A little intro and how we found home
A little ditty on who we are and how we got into farming because you’re asking and so, I’m telling.
Why I’m here. Well, mostly, why I’m on Instagram is because I love animals and I’m grateful to be in a position where I can advocate on their behalf. What? I love animals and I eat them? Yes, I don’t think you can fully love animals, all of nature in fact, including humanity, and suggest that we should unplug from the great brilliance that is the natural world. Nature has her systems and her rules, all beautifully considered and laid out for us to follow. We don’t get to pick and choose, deciding what fits within the confines of our emotional capacity. Immaturity tells us that we can rewrite the tenets of Nature to fit within our feelings, but feelings are not truth and she doesn’t give a shit about our feelings.
Nature is bigger than us. There are hard truths and things that, when we enmesh ourselves within her, we are expected to carry. There is responsibility and sadness in coming to terms with our own animalness. That we are ‘part of’, too.
There is much to say on this, enough for a book. And that’s what I’m doing. So, I will leave it at that for now.
Into my Instagram account goes other tidbits of how we live, the beauty of the world and animals we get to share our lives with and a few snippets about how we raised our three daughters into young women of character and substance. We think the goal of parenting is to do better than our parents. Take the painful stuff that we inherited, sit with it, figure out how to untangle all the stuff woven into it, yes, but make the decision that it is yours to work with and try not to hand off that baton to your children. They’ll have their own stuff to work with, but hopefully, each generation has a little less.
On the farming front: we moved around for 25 years or so with the military. Near the end of that time, we were constantly looking for land and/or a farm. I lived on a corner of my grandparents’ farm when I was a young girl, before our house burned down. I wasn’t responsible for any work, but those years of sleeping in wheat fields, racing a bull to the fence post, licking electric blue salt blocks in the cow pen, were the most formative of my life. I remembered the sounds, the smells, the sky. It was a place I knew I had to get back to one day.
While I was working as a Nutritionist, while we were living in the city, we were filling ourselves up with farming stuff whenever we could. I read book after book after book about farming. I subscribed to ACRES USA magazines. We went to farming conferences. We volunteered on all manner of farms and quickly figured out what we did and did not want to do. I was blessed to find a mentor, someone who shaped not only my ideas about farming and our connection to Nature, but all of life, too.
We looked at farms and land for years. Our criteria for said farm dwindled as reality set in. There is not a perfect place. If you have great land, you might have a crappy house. If the location is great, you might find yourself with poor soil. There are so many possibilities of things you will have to compromise on. It’s amazing how many places were ruled out by a quick Google satellite image search because they were near a mine, garbage dump, along a freeway or busy road, had a subdivision butting up against them, shared a field with a school, were surrounded by marsh etc..
Get a clear idea on what your non-negotiables are. For us, those were good water, no neighbouring GMO/chemical farming (a good hint is corn or soy or other mono cropping), no big sources of EMFs (my Lyme disease got significantly worse when we once lived in a house bordering on a hydro corridor we now have our whole house mitigated for EMF exposure.), and a few others. Distance to the city – well we were hoping for an hour, but an hour and ten minutes wasn’t a deal breaker. We also wanted mixed land. My husband cuts and mills wood and we needed to have access to fire wood. We also like the possibilities of mixed land and, where we live, odds were that’s what we would be getting. This isn’t the prairies, things are rocking and rolling in this part of Canada.
We knew we wanted to raise and sell grass fed beef, pork, goats, and fowl. When we found our land, just shy of 200 acres, with great pastures that had never been sprayed and a horrendous house and derelict barns, we were thrilled. I wanted to mow the house over, but, instead, we invested in it, accepting its flaws and loving it anyways. There was no heat and no stove so that was my trial-by-literal-fire way of learning how to run a beast of a wood cook stove to cook with and to keep us from freezing into popsicles on those frigid winter nights.
And that’s how all of it went. Trial by fire. You can learn, volunteer on farms, and read books, but ultimately, you have to just do it.
You really can’t go onto a piece of land and tell it what you are going to do with it. You have to listen, see what the land can provide, yes, but more importantly, what it needs. To do a mathematical equation to see ‘how many head fit onto how many acres’ is ineffectual. It tells you nothing of the vitality of your soil, the plants growing on it, the cycles of your place. Remember, you’re entering into a relationship, one with Nature, but she really doesn’t need you. You, on the other hand, are solely under her command.
After a few years on that farm, years of us pumping every last cent we had into infrastructure including the house, fencing (oh, the fencing!!), animals, water systems, barns, the house, all the haying equipment, a tractor, trailers, a manure spreader, tools, hay wagons, etc. we stopped, looked around and had a real ‘sit down’ conversation.
