Friday, December 10, 2010

Post season presentations, workshops and media!

Back in mid-October, I was interviewed via phone about the farm by Glenn Cheater, writing for the Canadian Farm Business Management Council.  We talked about why/how I got into farming and I sent him some pictures from the farm. You can see the results in the article "Farming their own way" in the December 2010 issue of the Canadian Farm Manager newsletter (go to link in blog title).

This year, I was also one of about 15 recipients of a $750 marketing grant from the Grey-Bruce Local Food Project which helped to pay marketing costs (signs, packaging materials, vegetable bins, printing and supplies, etc.). At the end of the season they hosted, along with the Grey Bruce Agriculture and Culinary Association, the Grey Bruce Local Food Summit in Owen Sound. All of us grant recipients spoke in a workshop about our farms/businesses and how our marketing worked out for the year. A big topic discussed by many at the event, was about the problem of efficient and cost-effective distribution of food products from the producers to local buyers (direct or retail). One of the stumbling blocks was that local restaurants/retailers/etc. were not necessarily willing/able to pay the higher prices for local food vs. foreign imports. This was not a shocking piece of news to any producers, but highlights the fact that though it's currently popular in the media for people, retailers and restaurants to want to source local food, they're not necessarily willing to pay the cost of that choice. The fact that our society expects low cost food is depressing, especially as a producer trying to make a living growing food. One day, we'll all have to come to terms with what the true cost of food is and allocate our budgets accordingly. Hopefully local food production can survive until such a time ;P

In November, I also took the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP)workshop, run by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) on behalf of OMAFRA, which I found highly educational. Before this workshop, I hadn't truly clued in to how contaminating industrial agricultural methods really are, and how the government is trying to get farmers to 'voluntarily' mitigate that contamination with cost sharing. I'm not sure what legislation there exists, if any, to get farmers to run cleaner operations. Apparently, the Grey Bruce region has a high rate of participation in the EFP, but it's certainly not all farmers. Many river ways still aren't fenced off from cattle (who stand in the river to drink and poop in there as well) and animal yards aren't necessarily roofed to prevent un-treated/directed manure run-off (think Walkerton...). As an organic farmer, many of the environmental risks addressed in the workshop don't apply to me at all so I'm applying with projects to improve my well (apparently, it needs to be completely above ground to be safe from surface water contamination), to plant windbreaks (silver maples, oaks and cedar along the road) and to buy seed for cover cropping. But it was very eye-opening to see how many costs of environmental protection need to be paid for by the farmers themselves. The cost of covering an animal yard to prevent manure run-off from rain/snow is upwards of $30-60K...half of which is paid for by the farmer. Given how little money many industrial farmers are making, I wonder what incentive/cash flow/borrowing is available to these farmers to make these changes to their operation...and the cost to society if they can't afford these changes (again, Walkerton). And for those industrial farmers that are voluntarily cleaning up their operations, it seems to me that our society should acknowledge the heavy costs they pay and how much cleaner operations contribute to improving the environment we all live in. Of course, if all farms in Ontario followed organic principles, that would be the best for all...but I don't live in that much of a fantasy world!

The applicaton process for EFP funding was itself quite crazy. Apparently, when the program was first funded in 1993, it was like pulling teeth to get farmers to participate, but now, it's a race to get your applications in on time to access the government funding (which has decreased over the years). On Nov. 15, I had to go to my workshop leader's house in Mildmay to join the many other farmers from my area in filling out the project application forms that would be mailed via Canada Post that night to get to the OSCIA head office in Guelph. It's quite a sight to arrive at a farm house with a farmer sitting at every available seat at multiple tables/countertops and more waiting on couches for their turn at the writing surfaces. My workshop leader used to drive the application forms in to Guelph to be as far ahead in the queue as possible, but now all the various applications have to arrive by Canada Post to try and level the 'distance to Guelph' playing field. I don't know yet if any of my applications have been approved, but I hope to find out soon so I know if I can go ahead with improvements to my well sooner rather than later!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Prepping the farm for winter

I can't believe how fast time has flown by since my last vegetable delivery! I had to get lots of stuff done before winter came in earnest (there are a couple feet of snow on the ground at the farm right now).

In November, with the help of Jeremy, my intern for next season, I built spools for winding up irrigation drip tape, got the various bits of irrigation equipment off the field (so fast when you have 2 sets of hands!), did a final glean of the field and processed the laying hens (yes, that means they are now dead and in my freezer, ready to become chicken soup). The last harvest from the field yielded tons of chard and kale, as well as some root vegetables (beets, carrots & parsnips) and cabbage. Most of the chard is now in my freezer and the kale was turned into delicious, crispy chips! My neighbours came over for a field glean feast that night and we thoroughly enjoyed the fruits of our labour :)

For the house, I fire-proofed my basement insulation with a thermal barrier paint...a process which took more than twice as much time and paint than I initially expected :(  Not too much fun considering I don't like hanging out in my basement, the paint cost about $100/gallon and it had to be applied by brush. It was like painting a rocky cliff face. But, safety first after all! And now it's done, my insurer is happy too. The eavestroughs on my house were also replaced, so hopefully there will be no repeat of the basement flooding that happened this summer...though eavestroughs won't prevent that in the case of torrential rains, they might mitigate somewhat! At least my new washer is up on a platform so I will have more time to start bailing/pumping the basement if the situation repeats itself!

I've also been stacking wood for the winter, a process only half done so far. But this year I was smarter and covered the wood pile with tarps, so even with the snow that's come down, the wood will be more accessible than last year when I had to chip logs out of ice ;P It is quite lovely to have the wood stove heating the house. The flames are beautiful and the dry heat definitely takes the damp out of the house! The cats love sitting in front of the stove too :)

Which reminds me...I now have cats! I knew I had to choose between cats or mice in the house for the winter, so I went with cats. I adopted a lovely pair from a couple moving to Zurich and am quite happy with my new mousers. I haven't had any mouse droppings around the house since their arrival and I was presented with my first dead mouse while watching a movie one night.

The one thing I didn't get around to doing before the weather got cold, is set up my heat lamp for the well pump. I should probably have prioritized that as I'm currently sitting at home with no water because the temperature dropped below -10C last night so the pump line froze. I completely forgot about it before I left for Toronto to help my sister with the One of a Kind show, and wasn't paying enough attention to temperature to clue in that I needed to get that set up yesterday. Since I just got back to the farm on Tuesday, I guess my mind hadn't quite returned to rural mode yet! Plus, yesterday's all day snow storm meant I wasn't in the mood for wandering around outside running extension cords ;P

Now I'm in a Christmas decorating frame of mind...jump started by making the wreaths for my first set of Christmas wreath deliveries mid-November. I have another set of deliveries in about a week, but the greens will be harder to forage now since there's so much snow on the ground! It will definitely be good exercise to go snow hiking out to gather greens :)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Season's end

I'm sipping coffee at a table at the Williamsford Pie Company, looking back on the growing season as I write this post. This past Tuesday was my last (19th!) vegetable delivery of the 2010 season and so now I have time to reflect.

