Friday, May 30, 2008

Getting Ready

I will be off for a month of volunteering at Everdale on Monday. I'm hoping that the weather forecast of a clear day is right so I won't have to set up my tent in the rain!

I went up to Everdale for a visit a couple weeks ago so that I could meet the staff and see the site. I couldn't have been introduced to the farm in a better light. The day I was there was the one beautiful sunny spring day between two days of rain. The air was fresh, the sky was blue, the grass and vegetation had the bright green flush of spring, and there was a lovely breeze blowing. It seems that I always see new places on their best dressed days. Kind of like the first time I ever visited England and Scotland and atypically, came back with a tan ;P

I spent the day working with various interns getting things prepared for planting and harvest. We power washed over 300 grey plastic bins, sorted through a seemingly unending supply of plastic plant pots, and transplanted Zebra heirloom tomato seedlings. I hope my transplants all made it through the process! I suspect they're probably in the ground by now and look forward to seeing how the tomatoes grow.

I also had a taste of the farm community when I got to join them all for lunch. We had a very tasty white bean chili, which apparently started very spicy indeed and was made slightly milder by the addition of coconut milk. There were also very delicious coconut flour and brown rice flour chocolate chip muffins. I look forward to joining the Everdale team for breakfasts and lunches while I'm there. Hopefully when it's my turn to help prepare the meals, they'll like what's produced! I'm much more used to conventional ingredients, and my experience cooking with beans is limited to the one Christmas where I made baked beans for my pioneer-themed open house. Before my visit, I didn't even know that flour could be made from coconut.

I also learned that there are two types of wheat, both soft and hard, and therefore soft and hard wheatberries...which I had never associated with wheat before ;P And depending on what kind of dough you need, higher or lower gluten content, you would need to use wheat made from either hard or soft wheat. When your idea of flour is a bag of all-purpose from a grocery store, you just don't think of what it consists of. I'm definitely going to be learning a lot while I'm at the farm!

The 6 interns and additional Everdale staff all have varied backgrounds and are knowledgeable on many different topics. I really look forward to hearing about them all and learning from them in their areas of expertise. It will be a huge change for me, being surrounded by people with interest and knowledge of agricultural and environmental issues, after spending the last decade in the Toronto financial industry!

In preparation for spending 5 nights a week in a tent, I sealed all the bottom seams of my 4-person tent with a liquid seam sealer I got from Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) so as to prevent leaks from the edges of the tent. I set my tent up in my condo's garden courtyard on a sunny Sunday afternoon and applied the sealant. In hindsight, I think I should have bought the paste type instead of the liquid type. And the lazy person in me thinks I should have gotten the regular tent spray from Canadian Tire instead. I hope that the sealing doesn't backfire on me because I had to pack up the tent after 2 hours of drying (as per instructions) and some parts were still feeling a bit tacky. But it was getting windy in the courtyard (my building is at the centre of some sort of vortex) and I had already chased my tent across the yard more than once already. Plus, other residents of the condo were starting to come down to use the barbeques for dinner. I don't think they expected to see a tent set up in the courtyard. I also realized in prepping my tent that my tent is not evenly remotely built for heat retention. So I'm going to have to rely on my sleeping bag to stay warm on these still unseasonally chilly spring nights. I will have the minivan with me, so I guess if I start to freeze, I can always sleep in the van. I hope I don't have to wimp out that way though! I have added a fleece earband to my list of things to bring with me.

I've been gathering various bits of gear in the past month...waterproof pants and a mosquito net hat from MEC, a pair of navy polka-dotted rubber boots bought on my trip to Japan, all my camping clothes in storage boxes, and some new bright cotton summer tank tops from Joe Fresh. Since I usually try to hide indoors on hot summer days, I discovered that I had very few tank tops that could be worn on the farm, and even those were decades old. Joe Fresh seemed to be a good balance in getting some cheap, relatively disposable summer clothes that I wouldn't mind getting stained with dirt and manure. And the bonus is that they're in lovely bright colours which are always my first choice for clothing...plus, I have a soft spot for the Weston family and would rather spend my money (or PC points!) on their cheap clothing than the other cheap clothing chains out there.

