Farm or Industry?

not part of the news story, just too good to not use!

Below is a quote from a recent issue of the local paper.

“As [the district] considers a bylaw that would allow large-scale composting, some residents denounce the idea as one that turns farming into an industrial operation.”

This is the third time in a decade that I can recall this issue coming up locally.  The basic problem is that we are officially a rural district, but have evolved in the last 50 years to become a bedroom community for the nearby city of Victoria.  People are drawn to buy homes here by the lovely hay fields, the great places for horseback riding, the pumpkin patches and orchards.  Subdivisions are surrounded by fields, as farms that escaped the strictures of the Agricultural Land Zones created in the early 1970’s were sold for development, while their neighbours were designated as agricultural land forever.

For the subdivision folk, the complaint is primarily about noise and odour.  In each of the three cases I know of, they have remarked on the trucks coming in with produce waste from the local grocery chain to dump at the compost facility.  They talk about the noise of the machinery, as the tractors turn the pile daily until the “batch” is ready.  They complain most strenuously about the odour, which I’ve experienced driving past one of the operations, and which I admit I’m happy not to have next door to me.

The farmers who have owned these operations all express bewilderment.  It’s compost for Pete’s sake, they say.  You know, good organic stuff for the soil.  What’s wrong with that? We’ve been here for decades, farming can be noisy and smelly at times, people have to allow for this if they want to live in the country.  And what the heck is wrong with selling what I create here on the farm?

The issue is complicated by the fact that the levels of jurisdiction disagree about that very point.  The district does not allow the sale of compost from a farm – sees this as an industrial enterprise, not a farming one.  The Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), a provincial body, allows farms to sell up to half of the compost they create on farm.  There are even two other government offices that could have a say in whether a farm can sell compost as well.  Phew.  Or Peeeuuuw.

I see two sides to this fence.  On the neighbours side, I agree the smell is something else when the compost is new.  I can see the district’s point of view that making compost entirely from material trucked in – grocery waste and tree chipping services, primarily – is not exactly a farm product.  The scale of the operations are a contributing factor to the conflict.  The daily trucks wouldn’t be in the picture if the vegetative content of the compost was coming from the farm itself. It is said that the tractors start up early and finish late.  I have a neighbour(not one of the composters) who gets started around 7am with his tractor – I’m up by then, but I’m not surprised the subdivision folk find that a bit early.  That said, I’ve lived in town in the past, and been surrounded by weed whippers and lawn mowers buzzing all afternoon and evening on the weekends, endured radios blaring from balconies in apartments I’ve lived in, and held my nose at the university where the gardeners spread the ripest mulch I have EVER smelled in the rhododendron beds, and in none of those places was I anywhere near a farm.

On the farmers side, the three that have tried this enterprise so far have all been long established family farms, here long before the neighbours were, and I think they feel the neighbourhood needs to recognize that it’s moved next door to an active farm, not the other way around. If they were making compost in the Cariboo, or even in a less populated area up-Island from here, this would be a non-issue, there’d be no one to care.  Also, the Agricultural Land Commission only allows them to sell half of the compost the make, which means they’re presumably using the other half.  Two of them have substantial acreage in vegetables (200 + acres each),  which must require copious applications of compost.  I see that as a farming practice, frankly.  And finally, farms are by definition almost, commercial enterprises – they are food factories.  The farmer is growing food to sell it, after all.  And if he’s using compost to do that, I’m pretty happy.  If he wants to sell some of the compost he makes, I think it makes good business sense.

My chickens give me more eggs than my family can eat, and I sell the extras.   No one complains.  Not even my neighbours who share the wake up calls my rooster provides, and the occasional cultivation provided by an escapee hen.  It might help that the neighbour gets free eggs from me when that happens.  And maybe that’s the heart of the issue.  What the composting farmers should be looking at is ways to be more neighbourly with this enterprise.  Maybe, despite the farms being here longer than the neighbours, the farmers need to go next door with a free yard or two of compost once in a while.  It works with eggs.


Unbelievably, our completely neglected, suffering little peach tree has managed to produce 7 beautiful peaches.  We’ve eaten one, these 6 will get picked tomorrow.  Yum!  In our damp, cool climate, the local advice is to grow peaches under an overhang of some sort, out of the rain, in full sun.  Against the south side of a house is about the best you can do.   No one grows peaches on any kind of scale here, all our peaches for canning have to come from the interior of BC, from a beautiful valley around a lake, an area called the Okanagan Valley.  In the dry heat of summer there, they grow all sorts of fruit, and also miles of grapes for the dozen or more wineries around the lake.

