on trenches and beauty

 

we’ve been digging a lot of holes, as of late. we hired someone with an excavator to come and dig seven thousand feet of trench five feet underground, then put a wee one and a half inch pipe in, and close it back up.

 

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i convinced kiddo that watching from inside actually afforded us a better vantage point.

 

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the first thousand feet were dug, starting at the house. the pipe went through the wall and into the basement so that we can get water to the herd throughout the winter. p. ordered some great winter pasture pumps (more on those later).

 

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d. and p. also dug a trench from the barn to the house to get an insulated ethernet cable from our walk-in freezers to our wireless router. that way we’ll receive emails and text messages if the temperature doesn’t stay within range.

 

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it’s really remarkable that these projects are either under way (the water pipe project) or successfully completed (the ethernet cable/monitor solution). we’re breathing easier. but with all this turning over of sod and gravel, this place is looking very chantier-esque. and with the rain this aft, we have a pretty unfortunate mud moat around our house and most outbuildings.

 

 

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on most days, i appreciate that while this farm isn’t yet beautiful, it has sexy infrastructure and a great deal of potential.

we’ve totally cleaned up the inside of the barn, turning it into something really ‘old barn pretty’ and useable (hopefully as a store front, eventually).

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as for the barn itself, the paint job and colour scheme discourage me to no end, but it’s already proving to be a useful building, in terms of hay storage, walk-in freezer area, winter hen coop, and onion (etc.) drying area.

the shop, while hideous, is a great space for building, fixing, for tools and equipment. it’s heated, has fans, windows, and a solid concrete floor. the land that is part of the original farm is tile drained and bouncing back admirably from its GM soy days. the soil is otherwise rich and eager to grow foodstuffs.

 

but man oh man, that post-digging mud lot look sure isn’t doing very much for my feeling of home. having been blessed with quaint urban homesteads, and having taken the time to paint and fix up all of those homes, it’s hard to be in the midst of mud and building supplies and rock piles and wood stacks and tractor parts and compost and shit without it getting to me on the greyer days. and given the sheer scale of all of this, tackling these eye sores takes, if not scaffolding and special equipment, then at least considerable funds and time. both of which we’re low on at this point in time.

 

 

on a brighter note, operation harvest-the-remainder-of-the-vegetables is right on track. the carrots are done, the beets are on their way, which leaves only the potatoes.

 

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it’s probably not a year’s worth (and they’re definitely not prime carrots), but it’s really not bad, all things considered.

 

i expected to find an excellent how-to on storing vegetables, but came up with pretty wishy washy, contradictory, and unworkable advice (« only preserve the highest quality produce » good one! we didn’t do all this work to make compost). after eating some very leathery textured blanched zucchini though, i’ve decided not to put all my eggs in one basket with the rest of the crops. half the carrots went to sand buckets and the other, to bags. both in the walk-in cooler which will be equipped with a space heater when the weather gets very cold. we’ll see which fare better.

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another dumbfounding issue is drying. no matter what i try to dry the popcorn, it still won’t pop. on the cob, off the cob, in the oven, air dry. last i read, the cobs need to be cooked at low temperature for 8+ hours and then hung for a few months. we’ll see what that does. and the pumpkin seeds, i’m still unclear. i fear storing still-moist seeds and finding mason jars of mould in a few months time. given the number of seed pumpkins, i’m thinking of just roasting them and sparing myself the surprise. unless we can get our hands on a dehydrator.

 

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another week, another adventure.

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the abattoir.

 

We spent a few hours packing meat at the abattoir tonight. I had never really spent much time in a factory type workplace before. A place where people have to wear hairnets and hard hats, smocks and special footwear. I was struck by the clear class hierarchies in there. by the prevalence of class. the shift work, the lay offs and the concern for EI eligibility (because of an arbitrary number of hours required to qualify for an insurance that you paid into). c’était marxiste comme expérience. the machines, the conveyor belts, the bright fluorescents, the scales, the shelving, the concrete. For a sociologist, it was seeing the workplace and work culture that taylorism and fordism built.