I'm truly thankful that I was able to make vegetable deliveries for 19 weeks out of a potential 16-20 week season. I had to buy in winter squash and pie pumpkins from a fellow organic vegetable farmer to make full vegetable packages for the last 4 weeks, but my field still had greens and root vegetables to harvest, so it was worth it to keep going. With all the cold of the past few weeks, my greens all turned super sweet. My mother stir fried some bok choy from the field for dinner one night and I was amazed at how sweet it was. And my salad greens, despite having to survive 2 inches of wet snow on Oct. 21 (crazy early snowfall...but absolutely gorgeous), were deliciously crisp and tasty. I still have chard, kale, spinach, carrots, beets and potentially, napa cabbage and kohlrabi, to harvest for myself until winter finally sets in. I'll invite my neighbours for a field glean in mid-November so we can have a vegetable feast that night.

Some random things I learned this year while in the field:
1. Cabbages really attract earwigs, slugs and other wormy critters. I'm not fond of any of these pests so cabbage harvest (napa, green & purple) wasn't particularly fun. Since all my harvest this year was done solo, no one had to hear my bug related shrieks other than the local wildlife ;P I would always drown the heads in tubs of cold water to try and flush out any remaining bugs, but that's no guarantee of getting them all out of the leaf layers. I hope my clients weren't too freaked out if they found any wormy things in their cabbages. I may resort to the use of diatomaceous earth next year (or finally put 2+ years of collected eggshells to work) to see if that cuts down on the creepy crawlies.
2. My local rabbit/mouse/mole/ground hog population really likes nibbling on the tops of my beets. I guess I can't blame them given how tasty they are...but it breaks my heart each time I discard a beet in the field that's been nibbled by rodents. I wonder if having some cats patrol the farm next year might decrease rodent depredation. Can I get cats to patrol my field specifically? Or maybe it will be time for me to finally get a dog...
3. I need to make more noise in the field or risk being freaked out by wildlife. While weeding or harvesting, I have variously been frightened by the proximity of deer, rabbits, lizards and frogs/toads. Perhaps frightened is too strong a word...startled may be more appropriate.  I have no particular objection to the presence of all these animals in my field, and am quite happy to have them around as it speaks to the health of the farm's environment, but I'd rather they stayed a bit further away from me. The deer was the most alarming. I stood up from a crouch, turned to my right, saw a deer close by and yelled in reflex. The deer took off, obviously as startled by me as I was by him/her.
4. Parsnips can grow really, really, really long. This was my first year successfully planting and harvesting parsnips and I was expecting their harvest to be on a par with carrots. Well, after loosening the parsnips with a pitch fork, I would then huff and puff trying to pull up the parsnip, only to have the greens or root itself break off on me. I often had to resort to scrabbling around each parsnip with my fingers, digging down until the majority of the root was uncovered and I could get a good enough grip to pull it out of the soil. I did fall on my backside a few times from the sudden release of the parsnip. And my finger cuticles suffered some damage from all the finger soil scrabbling. I guess the super creamy texture of the parsnips makes it worth it in the end...but I'm still on the fence about that ;P
5. I can finally take heat. I spent this hot, humid summer in the field mostly covered from head to toe, wearing long sleeves, long pants, rubber boots and a hat. This was to avoid having to cover myself with sunscreen and bug spray (their chemical contents make me shudder). I can even sit in saunas now! As long as I'm hydrated and there's a cold swim in a river to look forward to at the end of the day, the heat is bearable. Not pretty, but bearable. My glasses often collected droplets of sweat for me and I would have salt lines on my work clothes when they dried...really attractive ;P

All in all, I'd say my second season was a success. While I only hit my minimum financial targets, I'm not destitute and haven't increased my debt load. I think my vegetable subscribers were happy with their packages this year (which a survey in the next few weeks will hopefully confirm or refute). I ate lots of delicious and tasty vegetables (don't really remember what grocery store bought vegetables taste like anymore) and got lots of exercise in the sun (no vitamin D deficiencies for me!). And some great news...I have an intern for next year!

Jeremy, a fellow Albertan transplant (he's from Grand Prairie), has spent many weeks/months of the past 6 summers out in Grey County and has quite fallen in love with the region and country living. He has been living at my neighbour's for this past summer, working on a building project, and I've gotten to know him and my neighbours quite well this past year. It's been great to find so many kindred spirits in such close proximity.

I really look forward to having some company on the farm next year and to the increased vegetable capacity that means. I'll also be able to work on a lot of projects that require at least two people: building a composting toilet, outdoor shower, bread oven, clearing all the scrap wood out of my barnyard so it will be useable by animals, etc. And I'll be able to raise some sheep and goats for meat next season, so keep some freezer space open next fall if you're interested!

I'll be looking to double my vegetable subscribership to 80 (2 sets of 40, every 2nd week) for 2011 as Jeremy and I will be able to cultivate 2 acres of vegetables. I'll also be experimenting with some vegetables that I've never grown before, like corn, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, edamame and brussel sprouts. I'm getting quite excited just thinking about all the vegetables that will be grown next year! And I'll be on a field that has been in green cover crops for the past 2 seasons, getting prepped for intensive vegetable cultivation. I'm hoping that vegetable production will be more consistent on the new field than on the former hay field that I've been using for the past 2 seasons. It will also be a hugely public field as it is completely visible from the road, so time will need to be spent keeping it pretty :)

But I'm getting ahead of myself...my current field still needs to be put to bed (final crops harvested, irrigation equipment wound up and put away, etc.) and then there are a bunch of house maintenance tasks I need to take care of (seems to be a never ending list). One thing's for sure, I won't be bored any time soon!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

In the home stretch

It's the end of day 1 of 2 for harvest week 15 of 19. The weather has definitely turned from hot summer days to cool fall ones. And though I wish some heat would return so my cool weather greens can get some more growing in, I'm also looking forward to winding down this season. Some light frosts have hit the farm already so I've brought in the bulk of my winter squash crop, which is now in my summer kitchen, along with the pumpkins. There are still some summer squash and various hot crops in the field which I will get tomorrow, along with chard, kale, spring onions and beets. For the last 4 (optimistically) weeks, I'll have carrots, parsnips (just waiting for a good frost to sweeten them up) and beets to bring in. And while a hard frost holds off, there will be bok choy and hopefully some spinach and salad greens to harvest as well.