My husband and I are both good, too good, at putting our heads down and “getting it done”. Military – both of us, yes, but personality, too. When we bought our farm, we had animals on it before we were there. We were ready to go so, go we did. Life has a funny way of letting you learn the lessons to the degree you need to. For us, we had to march into an overwhelming pit of exhaustive despair before we lifted our heads and asked “what’s happening”?
There were a few things going on that we were not happy with. We weren’t 25 year olds anymore. We had both had careers, raised children (were still raising at that point), we had gone to school, put in our time, struggled and did all that stuff one should do. Work wasn’t an issue, we both enjoy physical pursuits and the challenge of ever-growing and evolving. The problem was the speed our lives had taken on. The problem was bringing animals to an abattoir when our value set is raising and caring for our animals and then ensuring they have the most humane death possible, out on our pasture, under the same sky they were born under.
At that time, we were also going through some nutty outside drama, some health issues (my Lyme disease being just one of them), and other personal stuff that seemed to come in a tsunami. But, ultimately, the problem was that the thing we valued the most, our family, was the thing that we had to compromise the most. That doesn’t work for us.
So, we put it out into the Great Wide Universe, we wanted to take all of our lessons learned and slow it all down. Yes, still raise and take responsibility for our food and our lives, curate our lives as best we can, but shape them a little differently. We have always believed that we live many lifetimes in one life. It was time to let go and trust that there was something better for us.
That’s scary stuff and I don’t want to downplay it. The emotional, time, and financial investment we had in that farm was monumental. To let go of that seemed like an absolute rejection of ourselves. “All for nothing.” But, we had many times in our lives where letting go of what was toxic or didn’t serve us brought us more beauty, more peace, and things bigger than we had imagined. So, that’s what we did. We drew on that knowing.
Moving a farm is a nightmare scenario. Animals and equipment and all the rest. Someone should make a horror movie called “Moving the Farm”. I wouldn’t go watch it.
So, here we are now. Our little farm is just over 100 acres. We took all of the lessons from our first go around, came up with our new non-negotiables, had faith that the world conspires in our favour, and so it was. We have a home that’s over 160 years old and solid as can be. She’s a dream to me, not grand, but simple and honest and strong. The family that built this house had eleven daughters. The old-timers in our hood tell me stories about how it was the most popular farm around. We have a beautiful maple sugar bush, a protected wetland that hosts a Blue Heron rookery, a smorgasbord of rare and endangered frogs, turtles, barn swallows and other birds. We have enough land to farm our grass finished beef, raw milk dairy herd, our pigs root through the forests, our barn kitties control the mice and rats, our meat rabbits have gone rogue and just hang out around the barns in winter and branch out to the pastures in the spring/summer/fall, our sweet ducks and geese get their own lux pond, and our turkeys and chickens patrol the pastures eating all manner of insects.
There is still much work to be done. Trees to fell and mill into lumber or split for firewood. Hay to stack and feed. Cattle to move every day so that our land can be enhanced, not drained. Pigs to move. Chores to do morning and night. Compost to be spread. Barns to be mucked out. Gardens to grow. Food to be prepared. Foraging, fermenting, drying, freezing. We harvest all of our animals in the fall, after a season of getting fat on grasses, and freeze/dehydrate/ferment/butcher all the food we need for a year. When the next fall comes, if I’ve calculated right, we should be freeing up all those freezers for that year’s harvest.
So, yes, there are many tasks to be done in a day, but they are our tasks. There to serve this land, these beautiful animals, and us. There’s a tangibility and deep sense of accomplishment in this work. Life is not supposed to be easy and driven by comfort. Those things are made luxurious by the work you put in. Otherwise, they just become a vehicle for inertia and self flagellation. Better to be proud of yourself, me thinks.
Ultimately, we have slowed into a rhythm in our lives that is getting closer to the rhythm in our hearts. Harmony. It doesn’t seem to come naturally in this modern world of ours and we slip, too, but we see it and hear it, feel it even. It’s the direction to which we steer our rudders and, when we got it, a current we let sail us along.
And, that’s about it. Here we are, riding into our midlives, always evaluating and assessing, trying to find ways we can stay true to our values and the mission statement of our lives that wraps itself around us and our family. Living in Nature, connecting ourselves to the land, the animals, and our understanding of what it is to be a human has been a great excavation. We had to remove layers of conditioning, question what we were told was success, what even made up a good life. It felt unstable at times. Sometimes it felt too hard. But I’m so grateful to the younger “Us” that stuck with it. I’m so grateful that, with years of practice, we continue to stick with it. It’s what gives our lives meaning and fulfillment. To know of our insignificance, of the fleeting nature of life, reminds us to live fully while we got it. If I die tomorrow, I’m ok. It’s all good (but, greedily, I want more so no need to get rid of me just yet, world).