This is Peaches and Cream sweet corn, from a local farm stand.  Local corn hit the stands last weekend.  Now this is a crop that is grown in quantity in this area. Interestingly, I would say this is one of the few things that nearly everyone in town considers mandatory to buy from the farmer rather than the grocery store -the 3 major growers all do a booming trade till about the end of September.  Canada geese and deer are a huge problem in the corn fields, some of which are just a few acres away from us.  The farm across from us uses an air gun at random intervals to deter the geese, who rise up in clouds – several hundred at a time – when it goes off.  The noise of their honking is incredible, and a real sign that fall is almost with us.

Star Party tonight!

Perseids, Huntsville, Alabama 2011
Credit: NASA/MSFC/Meteoroid Environment Office

One of the good things about living in the country or on a farm is the natural beauty all around you.  One of the best parts of that is the night sky.  Away from the city and light pollution, street lights, traffic, etc., the night sky is simply amazing.

I am not much of an astronomer, but my husband enjoys star gazing, and bought himself a small telescope a few years ago to use in the back forty.  Tonight, we’re bringing it out, along with some blankets, some hot chocolate and reclining lawn chairs, because we’ve invited all our friends to our Annual Star Party!   The favourite place to watch from is the trampoline – because it’s so awesome to lie back on it with a blanket and just watch the sky – everyone else will be on hard ground or in deck chairs, not nearly so comfortable.

We hold it this time of year because of the Perseid meteor shower , which is very dramatic and also great for amateurs like me because they are likely to see something before they give up after five minutes.  It’s a little weird, holding a party that starts at 10pm, but really, there’s not much point starting a star gazing party much before it gets dark, is there?   The telescope and binoculars will be out for those who want to check out some of the planets that are also visible right now, but the real event will be the meteor shower, which can be seen throughout much of North America right now.  One year when we watched, I saw something like 50 in 30 minutes.  Think shooting stars, one after another, all heading in the same direction across the sky.

It’s fantastic weather for the star party – clear skies, no haze, it should be great.

Check out this link for more info about the meteor shower.

Pea-eating pests and pastured poultry

During evening chores the other day, we found the broilers were entertaining guests – Black Tailed Deer.  In the middle of our second thunderstorm of the month.  We might normally get a thunderstorm once every two or three years.  weird year.  I’m finding it a bit rude of the deer to not even be anxious about us standing just the other side of the poultry pen from them.  We are seeing them almost every evening, and they’re beautiful, but they are also the creatures that ate my peas.  I’m not over it, you pea-eating pests.

Yes, I got most of the broilers processed last week.  But these four were runts that I held back, and we’ll process them ourselves this weekend for our own use.  Do you remember the young broiler that got attacked by an owl?  She recovered really well, so well in fact that though I was going to hold her back with these four, I mistakenly caught her in the dark on processing day, and had no idea, till I got back that night and found she wasn’t there.

There were seven runts originally,  all birds with leg problems, which they developed about week 2 or 3.  This is the first year I tried separating them out and keeping them in their own pen, and it worked wonders.  My thinking was that they wouldn’t have to compete for food and water, and with time and less stress might develop some strength.  I put the injured bird in with them, and she looked huge in comparison, but that probably worked in her favour as it meant she didn’t get pecked or hassled.  On processing day, I took the four biggest birds – one of which was obviously her.  The remaining four all walk completely normally and they’ve grown out nicely without the competition from the larger birds.  I’m expecting they’ll dress out around 4 lbs. They do look a little lost in the big pasture pen though.

My “To Do” lists

When I first started this blog, I stated that one of my reasons for blogging would be to help keep myself accountable to my goals.  So in the spirit of that, here is…

LIST #1:

  • hack blackberries behind little chicken house, then around heat pump.
  • process last 4 broilers (we held back some runts, we’ll do them for our own consumption)
  • build new broiler pen
  • clean out layers brooder pen
  • prep bed for fall veggie planting
  • weed garden
  • canning and freezing
  • cut back the worst parts of the front hedge
  • all the usual house stuff

Why I’m not getting far with List #1:

I have been in denial about the increasing discomfort I’ve been experiencing from plantar fasciitis in my right foot. I’ve been putting up with it for about 2 months.  At first, I felt like I had it under control – there are some exercises I was taught last year when I had a bad bout of it in my left foot, and for a while I thought they were helping.  I bought a new pair of shoes to wear at work (I’m on my feet all day there), and I thought for sure that would be the end of it.  Nope.  It flared up in the other foot as well.