Season 2 at the farm has definitely been very different from 2009! The weather has been almost the opposite, and the field doesn't look anything like last year. There have been a number of torrential rains at the farm this summer, which makes me extra thankful that I managed to grow dwarf white clover in my pathways this year. Without them to hold the soil in place, I would have had rivers running through the field! Unfortunately, with all the hot and muggy weather we've had, my tomatoes didn't do at all well this year, getting the blight after a particularly steamy week. And my winter squash didn't do well either, for reasons that I can only speculate about. So my two best crops last year were essentially crop failures this year. I'll definitely have to see what I can do to mitigate against a repeat next year!

I also have to reevaluate 'fall' in my head. Last year, September and early October were like the summer that we never got, so this year, when summer came early, the timing of my various plants' production caught me with earlier finishes than I expected.

I have to admit that I've had (and will continue to have) some anxious weeks, worried that I won't have enough produce fill my vegetable subscribers' packages. Until I actually start harvesting and recording inventory, I don't know for sure that I can manage for that week and I hate to consider that I might have to cancel a week's delivery and refund payments. But each week, no matter how sparse the field looks, I turn out to have just enough. I'm reminded of the Israelites wandering in the desert and being provided with manna for food. They could only gather enough to eat for that day (any extras wouldn't keep) and had to trust in God to provide for their needs. For these past and coming few weeks, I feel like I'm in a similar situation. No matter how anxious I feel about my field's production, there always turns out to be just enough. I wish I had enough faith not to feel anxious in the first place, but I'm not quite there yet in my spiritual life. Despite the fact that I went into farming with my eyes wide open about the production, and therefore income, risks I'm taking, part of me definitely yearns for more stability. I'm reminded of missionary stories I heard as a child, about missionaries who didn't know where their next meal would come from, or the money to pay their bills, but God would always provide. I never thought then that I would have to have that same faith in God to provide for me now. It's very humbling.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Commentary on prison farm closings

The following commentary is by Grant Robertson, whose National Farmers Union (of which I'm a part) commentaries I've been reading for a while now. I agree with him wholly...wake up rural Canada and stop voting Conservative! That said, I haven't yet decided which other party would be the best alternative, but anything would be better than more of Harper's government. Michael Ignatieff of the Liberals actually has a National Food Policy which is a bit of a miracle in itself. And I have heard Jack Layton of the NDP speak about food security and sustainability issues, so I know he at least understands even if rural Canada doesn't seem like a high priority in the NDP's platform (though since we're not officially in election mode yet, I really can't say what any party's platform is right now!).
 
I cannot wait for the next election to be called...please Canada, let's not be complacent. For our country to actually function as a democracy, we actually have to participate in it. Despite its many deficiencies, I still love Canada and wouldn't choose to live anywhere else. We are so blessed to have all the rights that we have here, but we need to actively make sure those rights are truly available to all Canadians, and not placidly assume that they are actually a reality.
 
What would actually work in our current apathetic climate to get people to care about issues and have informed opinions? And how do we actually get politicians to listen to us and hold them accountable for representing us? Anyone with any ideas on how we can actively participate in our democracy, especially beyond voting at the polls, should share them with everyone! Considering how much time the average person spends social networking via Facebook, Twitter, and who knows how many other methods that I haven't heard of yet, there must be some way to excite some real political thinking for the next election.
 
Showing disrespect for rural and small town Canada seems to keep the Harper government busier than a dog at a tree farm

A commentary by;
Grant Robertson

It is now abundantly clear that the Harper government was never committed to working for the best interests of farmers, small business owners, communities and much of rural and small town Canada, and worse, that this government disrespects us and see us as little more than a quaint relic of the past.  Those are strong words I know, but how else do you explain the comments from this government around the closing of Canada’s prison farms?  Despite almost 50 years of verifiable success of the program the Harper government, in its increasingly strident ideological way, is closing down these farms and planning to spend billions on new super-prisons.  These farms have provided practical work experience, but even more importantly they have helped to instil a much missing work ethic in inmates that has made a vast difference in their lives.

We know, in part from Statistics Canada data, that many of the inmates in our prison system grew up in situations where it is unlikely they learned the value of work- work was something to be avoided and for ‘losers’.  Many former inmates have come forward to talk about how the prison farm program turned their lives around.  One such inmate is John Leeman who says he had never worked a real job when he went into jail but he learned skills while working on a prison farm that allowed him to find meaningful employment when he was released.   "There's just tremendous opportunities working on a farm.  Not everyone is going to come out a farmer, but the work ethic alone is definitely a step in the right direction." (http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/TopStories/20100810/defending-prison-farms-100810/)

A wide range of farm and civil society organizations have opposed the move.  But instead of listening, the Harper government just charged ahead with the Minister in charge, Vic Toews, speaking on behalf of the Harper government, and let’s be blunt Conservative MPs in rural and small town ridings across Canada: “My responsibility as public safety minister is to ensure that individuals who are in our facilities receive training that is appropriate, receive skills that are appropriate to the environment they will be returning to. It's not a productive use of the convicts that are incarcerated for a period of time ... Our responsibility is to provide appropriate training and jobs skills so that they can be reintegrated in a wholesome fashion in society at large."
In other words, the Harper government has no faith in the future of farm families in Canada.  None.  It is all there in black and white.  If this government believed in a future for farming, then training people to work directly in the industry or in the many secondary industries attached to food production would be “productive”, “appropriate” or even able to produce “job skills”.  What this also shows is that rural and small town Conservative MPs from across Canada, in ridings like my own in Huron-Bruce, have been complete and utter failures and need to be replaced.  These MPs promised us, when asking for our votes, that they would go and fight for small town and rural Canada.  Instead they have given up on us for anything else but a vote factory.  Why a single rural or small town Canadian would still vote for these people is beyond my ability to understand when the record is so clear.


According to the government the prison farms produce about $7.5 million in revenues against $11.6 million in expenses for a loss of some $4.1 million.  Well government MPs, welcome to today’s farming reality.  Instead of giving up and walking away you should be trying to fix the problems your policies have helped to create.  That you won’t, and see training anyone to have agricultural skills as wasteful, is why rural and small town Canadians will need to step up and send you packing in the next election.