(In writing this, I realize that most of my older-than-me relatives have worked in factories. pas mal dommage que j’en ai pas un souvenir, une expérience).

 

I’ve been meaning to write about my uneasiness with meat, with breeding animals for humans to eat them, for some time. tonight’s not the night, but between the sorting of cattle in the corral this afternoon (for them to be trucked out tomorrow in the early a.m.), to this packing of boxes of meat cuts, it’s been quite a carnovire-heavy day.

 

 

 

 

the cattle side of things.

 

in three weeks’ time, the farm stay of our beloved friend d. will sadly come to a close. it occured to me that i should take full advantage of having a third adult here to spend my afternoons (sans kid) working with p. learning more about the cattle side of things. i’m appreciating this time of out of doors problem solving. to walk through these late fall pastures along red hills. to get this very real sense of why p. does what he does and why he loves it.

as much as i claim to love the great outdoors, i spend an awful lot of time indoors.

and there is something to be said about songbirds and flocks of geese. muddy boots and the smell of these trees.

 

 

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here the yearlings are grazing in the fields that have recently been combined. we have about four tons of oats and a dozen bales of straw to show for it. some of those oats will be for ursula (our dairy cow) and the straw will be used mainly as bedding for her, for the hens, (and any other animal needing it), and for the garden (there will be no weeding between rows next year! and hopefully fewer potato beetles and no late blight).

 

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helping move fences to give the cattle fresh pasture. giving me an appreciation for the migration patterns that intensive rotational grazing seeks to mimick.

 

 

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i drove the quad for the first time (standard driving? no problem!). oftentimes when the cattle are moved to a new pasture, the pasture pumps need to be moved as well. p. used to do this with a wheelbarrow, but we’re taking advantage of the farm quad this year.

 

 

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in the spring, we signed up, p. and i, to take part in an organic plant breeding trial with the university of manitoba. we’re growing some wheat (including some red fife!) for them and ourselves. sadly, we seeded in fields that aren’t tiled drained, and that haven’t gotten enough love these past years to be able to absorb the rainfalls. we’re working on it, but in the meantime, i’m not sure we’ll get great yields. hélas.

 

 

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there are days and weeks when i still really wonder what i’m doing here and what will come of all of this. and there are others when i’m traipsing in wet fields with these two and feeling pretty grateful and content that we get to work together, to learn and to create this together. the rest just might sort itself out, j’me dis.

 

autumn harvests.

 

the harvests of this season too, have been good to us.

 

i don’t know if it’s quite a year’s worth of heirloom popcorn that has grown here, but it’s certainly a decent start.

 

 

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the chard and kale are somehow still thriving, the last of the apples are slowly getting picked, and our doorstep is full of goods to process. to avoid more unfortunate losses, i’ve vowed to process a crop a day. (and that zucchini is still the bane of my days)

 

 

 

 

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as we harvest the kale and make room under the top branches, the hens have taken to resting and taking dust baths under the foliage.

 

 

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(special thanks to leah stokes who thinned the carrot rows in the heat of summer. the transplanted seedlings didn’t make it, i’m afraid, but the row is full to the brim with large carrots now)

 

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the refrigeration and electrical people are working on our freezers and cooler so the potatoes, beets, onions, pumpkins, squash and carrots will have a second home soon enough.

 

and unless these days of rain haven’t gotten the last of the drying beans in the garden, the shelling of beans is done !

 

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farm seasons.

 

we’ve been hearing the sounds of geese heading south for the past few weeks now.  the flocks criss-cross the skies; the perfect soundtrack to these hills making their multicolour debut.

 

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a friend who visited a few weeks back stressed that every season on a farm is different. that the place feels different, the rootedness, the feeling of calm, the work, the ease of living all change with the seasons. for better, (for different) and for worse. the underlying message being that a happy summer farm person shouldn’t expect the autumn and winter to bring more of the same. the transition is constant.

 

 

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we woke up to our first dew three weeks ago. it was at once beautiful and terrifying. it is then that it dawned on me : we will be here in the dead of winter. after all the vacationers have packed up their RVs, after the geese have flown, after the herd of yearlings makes its way to the abattoir. after the lightness of summer visits and the ease of feeding hens in the summer warmth has passed and moved on. we will be here on the farm. in the snow banks and frigid winds. a little family tucked along the cold hills.