Suddenly, I find myself thinking ahead throughout every phase of the day – how long will I be able to do whatever job I’m considering before it hurts too much?  I have delegated dog walking to the kids (I love walking the dog).  I have started putting my feet up in the afternoon, to rest them – with a book in hand – I thought I was onto something, but it’s just depressing with so much to be done outside.  I find myself dreading getting out of bed in the morning, knowing I have to put weight on my feet when I stand up (they feel fine when I’m lying down).  I’ve started to get a glimpse of what it might be like to be elderly and living with chronic pain.  I do not want to jump the gun on that phase, thank you.  I’m starting to get grumpy.

Maybe you’ve heard this phrase:  “Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”.  Something has to change, and it better be me.  I’m telling you, you need your feet for farming.  It is not an armchair sport.  So…

LIST #2:

  • book appointment with physiotherapist – Done – seeing him next week
  • start losing some weight – in progress
  • get serious about the foot exercises – they are NOT lame (haha) – ok, ok, I’ll do them

I’ve put it in writing here, and shared it with all of you.  I have to admit, there’s nothing like a little pain to motivate me to change my ways, but I have been known to procrastinate once or twice :), so I’m counting on some moral support if it looks like I’m not working my way through List #1 or dog walking pretty soon.  Deal?

Future Farmers

Joel Salatin & Michael Ableman

For some time now, I’ve had simmering in the back of my mind a comment Michael Ableman made when he was introducing Joel Salatin in the workshop I attended in June. I didn’t write down his exact words, but the gist of it was:

You always hear that if you want kids to grow up to be farmers, you have to raise them in town.

Michael’s adult son, who grew up on the farm, has gone on to do other things with his life, and his younger son is only 10, so it’s hard to say what he’ll do.  One of the things that Michael found most interesting when he heard about Joel Salatin and Polyface Farm is that Joel’s son Daniel grew up on the farm – and stayed there.  Daniel now runs the daily operations of the farm and is as passionate about holistic farming as his Dad.

Michael disguised it with a grin and a laugh, but I think there was a tinge of envy and wistfulness in this remark.

And it’s made me wonder ever since:  how true is the truism? My own children have no desire to farm.  They”ve lived here most of their lives.  They enjoy country life to an extent, they can see themselves having veggie patches in their backyards when they’re adults.  But not chickens or livestock.  No anxieties about crops getting rained on or parched dry.  No fence mending.  Definitely no mucking out.  They want to be able to go camping spontaneously, travel without worry.  No egg washing or late night chicken butchering.

And yet…an old schoolmate of mine is a third generation farmer, and his son is just back from Ag college, full of plans for local grain harvesting and raising turkeys on the side.  Fourth generation farmer at the age of 19.  Cool.  A classmate of my older daughter (17) lives on a 40 acre sheep farm with his family and owns part of the flock with a view to building his own farming enterprise.  Another classmate, in the poultry 4-H club for years, has begun a breeding business, raising quail and partridges, and is “raking it in” as his buddy told me at the feed store the other day.  The son (age 25) of a friend of mine is a third generation farmer, and is leasing 2 acres to grow organic raspberries and raising a half dozen hogs, while helping his mum with her berry farm.

So why these kids and not Michael Ableman’s son?  Why are my kids not interested, but yours are?  I know there are a number of factors at play, not least among them farming practices, finances, the high value placed on post secondary education, and of course parenting styles.  There’s also the whole nurture vs nature thing – some kids are just not wired to want to grow food, some kids are.

Am I disappointed my own children are not interested in farming?  Not with them.  Truthfully, we did a lot of things in terms of modelling and training and exposure that pretty much guaranteed that they would lean in a different direction.  A little disappointed in us as parents, perhaps, that we didn’t get on the same page about this kind of thing early enough.  That’s more about us than them.  And it’s OK, really.  They understand what goes into creating food, what it takes to grow good meat, and that’s important.  It will make them the kind of consumer that supports farmers.  And maybe they’re wired to for something else entirely anyway.  Besides, my brother grew up yearning for an urban life and now owns a John Deere, has twice the number of layers than me, and is president of the local Agricultural Society. Seeds can lie dormant for a long time and sprout when you least expect them to.  Whatever path my children end up taking, I hope that they find fulfillment and challenge and satisfaction in it.  And if, like my brother, they come back to the land later, well, that’s good too.

