“First Planting” by John

We stopped by the farm after picking up a free bottle cap tool and some extra caps and had a wee look around the garden.  Things are looking really good – the corn is coming nicely, there’s beautiful lettuce, some nice beets to be thinned and eaten, yummy stuff all around.

The purpose of our visit was to seed some winter parsnips (Gladiators for future reference)  While we were considering where to put them, Graham came out of the house which was great.  He got out the tiller and prepped a bed for us while we weeded raspberries, carrots and beets (and probably something else I’m forgetting)  We got almost a full row of parsnips planted and had a good time working with and learning from Graham as we went.

First potato harvest


The large berry patch

After the work was done we went on another tour of the farm to see how things are coming along.  Raspberries should be ready soon, strawberries are still producing, there are a good number of blueberries in the lower field, the chickens are happy, there are tonnes of peas to harvest … all in all, what a little piece of paradise.  It was great too talking about future visions for the place and how we see the logistics working out.  I really feel like everything is going to be great and that we’ll have a fantastic time learning as we go.

The haul for today:

2 heads of romaine
new potatoes (reds and another variety)
fresh garlic
beet greens


“Strawberry Picking” by John

Mark it in your calendars.  On Wednesday, June 23rd at approximately 9:07 am I officially became a farmer.

Well, maybe a farm worker is a better term, though I didn’t get paid (still not sure how we’re going to settle things at the end of our “apprenticeship” maybe money, maybe food, maybe just knowledge, but whatever will be good) so maybe a farm volunteer is a better term, in which case maybe Growing Opportunities was when I went official.  Though come to think of it I once WWOOFed at Plan B Farm, so maybe that was official.  Then again my grandparents had a farm just outside of Teeswater, ON when I was quite young and I remember riding the tractor and feeding the animals there so …

Anyway, suffice it to say that last Wednesday was my first experience picking strawberries at our soon-to-be-home and it made me feel like things were a bit more official and real than they had felt before.

It was a beautiful sunny day and I had my new hat on (thanks Cindy!) so I didn’t get burnt and I picked 3 or 4 boxes of berries in the 2.5 hours we were there, which probably equals just over two flats.  So, definitely not the fastest picker out there, but not too shabby for my first time out I think, especially considering that I stopped to go visit the chickens, tour the farm with the Canada World Youth leader who might come to stay with us for a bit, and put together and pack flats as I went.  I also got to deliver two flats to the Community Farm Store with an invoice and one to a private customer so making the sales made it feel more official too.

How was it?  Honestly, I don’t know how to answer that.  I was told it would be painful on my back and legs but I didn’t feel like it was too hard.  Odd muscle use for sure, but I think all of the cycling, plus the chiro and massage for my back helped to make it not too terrible.  I can still feel it in my legs a bit now if I try to hold myself in a strange position, but it hasn’t slowed me down at all.  I loved being out in the sun and the fresh air so that was great, and going back to work for the afternoon was definitely hard.  So, physically, all was and is well.  Mentally though I found I was a bit stressed out by it all.  I know, how stressful can it be to sit in a field and pick berries right?  I think my issue was the same that I have with so many other things – I just wasn’t sure I was doing it “right”.  Searching through the foliage with my hands trying to pierce the darkness under the leaves with tired eyes to identify the bright deep red that indicated a perfectly ripe berry.  Trying to leave behind all those with just a tinge or white, or that are perhaps a slightly less deep shade and need a few more days to fully ripen.  Worrying what the customers in the store or at the box distribution will think when they see my berries in the harsh light of florescent tubes.  Will there be too many small ones?  Too many that aren’t perfectly ripe?  Will they want my berries?  Did I pick the right ones?

And through it all I felt this need for speed.  The necessity to pick the berries right now before … what?  Before they went rotten, before the birds got them, before the frosts came?  Or, harkening back to my childhood, before it was time to leave the U-pick, not to return for another year.

Cindy and I were talking about it afterwards and I realized that the same patch of berries was picked two days before I got there and will be picked two days after and again and again and again till the plants are done producing.  So really, there was no need to pick berries like there was no tomorrow because, well, there is (or at least a day after tomorrow).  With that in mind it really makes sense to pick only the best of the best and leave anything that needs another day because then it will be the best of the best next time you pick.

So, there you go, John overanalyzing things again (like that comes as a surprise to those of you who know me).  I think it’s the type of thing that, with practice, will become less stressful.  It was pleasantly meditative working my way down the road, feeling growing things under my hands, moving from plant to box and back to plant.  If I can become confidant in my ability to make a good end product then I think I’ll really enjoy it.  And the other pickers and eventually Graham saw the overall haul and no one told me it was terrible so I guess even if I was bad, at least it was hidden by the hard work of others.

In purely happy news, a young couple and child came to look at our apartment today and appear to be just as in love with it as we are so we shouldn’t have to worry about getting out of our lease.  Yay!

And now (after Cindy reads my post … please, be gentle) we go to pick-up beer bottling supplies.  Sweet!  Soon I’ll actually have to brew some beer … soon.