in the thaw

 

it’s been a really good couple of weeks. i don’t know if it’s the completion of our financial planning for the year (and our first year really using holistic resource management planning tools together, p. and i), the fact that we have a number of rad farm-based projects on the go, that i’ve been managing to spend more time with other adults, or that every family member just happens to be in a good place at the same time, but i’ll take it.

spring is coming and going. we’re making the most of it.

the hens have started venturing further from the barn, joining us in our work and play when we’re out in ‘the yard’.

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we’re making concrete plans to repair things we’ve been wanting to get to since moving here.

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and we’re soaking in our puddles. today we learned that old baking sheets make really excellent ferries.

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(in other news, while amortization and depreciation are fascinating concepts, thinking about them too much in your day to day is probably unnecessary and can make you go a bit bonkers.)

 

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farm themed everything.

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Kiddo is big into puzzles these days, so I thought we could up the ante with some 12 piece puzzle sets. Pretty exciting times for all, to be honest. Pretty soon this kid will be rocking his very own tricotin, I bet.

Trouble is these things appear to be grouped into themes, so we could get four mermaid puzzles, four construction truck puzzles or four farm animal puzzles. I went with the farm animals but realized, as we were doing them together the next morning, that it’s kind of overkill to give a farm kid farm animal puzzles. Melissa and Doug (and other kid stuff manufacturers), if you’re listening : please make a medley puzzle box ! We don’t need four dumptruck puzzles, but one would be nice. We also don’t need four mermaid puzzles, but one would be nice. Can we not assume that kids only like ONE CATEGORY OF THINGS?

In the meantime, if a city kid wants to trade some farm themed toys for some other themed toys, drop us a line.

We’d probably be up for a swap.

and the cars came marching in.

Yesterday was a bit of a heartache on the ideological front.

I drove a 6 hour commute to get to a research gig and we bought a second family car.

This time last year, I was commuting to work on a bicycle, I didn’t know how to drive, we owned a car for business purposes and hid it in the garage the rest of the time (in part because we were paying to rent the garage but not a ‘parking spot’ and didn’t want our landlord knowing we had a vehicle). And here we are. A two car family. A two car family who thinks about and worries about its environmental footprint and buys fuel efficient used cars, but a two car family nonetheless.

It all makes sense : we live quite rurally on a road without a proper shoulder (not at all bike-with-kids safe), we need the car for beef deliveries which means I’m stranded at the farm with a child two Saturdays out of four, we adults have a slew of solo summer engagements on the horizon, and with a percolating fœtus in my uterus, my comfort level with being here alone with kiddo sans car whole days is growing pretty thin.

 

I know our footprint as quasi-(alt)homesteaders is offset to some extent in some ways, but having spent decades demonizing car culture, it’s quite the switch. And even though it’s the right choice for us at this point in time, oi! is it ever uncomfortable.

 

And I wonder then, is it surprising that even the ‘bébés’ go for car and bus rides all the time?

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In lighter news, the snow is melting. The frozen, sleeping garden will soon be awake and blooming again. I’m starting to feel it.

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on ‘boys will be boys’ and the like.