I think it really comes down to vocation.  Many of us, in my generation at least, were encouraged to quell any sense of vocation and instead pursue “practical” paths – most of us were pushed in the direction of post secondary education or trade school, our ticket to financial security.  Something our parents didn’t have available to them.  It’s natural to want a better life for your kids.  But I think it’s wrong to view vocation as unimportant.  I think it’s our job as parents to give kids permission to listen for their calling.  Of course we cannot but help shape their experiences by our own lifestyle choices, but within that, we must give them room to discover passions and interests, to explore what makes them eager to get out of bed every day, what makes them feel like they really accomplished something good.  We have to watch for those little sparks, those lights in their eyes, when they suddenly switch on.  It doesn’t take 10 different sports or clubs to find those glimpses of interest and passion.  No, it’s true, your child growing up in the woods may not discover his or her innate talent for surfing.  That’s not what I’m talking about.  I mean the thing they’re going to do out in the world that is their contribution, their part of the greater whole, how they make their way.

Even if we’re the best kind of parent raising kids on the best kind of farm, they might not be hearing anything that calls them to nurture the land specifically; instead they might be hearing something that tells them they love to build, or heal animals, cook good food, manage a forest, fix machinery, paint pictures, care for people.  Or not.  They might really feel a call to grow plants for food, raise animals, improve soil…you know, farm.

The small, sweet stuff of life

You may remember that we had a big jam and jelly making session a few weeks ago.  One jar each of strawberry jam and raspberry jelly didn’t seal, so I put them in the fridge to be enjoyed right away.

In the summer, I usually eat my breakfast long before anyone else – I’m the official morning person of the family, and especially in good weather, actually enjoy the morning chores; the bonus of rising early, besides all the beauty, is the peace and quiet of some toast and tea with a book before the noise and hubbub of the day begin.  I hope you see how this might relate to the jam and jelly.

I had reached that part of the day in which I’ve tucked my bookmark into the pages, grabbed the laundry basket and got started.  The others had by then meandered in and out for their own breakfasts, and my husband brewed up a pot of coffee for us to share before he headed out for work.  We’re not at our conversational best in the mornings – I may say I’m a morning person, but this describes my ability to get up early consistently, not much else.  My husband is not a morning person, no matter how you define it.

So we idly discussed the weather, errands, and our preferences for raspberry jelly or strawberry jam.  And things got heated, right there.  Because though we tasted them both from a spoon when we first made them, I have only been eating the strawberry jam on my morning toast.  And he didn’t believe me.  The jar of raspberry was almost empty, I must have been eating it without noticing.  How could I NOT notice the difference, I protested?  I have definitely been eating the strawberry.  Besides, one is jam, with mashed fruit in it, the other is jelly, no fruit, though as I say that I realize that the fruit in the jam was all at the top, the bottom half is pretty much jelly.  He showed me the half empty jar from the fridge.  At this point, I’m thinking:  wow, married more than 20 years, and we can still have the dumbest discussions… “Fine. Whatever.  I guess I didn’t notice the difference” (I CANNOT believe I can’t tell the difference).  He’s practically euphoric – caught the locavore bluffing,  how great is that!  And we settle back with our coffee and chat about less controversial stuff like politics instead.

Then yesterday, he pulled both jars out of the fridge, and apologized.  Turns out he didn’t realize both jars were in there.  He thought we’d finished the strawberry a week ago.  I was gracious and nice about it.  I smiled, and enjoyed my coffee…and the moment.

This morning for breakfast, on my own as usual, I had bread and butter and jam for breakfast.  Actually jam AND jelly.  Just a little taste test.

Whew.  Yup, I can definitely tell the difference.  If he ever blindfolds me on this one, I’ll be fine.  Isn’t it great when you can let the small stuff go?

Can you tell the difference?

Summer supper

We’re getting some hot days at last up here in the PNW, and enjoying them (it’s the novelty :)).  While it’s been warm enough most nights for the past few weeks to eat outside, deciding what to cook in order to minimize the amount of heat generated in the house is still a pretty new thing this season.  Friday was one of those days.  I had a day off, but had a ton of stuff to do around the place, and didn’t want to spend half the day coming up with a good meal.  On the other hand, I had a day off, and I wanted to end it with…a good meal.  What to do?