Until March of 2010 Grant Robertson was the senior elected official with the National Farmers Union-Ontario.  As Ontario Coordinator Robertson was also a National Board Member of the NFU for 5 and half years. As Ontario Coordinator Grant guided the NFU in Ontario through a period of sustained growth and spent those years traveling across many parts of Canada speaking with and listening to farmers, eaters, politicians and business interests.  Grant and his family farm near Paisley, Ontario.  The author can be contacted at grant@bmts.com

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Feelings of discouragement

I'm feeling really tired and sad today...in fact, crying as I write this post. I guess everyone needs a day like this every once in a while, after all, I can't be optimistic 100% of the time.

What has set this off today? I feel powerless. After reading updates about the latest anti-prison farm closing protests, I'm just so angry about the state of Canada's democracy and how unsupportive our government is about farming, despite their rhetoric, that I almost wonder what the point is of me doing what I'm doing. Peaceful protesters trying to blockade cattle trucks from removing the dairy herd from the Kingston prison farm were treated violently and arrested. And the cattle have been shipped out. The Conservative government is just going to go ahead with their plan to close down the prison farms, no matter public opinion. How does the minority Conservative government have the power to do all these things? Treat mostly peaceful G20 protesters violently? Set up (maybe) temporary police states? Get rid of the long form census? Why can no one stop them? How 'democratic' is our government if Harper can just do whatever the hell he wants?

At any point in my farming life, the government could set up rules about what I can and cannot do on my farm that could put me out of business or even land me in jail. And based on what? Large corporate farm lobbies that don't want any newcomers to succeed in the field, no matter how small? A Conservative belief in economic theory that thinks only large scale and exports are important to an economy? A complete lack of understanding or interest in small scale farming so as to actually set up the right regulations to protect the public good? And if I don't agree with any of these things and actually speak out, I'm going to be hit and arrested? What recourse do I have to our current government? What the hell are the opposition parties good for?

What do I want to do as an organic farmer? I want to produce lots of good and healthy food for as many people to eat as possible, in a way that works with and remediates the environment in which we live, and actually be able to support myself financially while doing this. The last thing I want to do is make anyone sick. Statistically, it's really the large agrifood operations that actually sicken and kill people with their food since everything's processed on an industrial scale. Despite the relative success of my season so far (as compared to last year), sometimes I just feel tired at the amount of work involved in this uphill battle to be a viable farm in an agricultural economy that doesn't seem to understand or care anything about me. But I truly believe deep in my soul that this has to work. Because if it can't work, then we are all well and truly fucked.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Zen of Hand Weeding

For most organic farmers, having to hand weed your field (as opposed to flame weeding, wheel hoeing, or hand hoeing) is the most inefficient way to weed, and is the result of not managing to stay on top of the weeds. On average this season, I've probably hand weeded about 2 hours a day, 4-5 days a week, and still have some beds that need some hours of hand weeding put in. I managed to wheel hoe for a couple days back in mid-June, and after that, the weeds have been too big to deal with that way.

Surprisingly, having to spend so much time hand weeding hasn't really bothered me. In fact, I quite enjoy it (so far anyway!). The feel of a weed being pulled up by its roots is so very satisfying...especially when it's a sapling-sized lamb's quarters or pig weed (amaranth) or when I manage to pull up some alfalfa with all its roots intact.

I think part of the reason why I'm not cursing at the weeds is because their very presence in my field this year means I've got soil fertility! Last year's barren field seemed to mock me with the fact that even weeds wouldn't grow there. And now, the kinds of weeds that are present in my fields will help me to diagnose any mineral imbalances. I've just started to read 'Weeds and Why They Grow' by Jay McCaman (I picked up my copy from Everdale today). Just reading the first few pages so far has been fascinating...such as learning that dandelions help remediate soil by bringing calcium back to the soil surface to become available as the dandelion decays. That's just the tip of the iceberg as there is much to learn about weeds and what they can tell me about my land and what it needs and if its fertility is improving with the addition of compost and growing and plowing down of green cover crops. There's just so much to learn from just observing what grows in the soil!

When I hand weed, I am reminded of how I feel while swimming laps. Then I'm concentrated on the feel of my muscles as I stroke through the water, controlling my breathing through each motion and not actually thinking about anything in particular. But my subconscious mind chugs through these moments and presents me with ideas or strings together new thoughts that pop into my conscious mind when I least expect them. Hand weeding acts like a form of meditation or prayer for me...a good opportunity to let my mind wander where it will, undisturbed by too much external stimuli. I'm hoping to extract the great Canadian novel one day, which I'm convinced is lurking in the far corners of my subconscious mind ;P

Friday, July 9, 2010

Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the retirement party for Wayne Roberts, head of the Toronto Food Policy Council (TFPC) for the past 10 years. If you read Toronto's NOW magazine, you may recognize him as a weekly columnist and he has also written several books.

Wayne was instrumental in guiding me to a farming network. Back in 2008, when I was trying to decide on how to take the plunge into sustainable agriculture, I went to the Canadian Organic Growers conference in February where Wayne moderated a panel of experts talking about organic food production in Ontario. I did some internet searching, found an email address for him, and cold emailed him, introducing myself and asking if he had time to meet with me. Amazingly, he did. We sat down for an almost 2 hour conversation where we discussed my background and motivations for going into sustainable agriculture. Before this conversation, I didn't know if I would remain in Toronto and try to work for an organization concentrated on food and environment issues, or if I would start actually producing food.Our conversation clarified my position as a future producer of food and I was steered towards Everdale where I spent 5 months learning how to farm. Instead of figuring out this whole farming thing in isolation, I got plugged into a network of organic farmers which helped give me the confidence to take the plunge and start farming on my own.

You can read Wayne's whole retirement speech at his blog: http://wayneroberts.ca/archives/320, but the following section really stuck with me:

"As a person who never embraced formal religion, I surprised myself late one evening in March 2008, when, at 3:00 in the morning after way too many pots of coffee, I came to write my very last overdue paragraph on my dead-dead deadline for The No-Nonsense Guide to World Food. A phrase I had long mocked popped into my head: Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. I used to think this was about pacifying the poor so they would divert their attention to the next world where they would get pie in the sky when they die. But suddenly, its profound radicalism hit me.

At the most direct level, we work to bring the right of food to all and to ensure that it is shared with children, newcomers, the poor and homeless. But beyond that, we work with food because food is not about human power and triumph and glory, but about our humble animal needs that make us vulnerable and dependent on nature and make us vulnerable and interdependent with one another. That is how we humans are made – other than Vitamin D processed in our skin, our large brains leave no space for body parts that manufacture a wide range of nutrients from a few simple wild grasses and tree leaves; we can only get the nutrients we need from a wide range of foods, all of which come from outside ourselves. And, zenlike, that very need and vulnerability have been the source and inner strength of human achievement, culture and sociability. This baseline of our creation is the reason why I believe that the food movement must be militantly joyful and radically meek – not radical chic, but radical meek."

