sponsoring settlement.

We had a meeting with a settlement agency today.

It was pretty surreal. After so much reading and talking and asking questions and getting excited and deflated and back again, to sit in that office and feel that this thing is actually possible. That we can sponsor and host refugees in our rural community here. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been matched with families, that the work that lays ahead now is fundraising and community building prep-work instead of reading through endless forms and web documents (fearing that everyone’s best intentions, mine included, are being watered down by time and life).

The office walls were covered with UNHCR posters of people with their trajectories in large print and the closing : « it takes courage to be a refugee. »

I welcome the reminder that my life is relatively so fucking easy. Our cold storage is full of food. We have the funds to pay the power bill. Our kids have colourful open-ended wooden toys. We can even take some time for personal endeavours in year two of this farm. It isn’t easy. But it isn’t that hard either.

I go through the motions of the day – the diaper changes, the feeding of the hens, the story books, the bed times – thinking about the crises, the people caught in wars, behind fences, in camps. Now that I know more about a few of the people forced to seek refuge away from their homelands, it is harder. Harder to not give it our all.

May this work.

And may political will make the settlement of more refugees in Canada possible before winter takes its toll.

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harvests and tallies.

Yesterday, our Sunday family day consisted of harvesting our potatoes. The plants were ambushed by beetles once the babe made his appearance (and the healing and care of him trumped all garden goods), but the harvest was decent regardless.

I still get a real kick out of the multi-species crew that turns up every time we work near the house : the head cat, our beloved Harvey, two of the three hens, and the humans.

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Maybe not my weight in potatoes, but certainly 3/4 of it. It’ll probably see us through to next year’s harvest.

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By the time we got to the potatoes last year, the ground was good and frozen and snow covered (see below). We’re three weeks earlier this time around, which is making the adult folk feel pretty good about where we’re at in our winter readiness.

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I’ve been hard on the garden and myself as gardener this year, but really, doing the tally of what we’ve managed to eat fresh and stock pile and preserve, I have to admit that the planning, planting and early weeding efforts certainly weren’t in vain.

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We have all the potatoes, the carrots and the beets, we’ll need. The pumpkin, probably all the blanched spinach, kale, chard and beans, and certainly all of the apple sauce. Thanks to all the kind souls who helped make this happen.

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Having worked in the field of anti-poverty/poverty alleviation in urban settings, there’s something really surprising, and really rich, about living below the poverty line on a farm (especially when you’re doing so with someone who totally knows the ropes, and when you have access to capital and are able to become indebted to set this place up to provide for ourselves with more ease in the years to come). It isn’t easy by any stretch (and the romanticization of farming irks me to no end), but this is certainly more comfortable than living below the poverty line in a city.

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With our dear family dairy cow Ursula having just calved, we are back into fresh cheese and yoghurt making. (Y’a un p’tit air de famille, n’est-ce pas?) The calf drinks to her heart’s content, and we still have enough milk to start making butter to boot.

What feels like the biggest hurdle at this point, farm food wise, after building a small greenhouse and cracking the brassica code next season, is eggs : getting a few more laying hens, but especially kitten-proofing the coop. As I was angrily trying to jam every hole in the coop last night (the hens themselves get quite upset when these little rascals sneak in and crack eggs), every place I looked, there seemed to be a small kitten.

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And now to focus on bringing in the fire wood, putting the garden to rest and getting the word out about the incubator farm we’re launching for next season. If you know anyone who might be interested, please spread the word. We are eager to have more people living and making an income on the land. Open house this Sunday (November 1st, two to five).

bull collision.

I had intended to take some time, with a hot mug of coffee, over the weekend to write a solid piece on gratitude as sitting with thanks in my heart is a good way to guard against the blahs of this seasonal greying of the days.

But around midnight on Saturday, a bull somehow made it through a three strand electric fence and ventured onto the highway. A young couple stopped at our place to tell us and P. went out to encourage it back into the pasture, while I stayed inside with the sleeping kiddos. In my very limited experience of trying to corral cattle, you really need to take your time to do it. You need to think five steps ahead, you need to not crowd or corner them, and you need to move slowly. The cattle that have broken out during our past two seasons here have made it into our yard from the back pastures because of fences not being closed, or onto the dirt road that sees little traffic (still an issue given that there is one residence on that road) either because they’re small calves or because the perimeter fencing around pastures we don’t own is older. None of these are as serious as this highway breakout. On the highway, you just don’t have that much time. You don’t have an hour to gently get the animals back where you need them to be.