 

 

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in the last month or so, we’ve harvested the rest of the summer produce, received and covered our bales of hay, hosted our first open house, given the barn a good cleaning, built two walk-in freezers and a cooler, sent the first seven animals to the abattoir, worked on our corral, built a sandbox, found someone to combine our nine acres of oats, and celebrated a little person’s second birthday with family and friends.

it’s been busy but the mood has been light and there’s been a comfort to it all. we’ve been joking that the fall and winter will be our « cards and coffee » season, but i wonder what it will actually look like, and what i’ll need to muster to make it through.

 

in the meantime, i’ve been shelling the most beautiful beans i’ve ever seen (seeds from the awesome  ferme tournesol), i’ve been harvesting some of the fall crops (including the lovely popcorn corn !), thinking about what new farm enterprise i should start, wondering what sort of social service work could be found in this town or the next, and have been trying to devise strategies so that kiddo has more kid-company.

 

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no dénouements yet.

 

baring it all

 

so a group of young women farmers created an indiegogo campaign to buy farmland. they created a calendar and a short video with quasi naked photos of themselves and women farm workers they’ve worked with in the past. it’s selling like hot cakes and to date, they’ve raised 15,000$ more than the four grand they were initally hoping to raise.

a number of farmers i know shared the link and today, it was posted on a young farmers’ network’s page, with folks saying it was a great campaign.

 

une parenthèse : i’ve recently vowed to speak up when i encounter things that i feel are wrong or unjust. i’ve been too good at keeping it in, fearing the confrontation, but it’s been an unworkable strategy, especially since living with a child. we need to model the behaviours we want to encourage, and we want this little person to be as feminist and social justice-minded and kind and authentic as this world needs him to be.

so i piped up a bit. and a friend who agreed eloquently backed me up. but the internet is a bad place for piping up, really. (so instead i’m going to write about it on a blog. ha!)

 

i believe that using this type of power (female sex appeal) undermines the real power that women should (and more often than not don’t) wield in society. i think it plays into a status quo that keeps most women down (economically, socially, politically) and that it teaches young girls that being beautiful and heterosexually attractive is top currency.

i get that all of this is macro and that at the personal level, these four farmers are probably super awesome, that they thought of this cool idea and ran with it, got loads of support and had a bunch of fun. they have beautiful strong bodies, nice old farm machinery and it totally worked.

i get that they (and all women) can make all sorts of personal choices and that they aren’t victimized or traitors to the cause or anti-feminist for it.

i have no beef with them.

 

i have a beef with the ugly intersection of capitalism and patriarchy where this is the primary and often the only power women wield, where you get ahead by « playing the game » and in so doing, often end up working against others who are trying to get ahead by changing the game. i have a beef with individualistic solutions to social problems (access to land is a huge issue for young farmers. it requires political pressure and important policy changes. i realize that those take time and that down payments don’t grow themselves, but it irks me, especially when an organization is seen as advocating for methods like these instead of engaging in systems thinking.) i have a beef with how little structural analysis is present in our discourse and thinking (even the responses to my comment — and i realize one shouldn’t read comments usually but this is a young farmers network — questioning that this initiative is a great and creative way to raise funds for land is met with : « people who have a problem with this campaign are uptight/are bitter and envious/are against naked bodies » etc. engage with and critique the argument, don’t settle for personal attacks). and i’m kind of baffled that so many people think this is a great and novel idea. if i started advocating for law students to strip tease to pay for their studies, this wouldn’t be seen as creative problem-solving, i’d wager.

 

as a woman who’s getting into farming and trying to be taken seriously in a pretty traditional and male-dominated farming community, i have almost daily reminders that the people we work and do business with in this town don’t appreciate that i am an equal partner here.  i am at best a good gardener, a useful translator, an administrative worker. i appreciate that this isn’t every woman’s experience, but i doubt it’s mine alone.

and i can’t help but feel that this sort of thing sets us back.