Right now, in the beginning stages of the farm, I'm concentrated on food production and making sure that the farm is a sustainable enterprise, environmentally, personally & economically, but I can't lose sight of why I went into this in the first place...because I love food and feeding people and I love God's creation. The right of food for all isn't something I can devote my resources to right now, so I'm encouraged to see that there are so many people fighting that good fight. Toronto's Board of Health has recently adopted "Cultivating Food Connections: Toward a Healthy and Sustainable Food System for Toronto” – 29 initiatives that promise to create a culture of “food systems thinking” within the municipal bureaucracy, linked to the many players who comprise the urban food supply chain. This is an amazing and radical move as it acknowledges the importance of good food for our public health and pulls food production out of the corner of 'rural affairs' that it's been kept in for years. Urban and rural communities need each other to survive, and need to understand and respect each other a whole lot more.

I'm sure Wayne will continue to fight this good fight in his retirement. And I will continue to follow the progress of the great organizations out there that are concerned with the right for food for all, like the TFPC, FoodShare and The STOP, among others. If you live in the GTA and want to join this fight, check these groups out and see if you can contribute any resources!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Our food system is beyond broken if pricing is dependent on global market pricing

I read an interesting article today about how financial speculators may have contributed to a spike in world food prices in 2006/2007: http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-how-goldman-gambled-on-starvation-2016088.html.

While none of these ideas are particularly new to me, the article brings together many issues in one place that underlines the horrible state that our global food system is in. Export crop pricing, government agricultural subsidies around the world (that really only benefit large agrifood corporations), trading of crops as derivatives in the market. This article mostly addresses that last bit, which I think is the scariest, because do we really want the price of food to be determined by speculation in the stock market??? Of course, we're all complicit in this whether we like it or not, because our bank deposits, pension plans, RRSPs, etc. all have their fingers in stock markets and we as individual investors have no real say, other than the biggest say of all...our demand for increased returns. So let's not demonize these institutions without considering how our own demand for high returns continues to push them to squeeze profits from any product they can find.

And that's really the clincher...if we want to earn interest on our bank deposits (little as it seems) and invest in mutual funds, index funds, etc., then our money is being invested by financial institutions who care little, if at all, for the nature of what's making the money (commodity speculation, derivatives, esoteric instruments, etc.) and only that the returns are worthwhile. Certainly, there are socially responsible investment funds and financial institutions out there (more local credit unions come to mind), but even they hold 'blue chip' and 'safe' stocks like those for the big 5 Canadian banks and other such institutions, which in their turn, profit from morally blind investing. What's the alternative? Back to stuffing the mattress or some other hidey hole with cash? Or maybe gold bars ;P

If I thought government had the power or the competence to regulate some of the sketchier investment schemes out there, I'd be all for increased regulation, but if there's one thing I hope I'm not naive about, it's that money makers will always come up with products that either fool or fly under the radar of government regulation.

Really, the only way these products won't be bought and sold is if we weren't greedy and didn't want to make high returns on our investment dollar. I wonder what a world of minimal savings but high circulation of available cash would look like...wait, I think that's how most farmers live! With the addition of high debt. A large proportion of farmers only make enough cash flow to pay down interest on their debt and can't repay capital until they retire and sell their farm land, which is valued by banks more at their development value than farm productive capacity. This means farmers are leveraged to the hilt based on high land value, but can't actually make enough money from farm products over the years to actually re-own their farmland. Again, the banks win.

Anyway, I certainly don't have the answers to all these issues. The last thing I expect is for humanity to become less greedy. Luckily, I get to spend the majority of my time managing growing plants and bringing great vegetables to people. Maybe after I've finished paying off my debts over the years, I can start saving up to buy some gold ingots to bury somewhere on the farm. Or maybe I'll find a man, get married, have kids and make them support me in my old age ;P That is how things used to run before retirement and RRSPs became the norm!

Monday, June 21, 2010

No longer lacking in tomato plants!

In a previous post, I wrote about my tomato plants that got sunburned...well they survived the burn and have since been transplanted outside, though they have yet to prove to me that they're going to make it. However...in some of my other beds, I have masses of tomato and ground cherry plants growing! When the sprouts first started showing up, I thought they were actually dandelion sprouts, but now that they're bigger, they look and smell like tomato plants. They're mostly in my spinach and chard beds and paths which are both part of my early season harvest, so I'm going to leave the tomato 'volunteers' to their own devices and see what kind of tomatoes I get! I think they're in the area that had heirloom cherry tomatoes last year (which I didn't plant again this year) but I won't know what I get until they start producing fruit.

Tomorrow morning, I head into the GTA for my first vegetable delivery of the season. I've been so excited to be harvesting these last two days because last year I didn't really get to do any real harvesting until September. I cut, washed, spun and bagged salad greens (a green oak leaf, red romaine and red/green batavian type lettuce), spinach and baby chard (a rainbow mix of many colours). I also harvested all my bok choy because much of it has started to bolt from the heat (no more bok choy until I seed a second bed). I've taken the row cover off my bok choy/daikon radish/turnip bed, which is always more fun than putting it on! The vegetable package this week will also include spring turnips, radishes and garlic scapes. I did harvest the very first of the sugar snap peas, but they're still about a week away from their full production, so not everyone will get them yet. I can't wait to have tons of sugar snap peas to eat!

I hope traffic in and around Toronto tomorrow will be bearable. I'm definitely avoiding any G8/20 areas!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Why Is Organic Food So...Cheap?

The title is of a good article that talks about food prices which you should definitely read (link in the title if I set things up right). Some of you have probably heard me rant about the prices for food in Canada and how they're too low to possibly be supporting any of the farmers who grow the food. I say some of you, and not all, because I have a hard time expressing my true feelings on this topic and don't want to get into fights with people on an issue that's particularly emotional for me.

The local organic food movement is full of people who work very hard, for little pay, to produce good food for their communities because they believe that the food system needs to change. We try our best to price our produce to be as fair as possible to both our customers and ourselves, but if we were to actually price our labour time at a true living wage (which I've read is around $17/hour) or even minimum wage ($10.34/hour now I think), the food prices would have to be many more times what we charge. As it is, even with our 'low pay' pricing, all of us regularly hear comments about how our produce is too expensive or even unaffordable. One friend of mine says that we have to make sacrifices to be agents of social change, which is indeed noble, but doesn't make the comments any less hurtful to hear. Certainly, I need to develop a thicker skin.