The bull had been grazing in the ditch on the side of the road but upon being coaxed back to its herd, the animal made a detour onto the highway. An older gentleman was driving his car past, didn’t see the bull, and without braking, collided with the animal. I heard the crash from the house, rushed out screaming thinking it was P., and after what felt like hours, he responded and asked me to call 911.

We still don’t know how the man is doing. We’re waiting to hear back from his partner. He was able to walk to our house from his car and to the ambulance from our kitchen, but there was a lot of glass. His sons who came so quickly, and the first responders kept saying « Ce sont des choses qui arrivent » (« These things happen ») about the animal on the road, but in my mind, these aren’t things that happen.. not if you have a radish farm, or a city job, or a lentil business. And I feel so terrible about the Thanksgiving that this family has had. No amount of pie baking or casserole sharing can change that.

The only cattle and dairy farms that I’ve visited where many animals are living on pasture and not cooped up in barns or pens have been in rural Alberta. These farms are off the beaten (and paved) path, with animals far from any dense housing. We are not. We belong to a cluster of houses — a number of small acreages and a few farms on a ‘rang‘ four kilometres from a town populated by some 3,000 people. There aren’t many pastured animals around. And while there’s a lot of talk about revitalizing « les terres en friche, »– abandoned, unused agricultural land, having pastured animals close to town on a winding country road with an 80 kilometre per hour speed limit clearly has risks that the growing of soybean or sod do not. How can you safely pasture cattle under these conditions? We have definitely sat down and come up with night time fence failure protocol and we can ask the municipality about the possibility of putting a street light on our stretch of highway, but is that enough? How can we mitigate these risks?

I can’t stop thinking about this man and his family.

So at the very least, I’m grateful we were home and not away for a cottage Thanksgiving celebration as planned. Grateful that we live in a place with speedy emergency services. Grateful that were able to call for help quickly and that the man could wait for the ambulance in a warm house. I’m grateful I had the wherewithal to ask his son for a phone number to be able to follow up. And I’d be grateful for others sending their thoughts and prayers to these good people also.

to the fall. to the crisp. to the crops.

Autumn is upon us. The mornings are crisp. The first frost has fallen. The bright yellows and oranges are gracing our landscape. The first shipments of cattle have been brought to the abattoir. And we’re starting to feel the anxiety pangs about getting ourselves winter-ready.

Our other seasonal oranges.

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There’s something really unique about being so season-bound (for someone who’s new to it). It’s comforting to feel that your own train de vie follows that of the natural world, rooting your self and your days to its rhythms. To notice energies and outlooks change with the months and the cycles. To give meaning to the sadder parts, the litters of kittens born in the wrong season that won’t make it, the cattle being sorted, the projects that weren’t even started, the garden foliage turning crisp and dark.

A lot of it is quite uncomfortable for the quasi-vegan I’ve been. But discomfort is key to growth, and having seen my partner try to nurse a baby calf back to health for a week, warming milk for bottle feeding and cleaning out infected ears (because of the ear tags that we legally need to put in their ears upon their birth) thrice daily, I figure this can’t be all wrong. It’s been really interesting to talk about death with our preschooler, to explain meat and our farm to him. His understanding and compassion astound me.

Fingers crossed we’ll be tasting our very own Brussels sprouts this year. It’s my third year trying to grow them.

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This spring, we planted flowers for the bees and every time I walked past these pots, they were abuzz. And now still blooming.

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The abattoir sold its trailer and aren’t picking up our animals this year. After paying someone a fair amount to truck them exactly one kilometre, P. found a trailer for sale and bought it. Another surprise expense, but it’ll amount to savings come next year and the predictability and lessened stress on the animals (from not having a trailer bang about pre-loading), is a positive.

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We’re still looking for someone who can combine our thirteen acres of grain. This harvest is key to making the pork enterprise a success, given the astronomical cost of organic pig feed. All the machines around these parts are either too big (and we’re small fry) or, the owners/operators are way too busy and don’t want to chance their old machines in our fields. At this point we don’t even have the time to combine it ourselves if we were to buy our own. What a woe. Maybe that crowd-funding combine campaign will have to see the light of day. Because only unsustainable big AG can « go big » and we don’t want to « go home. » This place is home.

Gourds, beautiful gourds! The soup and muffin-making has commenced.

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And this babe is growing and growing. In the midst of all of this busy-ness, having a wee one about is certainly sometimes frustrating (à la « How can I clean out this coop safely and effectively with a baby strapped to me? » or realizing that more pasture walks are key to my own health and wellness but getting the baby carrier straps caught in the electric fencing takes most of the joy out of it). But there’s so much soul and peace and beauty in the routine and rhythm he imposes. I savour the lovely sleepy warmth of him.

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