Unpacking my regular camping clothes did make me realize how old some of them are. I've got a royal blue Club Monaco sweatshirt and denim button up shirt that I've had for probably twenty years. Visiting a friend for the past few days, she commented that year after year, we all look the same in all our camping photos, because our group of friends pulls out the same old camping gear for each trip, so it's actually a bit hard to date the photos!

I'm debating if I should bring any snacks up to Everdale with me. I have no idea if I'll be any hungrier than usual while I'm there, or if I will eat enough at meals. In the past I have been known to eat quite a lot of food, and while I don't eat quite as much as before, I still think I probably eat a lot more than people might expect. But most of the people on the farm are guys who are much taller than me, so I just hope I don't end up outeating all of them!

To end this post, I'm correcting an omission on my first post...I missed a key influence on my list from 'The Backstory'. The Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The self-sufficiency of the Ingalls family, or pioneer life, has appealed to me since childhood. Looking in my den at the pile of things I've been gathering to bring to Everdale, I think of the covered wagon that they would load up when heading to a new place and how each piece packed was important for its necessity. I think Ma only had one 'frivolous' thing that moved with them from place to place, a china shepherdess. If I spend this summer volunteering at different farms around southern Ontario, maybe I should pick my own 'china sheperdess' to make the journey with me.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Backstory

Those of you who know me well know that I'm very leery of all things internet related as I dislike the thought that strangers can learn personal details about me. So it may be a surprise to you that I've actually started this blog! Admittedly, I am starting very cautiously, with access currently restricted to people that I know. But if you have friends who you think would be interested in following my farm quest, please email me their email addresses so I can give them access. And perhaps after I get more used to publicizing my life in this way, I'll eventually make access to this completely public.

I've decided to join the world of public (or at least semi-public for now!) diarizing so that I can keep you all up to date on my journey into the world of sustainable agriculture. Since I won't have the luxury of seeing or speaking with you all as regularly as before, this blog will help me keep you all in the loop on where I'm at in the quest for my farm.

In case you are a newer acquaintance and haven't yet heard, ad nauseum, about my dream to run a farm, the following are the influences (in mostly chronological order) that have brought me to this point:
  • Watching David Suzuki on The Nature of Things for most of my childhood in Edmonton every Sunday night
  • Being read Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles in elementary school
  • Reading almost every book written by Madeleine L'Engle, starting with A Wrinkle in Time
  • Mme. Boisclair's science classes in junior high which I remember (accurately or not) as having a heavy environmental focus...I learned about insulation R-values in junior high!
  • My first trip to Scotland where I learned that black lambs in white sheep flocks were culled because they were unwanted for their black wool, and their meat was unsaleable due to the bluish tinge in their skin
  • A growing understanding of what my Christian faith actually meant, especially in considering the Kingdom of God and what that meant in terms of social justice and stewardship
  • Reading David Suzuki and Holly Dressler's book Good News for a Change and Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer
  • Joining my current small group where we share our thoughts and struggles in trying to live lives that reflect love, mercy and justice, in all their sometimes paradoxical confusion
  • Finally realizing that it was time to take the leap from my safe life of financial security in Toronto
While my environmental conservation sensibilities were cultivated from an early age, the idea of having a farm didn't appear until after my first trip to Scotland one spring when the fields were full of little lambs. After learning about the culling of black lambs and reading Prodigal Summer, I joked that I would have a farm of just black sheep. But as the years went by, the idea became less and less ridiculous to me. I have spent the last few years both reading about farming, as well as keeping an eye out for affordable farm land. But this year, following increasing dissatifaction with my work in the financial industry, I finally realized that instead of continuing to just research and save money, I should just take the plunge and get out there.

I left my job at a company I had been with for seven years, took one last overseas trip to Japan, and am now preparing myself to move into a tent at Everdale farm (www.everdale.org) and volunteer with them for the month of June. Thus my farm quest begins!