What is unaffordable? According to the latest StatCan numbers for 2008, households spent 10.4% of their income on food (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/091218/dq091218b-eng.htm). This is one of the lowest percentages in the world. Compare that with transportation and housing at 13.6% & 19.9% respectively. Of course, the high cost of housing is another issue to be lamented, especially as it drives up transportation spending since people end up living far from where they work.

How do we, as a 'have' country, justify being so cheap on such a life necessity as food? There are enough articles around these days about the rise in North American obesity rates and how the average diet is quite unhealthy, high in processed foods, and how few people know how to prepare meals from raw ingredients anymore. Some of the consequences for us as a society is higher health care costs, and arguably, kids who don't reach their intellectual potential due to malnutrition or the side effects of the chemicals used to grow non-organic produce. Has there ever been a time with so many kids with attention disorders, food allergies, asthma, obesity, diabetes, etc.? Is it really a better bargain to spend less than $2 on a loaf of white bread made from highly processed ingredients than to pay $6 for a loaf made from locally grown, organic whole wheat or other grain, from an artisanal bakery? And of course, we're not just cheap with food...we're also cheap with clothing and other manufactured goods. None of these cheap products do us any good. I know it's hard to pass up a bargain, but when the pleasure at finding a bargain becomes an expectation that everything should be cheaper, then we are entirely complicit in the exploitation of workers everywhere, all for inferior products. Everyone loses.

Imagine a world where everyone were fairly paid for the work that they do and the products that resulted were of good quality and didn't destroy the world around them in their manufacture. Where honoured professions were ones that nurtured our health and minds, such as farmers, teachers, artists...maybe I'm not so far from being a hippy as I've thought ;P

Monday, May 31, 2010

Tomato plants may be toast :(

Literally...I think the heat wave we've been having has actually toasted the leaves of my tomato plants. To try to rescue them, I've brought all 450 plants back indoors to hopefully recuperate. I didn't realize that the seedlings were still too small to withstand the heat. If they don't recover from their scorching, I'm going to have to buy tomato plants from other farmers and will have to start a second round of seedlings and hope the summer will be long enough to produce fruit from later tomato plants.















Poor scorched baby tomato plants. They're barely even still green at all! And for those in the know, yes, they are quite stretched, which I don't mind for tomato plants since I'll plant them deep in the field so that the whole stalk will grow roots.

This season is so very opposite of last year's cold and wet summer. The field grasses are already taller now than they were all last summer, and many flowers around the house are already finished blooming even though it's not quite June yet.

I'll just have to see how the vegetables grow this year. I've got drip line irrigation set up so the plants should get enough water in the field even if there are long stretches without rain (today's thunderstorm sprinkling is the first rain since May 22...and that wasn't much precipitation either). Theoretically, I should have a great growing season with all this sun, especially for hot crops. Unlike last year, my spinach, salad greens, and parsnip plantings have all germinated and are growing well, so that's great. Beets and carrots are all showing themselves in the field, and bok choy and cabbages are coming along under their row covers. I'm hoping to harvest spinach and salad greens in the next couple weeks. And as soon as my sugar snap peas start producing tasty pods, I can start my vegetable deliveries into Toronto.

Please pray for good pea production and that my tomato plants recover and keep growing!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Snow in May!

For the past few weeks, I've been feeling really anxious because of the abnormally high temperatures so far this spring. I see all this gorgeous plant life outside in my flower gardens, woods and fields and feel like I'm horribly behind on my vegetable plantings. I've had to stop myself from moving up my planting schedules, seeding more outside, or starting seedlings too early indoors. And each beautiful, sunny, warm day, I second-guess myself on the decision to hold firm to my original planting schedule.

Well, it snowed here yesterday, enough to actually accumulate on the ground and not be completely melted until after noon today. And overnight temperatures are below zero for the next couple days, so I have direct proof of why it's wiser not to jump the gun, no matter how nice it is outside! All my field plantings (cold hardy) of sugar snap peas, salad mix, radish and spinach are fine even after the snow, though they'll be growing at a slower rate for the next day or two until temperatures go up again.

Indoors, my 500+ tomato seedlings are happy and my brassicas (kale, cabbage & napa cabbage) are germinating well. Soon I'll need to take a road trip to Burkhart's Greenhouse to pick up the flats of leek, onion, hot pepper, pepper & eggplant they started for me back in March. Since I don't currently have a heated greenhouse, I sent my early starting & hot crop seedlings to a heated greenhouse to get started. My summer kitchen isn't warm enough to start hot crop seedlings until April/May when the sun has more time to warm it up and overnight temperatures aren't too low.

Hopefully, yesterday's snow flurries are the last until November!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Officially a farm!

Today I was finally assigned my Farm Business Registration Number (FBRN)! So in the eyes of government, Black Sheep Farm is now an official farm :D

I had to have my 2009 tax forms completed and send Agricorp my 2009 Statement of Farming Activities showing that the farm had grossed a minimum of $7000 in 2009. I paid my yearly $204.75 fee via a National Farmers Union membership, and I should be getting my 'farm card' in the mail in the next few weeks!

As you may remember from a previous post, I had found the tax filing process rather disappointing on many levels, but I've now reconciled myself to the fact that half of my non-refundable tax credits are useless to me, and am moving on. It's just concrete proof that only those who make a lot of money actually benefit from tax credits, because I certainly benefited greatly from them when I used to make a lot more money than now. People I know who've never made the yearly gross income of your average office worker, are very used to having more non-refundable tax credits than they need.

Some people have commented to me that one of the major tax incentives to being a farmer is reduced property taxes, which is absolutely true. The main reason why I need a FBRN is to maintain my farm's reduced property tax rate (farm tax rate is 25% of the residential tax rate). In the case of my property, less than 50% is taxed at the farm tax rate - my house and one acre of land are taxed at the full residential rate for their MCAP assessed-value (standard for all farm properties). This means that for 2009, I saved $800 or 36%, as compared with having no farm designation.

You may think this is a pretty good deal, but consider that as a person who used to donate around 10% of her gross income to charitable organizations (it took many years of spiritual discipline to get to that point, so it's certainly no easy task), I can tell you that I got a many times more significant tax break from that, and got to support many worthy causes in the process. But given that the average Canadian adult only donates $341 per year (StatsCan for 2004: http://www4.hrsdc.gc.ca/.3ndic.1t.4r@-eng.jsp?iid=69), clearly 10% of gross income isn't anywhere near the norm. So for all those people out there who think farmers get big tax breaks, think again (and think of the tax break you'd get if you donated more money to your favourite causes).