We received an invitation for a brainstorm day a while back and part of the email included a piece about kids not being welcome because they can kill concentration. They totally do. Hands down. Work days with kids are double work days, for sure. (We don’t all have childcare though, so it is a barrier, but that’s a point for another day). It was framed as boy children being hard to manage, which really irked me. So I drafted a response, but forgot to edit and send it off. And since it’s been so long and I don’t know the sender personally, I thought using this as a writing exercise to be better equipped to verbalize these things on the spot later is more appropriate anyways.
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« About the kids piece, I need to share a point, just because I spend a lot of time thinking about this. I know that statements like « we have too many boys to keep it sane » really mean « we have too many toddlers/preschoolers to keep things under control, » but I feel that the popular stereotype that boys are more rambuctuous and harder to manage is not only false but also damaging to both boys and girls. To boys because it fits into the « boys will be boys » narrative that says it’s okay and ‘natural’ for boy children to wreck things and to be less respectful (which unfortunately doesn’t stop in toddlerhood, but is an expectation society has of boys and men). And damaging to girls because the underlying assumption here is that girls are « easier » to raise because they’re more docile, obedient, quiet; which is really problematic if we’re hoping to have strong outspoken women in positions of power and girls expecting (and negotiating) egalitarian partnerships as they grow up. I realize being nit-picky about language can be grating and seem uptight but I think that inviting children to be and to experience a whole wide range of emotions and behaviours, regardless of their sex and gender is our best tool for curbing gender inequality, for getting both men and women to take a stand against violence against women, and a surefire way to create a culture of consent good and early in the next generations. Hearing adults say that they act/behave a certain way because they’re boys or girls (whether or not the shoe fits), impacts their self-perceptions and, I’m convinced, spirals into self-fulfilling prophecies. Children are also the strictest gender polices once they crack the code of adults’ gender rules, which further reinforces a sub-optimal status quo. If we use more inclusive language, we all win. »
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(The revolution will start with language.)
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And on that note, I had some really fruitful conversations with our friend D this summer about how one can shift a culture, about what makes people start thinking, talking and behaving differently. I had been feeling weighed down by having to bring up gender issues, women’s issues, LGBTQ issues, children’s rights issues ALL THE TIME. You get called uptight a lot for shit like that. But in our conversations it clicked : we are conscious and particular about how we communicate, about the words we use and the words we teach because it effects the way we think, the way we classify information and what we think (/what we communicate) is important.
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My favourite example :  despite the fact that kiddo can tell (and will tell) if a (fully clothed) visitor has a penis or a vagina, he refers to people not as women or men but as people or children. He knows that there are biological males and females out there, he just doesn’t think (or hasn’t been encouraged to think) it’s the most salient characteristic about them. De quoi je suis bien fière.
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(Also, any pointers on how to talk about issues non-confrontationally when it’s something that folks just don’t have on their radars would be much appreciated. Because I don’t think I’m there).
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womenfolk.

 

From snow and frosts (bringing with them the stress of not having completed our frost-free winter water pumps project), to t-shirt weather (bringing renewed hope that we’ll get the potatoes out of the ground before they’re frozen solid), the farm emotions roller-coaster continues.

 

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Again, we’ve been so fortunate to have had so many good friends come to spend time with us at the farm and that so many have come with a great willingness to roll up (and muddy) their sleeves.

Our latest visitor has been an inspiring femme-à-tout-faire here, a Jill-of-all-trades, if you will.

 

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It’s been great to have the help of a can-do fellow farmer, of course, and for me, it’s been especially soulful to have another woman in this home, a competent, assertive, kind soul who knows what she’s talking about and holds her own in our pipe trenches, working with P. and the male contractor. I breathe easier living with individuals who subvert stereotypes and dated social norms. I am less on edge, more able to go about my business of garden tending or child minding, knowing that someone here is pushing the boundaries, broadening the scope of what women and men can (and choose to) do here. Both in my mind and for the older neighbours, farmers and contractors around who sometimes make it so hard for me to have any hope that I’ll choose a career/project path without having my main motivator be « I’ll show them! »

Having her company this past week has confirmed for me the importance of having other women on the farm. Both for my sense of safety and to open up the realm of what is possible. To foster the alternative and progressive home base we’re both, P. and I, longing for.  And to show them, quand même.

We will miss you , A.

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

quick reflections on this farm kid.

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he’ll splash and stomp smack dab into mud puddles, but step carefully to avoid cow pies.

he’ll point to any mammal, male or female, and show you where the milk would come from (« lait! melk! ») .

he can name most of the garden crops and knows where to find them.

he thanks the resident hens whenever he sees eggs.

he has yet to touch an electric fence.

 

farms and kids. who knew.

les outardes.

 

en épluchant une montagne de pommes, entendre les outardes de la fenêtre de la cuisine.

et entendre le petit crier « oiseaux! oiseaux! oiseaux! » à son papa, lui en pleine récolte de bette à carde pour le souper.

imaginer l’émerveillement du petit. la joie du grand.