Homemade pizza!  We had all the fixings easily to hand, so I threw the bread machine on at 4pm, and left it to do it’s stuff.  At 530, the dough was ready.  I chopped up the onion my neighbour passed over the fence the day before, sauteed the white part and chopped the green for garnish.  Sauteed the red pepper that came from the local greenhouse grower that sells at the farmers market.  Diced some leftover ham (from the last ham in my freezer from the side of pork we bought last year), chopped up some garlic scapes, added them to the sautee pan.  A few spoonfuls from the jar of tomato sauce were spread on the dough, we grated some cheddar and mozza (from BC companies, but not terribly local otherwise), threw it all together and put it in the oven.  Where, by the way, I had placed the frozen meat pie made by a friend who sells them at the market (this is her home business – she makes pies, meat and fruit, for you to bake at home) in the preheating oven to start baking.  Because I used a slightly cooler oven (about 375 F), I cooked the pizza about 20 min, so that I wouldn’t overbrown the pie, and left the pie in for another 20 min while we ate.  Thanks to this forethought, on Saturday, we didn’t have to turn the oven on at all, nor did anyone have to cook – win/win!

We have salad pretty much every night through the summer months, and this year have been having it entirely out of our garden.  This one has some baby chard, the last of the romaine lettuce, which is bolting, but which served me well for 2 months, some chopped cuke (ok, not out of my garden, but from my neighbour), radishes, and some chives.  And as a garnish, 6 baby carrots from the thinning I did while dinner was in the oven.

We learned in Europe last summer that the only dressing a good salad needs is olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Now, we often just place the two bottles on the table and add a bit of each to our salad as we did in Europe, but if there’s time, we’ll make up a small batch of vinaigrette, which is what you see here.  Making our own dressing has really cut down on junk in the fridge door, given us more space on the pantry shelves (this was something we used to buy on sale and store), and has a whole lot less additives.  Saves money, and stops plastic going in the landfill.  We feel OK buying really good olive oil and balsamic vinegar to use just for this purpose, since both have great shelf life compared to a bottle of prepared dressing.  I admit I do still hanker after a creamy caesar dressing occasionally, but those can be made too it turns out…

Dinner together is always a time when we chat and share our day.  While we might admonish one of the girls about some flagrant table manner misdemeanour, we avoid picking on the small stuff while at the table, and focus on just enjoying the time and the food together.  Especially in the summer, when we’re sitting outside like this, we tend to linger after we’ve eaten,  perhaps a second glass of wine on the go (for some of us!).  Even in the winter, we don’t usually rush through the meal, but take our time.  We do have activities that force us out the door right after dinner, but I would say 6 out of 7 nights will find all four of us at the table.  Stuck in my mind is the memory of a friend of ours who came to pick up eggs at dinner one night several months ago (we eat a bit later than most folks to accomodate our work schedules), and on seeing us all round the table, commented that it was something that never happened at their house.  With 4 kids, all in different activities, himself a competitive rower and his wife a Wolf Cub and Girl Guide leader, he said dinner was more like a race to ingest nutritious material than what he saw before him.

We all make lifestyle choices that suit ourselves and our families.  One style is not necessarily more right than another.  Our friends are active, fit (fitter than me, for sure), and healthy.  Sometimes I envy their energy levels and vitality, but when he made that comment, I saw the look in his eye, and I know he sometimes envied us too, and it made me realize that what we have is pretty great too.

Caution – Kids at work

We hired the girls to paint all the exterior trim and woodwork on the house this summer, as well as the storm windows (which are new).  We’ve offered a substantial sum to each upon completion of their section of house, and they seem pretty motivated.  We had very uncooperative weather for painting for the first few weeks of the summer holidays, so the project only got underway this week.

Younger daughter adding another coat to the storms

This is an older house (the main part was built in 1925), 1 1/2 storeys, so there’s a fair bit of ladder work.  Good thing the girls chosen sports give them such great upper body strength – one fences (as in swords, not wire, sadly), the other is a wall climber (NOT as in “she’s so bored, she’s climbing the walls”, the other kind, with ropes and harnesses and grips on the wall).

older daughter washing down and scraping the woodwork on the east side

Both kids have other jobs on the go, and older daughter is still living at her house sitting job a couple of kilometres away.  Fortunately her summer job is just down the road from here, so she has been coming here for dinner and doing her painting stuff in the evenings.  The younger child has more time on her hands, but needs a little more guidance as well, so she’s been working when one of us is home; in addition she is hacking blackberries with me and has all her older sister’s household work while she’s away.  Such is the lot of the youngest kid!

Today got up to about 32 degrees (I think that’s around 90 F), so the pool got a workout before dinner when those hot sweaty painters jumped in to cool off.