My farm's property taxes for 40 acres of land with a house, bank barn and various outbuildings, are less than my former condo's were for a year. That said, my condo was worth more as real estate than my farm property, and relied on lots of Toronto's urban infrastructure of plumbing, water, gas lines, community services, road maintenance, etc. The farm itself has its own well, septic and heating systems (which I need to maintain), and many fewer community services and roads than an urban environment.

I guess my point is that the urbanite's holy grail of reduced property tax rates isn't the huge tax savings they think it is ;P There are many more effective ways to reduce taxable income or accumulate tax credits than getting a farm designation. People forget sometimes that their urban property taxes do pay for many services. And of course, the value of real estate in Toronto is many times that of rural properties, which is how selling my 711 square foot condo managed to pay for a 40 acre farm with a 2400 square foot house ;)

Friday, April 9, 2010

2010 produce sales begin!

This morning, I sent out my 2010 vegetable subscription plan. I'm hoping for 40 subscribers who will receive a large vegetable package every second week from mid-June/early July until October. The deadline for applying is April 30. I will be selecting subscribers based on efficient delivery routes, with the same 20 subscribers receiving vegetables every second week. I hope that from the many households that got to try out my vegetables last year, 40 will be willing to commit to me and the farm for a season. I've got my fingers crossed!

Technically, my first produce sales for this year were for my lamb and goat's meat, which I delivered to the GTA the Monday before Easter. I had very little to sell (only 2 lambs and a goat after all), so the cuts went quickly. I hope everyone who bought roasts are enjoying them. I know I've been quite impressed by their flavour and tenderness when cooking them at home, but then, I've always enjoyed the gamier meats. I made a stew from goat ribs, potatoes and onions that was originally supposed to be a curry, but had such a delicious aroma at just the salt and pepper seasoning stage, that I left it the way it was, which was super tasty!

Looking out my window right now at some heavier than expected snow flurrying, I find it hard to believe that I'll be picking stones from my field and rototilling it over the next week of dry, sunny days. This time last year, I was just getting settled into the farm, doing lots of cleaning, unpacking, and renovating of the large upstairs room. I hadn't even fully decided which field to plant into for that year. Amazing how much can change in one year :)

This year, for better or worse, I'm planning to till my field (either myself with the rototiller, or through a tractor disking by my neighbour) and then sow the majority of it immediately to dutch white clover. I really didn't like how uncovered the field was last year and am hoping that my small seed germination issues will resolve this year since the soil is better prepared than last year. By seeding the clover first, I run the risk of having that overrun future vegetables. But since I won't be planting out the majority of my transplants until mid-June, I'm hoping that I can establish a good cover of clover, keep it mowed, and then just rototill the strips I'll be planting into, a week or so before planting. I'll leave a section of the field clear for the earliest plantings of sugar snap peas and direct seeded salad greens, spinach, radish, etc. I may regret making this decision, but for now, it feels right. I'm sure I'll be second guessing myself horribly as I stand on the field with clover seed and my handheld seed spreader next week.

My lower field, which will be put into vegetable production next year as the current field gets a rest, is looking great as the red clover that was planted with oats and barley last year, is coming back beautifully. Its establishment will keep the field relatively weed free, fix nitrogen into the soil, and provide lots of flowers for bees and other pollinators. Around August, the fully grown red clover will get tilled under, and a winter-kill crop will be planted so that the field will be ready for vegetables next spring.

I'm quite excited by the prospect of a summer hotter than last year's rather frigid temperatures. I will definitely prepare myself to set up irrigation drip lines, but the prediction of early heat means I might actually have harvestable crops before July! I won't get my hopes up too high, but I can't help looking forward to eating that first super sweet sugar snap pea. Aah, crunchy tastiness!

Below, I've listed the various vegetables that I'm hoping for throughout the season. I don't expect them all to be successful, but I can have faith :)

Early summer (June/July) Mid summer (July/August)
Beet greens Beans
Black cherries Beets
Bok choy Bok choy
Chard Carrots
Herbs Chard
Leeks Herbs
Radishes Kale
Rhubarb Kohlrabi
Salad greens Leeks
Spinach Lettuce
Spring onions Onions
Sugar snap peas Spring onions
Wild raspberry (black caps) Summer Squash
Tomatoes
Turnips


Late summer (August/September) Fall (September/October)
Beans Beans
Beets Beets
Bok choy Bok choy
Cabbage Cabbage
Carrots Carrots
Chard Chard
Cucumbers Cucumbers
Eggplants Eggplants
Herbs Herbs
Kale Kale
Kohlrabi Kohlrabi
Lettuce Lettuce
Napa cabbage Melon
Onions Napa cabbage
Peppers Onions
Summer Squash Parsnips
Tomatoes Peppers
Turnips Pumpkins
Spinach
Summer Squash
Tomatoes
Turnips
Winter squash

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Feeling like a misunderstood teenager

I've been trying to get my 2009 taxes done since about mid-January because I'm eager to get my Farm Business Registration Number (FBRN). You need to prove to Agricorp a minimum of $7000 gross farm income before they'll issue an FBRN. So I went online and downloaded every tax form that I thought might apply to me and started to organize my numbers. Of all the forms I downloaded, the only ones that had not been updated for 2009 yet were the farm business forms (exactly the one I needed to get my FBRN). Of course, I didn't notice the 2008 year until after I had filled everything out. And when I called the Canada Revenue Agency to ask for an updated form, I was told that it was more than a month away from being available and I could be mailed one when they were ready. Well, it's St. Patrick's Day now, and I still haven't received any forms in the mail, though supposedly they're now available on-line. Which means either I wait for the government mailing I requested, or I go somewhere with high speed internet to download them, and then find a printer to print them out with. As a self-employed person, I have until June 15 to file my taxes...but I have to pay any income tax owing by April 30, so the later date seems ridiculous to me. Not to mention that if the government owes me tax money, I want to get that back as soon as possible! Plus, I'm getting into outdoor farm mode so my personal window for getting my tax paperwork done is rapidly closing.

Going through the exercise of filling out (the wrong year's) farm tax form has been highly frustrating for me, as reading the definition of each line just emphasized how much the government doesn't understand, or seem to care about, small scale, high value, farming. Have you ever actually read any of the tax guides from cover to cover? Well, I've essentially done that with both the farm business and regular business tax guides. And I can't figure out how the government 'helps farmers'. Granted, intellectually, I don't believe that the government even notices me in the least, but subconsciously, I have the mistaken expectation that the government helps farmers. In fact, judging by how many people have asked me if I've been getting any government grants, many Canadians assume that the government doles out money to farmers like candy. Somewhere in my almost 35 years of being born and raised a Canadian, I've been indoctrinated with that idea too. Well, let me clear that up for you...as far as I my experience goes so far, government (at whatever level you'd like) absolutely does not dole out money to small farmers. Large agri-business...well, that's another matter...they have the scale to spend big money, thereby making big money, so they access corporate tax credits. In my case, I can't even benefit from all my non-refundable tax credits. It was supremely frustrating to me to realize that the so called 'Home Renovation Tax Credit' (thanks for nothing Harper) is completely useless to me, because I didn't make enough net income this year to offset it. And, my first year business loss isn't actually large enough to carry back to previous years to claim back any tax dollars from my higher income years, even though I've spent more hard cash into the Canadian economy this year, then probably my entire life combined until now. Sure, I can defer some of my business expenses into future years to use when the farm generates more income, but considering that my personal income will never be in the 6 figure range, I can't imagine I really need to keep snowballing my business expenses into the future. What I want (which seems like a pipe dream), is to claim back previous year tax dollars, since it's the savings from all my years of corporate work that are paying all these farm start up expenses now.

My goal for organic vegetable production is to gross $20,000 in vegetable sales for each acre in production. For this to be possible, I need to manage my land over the long-term for health and fertility so that I can grow high quality vegetables at a good volume, and I need to be efficient in my production and marketing to maximize the prices of my vegetables. I am not growing a supply managed product, or acres of a single crop, or selling to wholesalers. I don't, and in fact, can't, buy crop insurance, or hedge on future prices by selling forward contracts. I have no need for any heavy equipment beyond my rototiller (which is the Ferrari of rototillers... really...BCS is a Ferrari brand). In the long term, the only inputs I'll be bringing onto the farm will be seeds, as I will be addressing any fertility issues with growing green cover crops/manures, as well as applying composted sheep and goat manure from the flock that will eventually be here. Reading the farm tax guide and realizing how much in there doesn't apply to me in the least, because I am not practicing what I term 'industrial' farming, makes me want to lash out like a teenager. It's like the government doesn't consider me to be a farmer at all.

What's better for Ontario's long-term food security? Many small to medium scale farmers where each farm can grow enough food to feed hundreds of families each year? A handful of large corporations who export the monocrops they grow in Canada to the rest of the world? Large food processors who statistically inevitably kill people with their food products because of their large factory scale? Imported food from other countries with lower environmental and human rights standards than our own country, and that has to travel large distances to get to us? Of course not any one of these by themselves is the solution, but it seems to me like Canada has all its food eggs in the basket of just a few large corporations. With so little diversity in the food production arena, a glitch in production for just one of these corporations means Canadians could be without food. And what are these possible glitches? High oil prices? Listeriosis? Salmonella? Contaminated fillers? Hmmm...wonder if those happen that often ;P

I went to a few government workshops this winter, trying to figure out where all the candy money is, if it even exists. I met a lot of struggling industrial farmers in the process and drove by many acres of land used for export grain production or cattle grazing, or in the hands of 'cottagers'. Grain growers make net a few hundred dollars per acre in good years, and cattle have been netting zero or less for a number of years. And these products aren't even really feeding Canadians anyway as they're mostly for export. What would it take to grow vegetables for the local market instead? Manual labour, and lots of it. That most maligned of all forms of labour.

Our society currently values white collar jobs and looks down on manual work. Coming from the white collar world I can absolutely state that I am healthier and happier farming my own land than spending 8 to 10 hours a day at my computer, buying take out food for lunch while shopping with co-workers and drinking a Tim Horton's double double on a regular basis. My intellectual labour all those years went to increase the profit of already rich people. The big raises and bonuses never really went to the average white collar worker, but rather to upper management. And so the divide between top and bottom increases, and all the white collar workers scurrying in the middle income range complain about their jobs, bosses and commutes...but it's all worth it because they make good money that pays for their lifestyles. Can you imagine if our society valued the labour of farming at least at the same level as your average white collar office job? Where farmers didn't have to work an off-farm job to be able to afford to grow the food that white collar workers buy from the grocery store? Maybe the number of small scale farmers would start growing instead of declining at a rate that means there will only be a handful (and by a handful, I'm guessing maybe 500 in all of Ontario, and that might be generous) of small scale farmers left in the next 10 years. Kids...ask your parents if they'd support your move into farming...disgruntled office worker, consider if you'd rather work in a field than in an office if that were economically feasible?

Well, I guess this is my teenage lash out at the government...or society...or at manual labour snobbery...or at large agribusiness. I don't really have much bite in the end ;P But that's ok, because if everything goes to hell in a hand basket one day, I've got food, water and shelter. Hopefully I won't have to defend it against white collar hordes ;P

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The road that makes my soul rejoice

I was driving home from the second day of the Growing Your Farm Profits (GYFP) workshop that I attended in Markdale, and had tears in my eyes from the winter beauty that I was seeing on the Markdale road. This is Grey Road 12 which runs east-west between Highway 10 and Highway 6, and I think driving on it is what partly sold me on buying a farm in this area back in November of 2009.

Those who know me know that I hate driving. At least I do in the GTA. But out in the country, driving is a completely different activity, especially if you're on a road as beautiful as Grey Road 12. It winds around and up and down the hilly escarpment landscape so you're constantly being presented with a new vista of trees, fields and hills, all lit differently by the sun as the road twists and turns. And on this day, all the trees had a thick coating of diamond snow from the previous day's snow storm that perfectly outlined all their branches. The deciduous trees looked especially gorgeous, all flocked with snow, their limbs striking in their clarity. This is why women wear mascara ;P

Every time I drive home to the farm, I feel my soul rejoice. Despite all the responsibilities and costs of owning and caring for this farm (see previous post), I absolutely love being here. I know in my heart that I am where God wants me to be. The landscape reminds me constantly of the beauty and wonder of His creation, in every season. Whenever I start to feel overly burdened by the bills that need paying, or plans that need to be made to ensure bills keep being paid, I just look around me and remember why I'm here. Out here, I am in the midst of life, and the business of life. For me, there can be no higher calling.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A frosty new year

It's good to be back at the farm after a little jaunt into New York to get my fill of all things metropolitan. I do have much to get caught up on so holidays are definitely over!

First priority for January is heat...how to get it, maintain it and not go bankrupt in the process :( If you've read my previous posts, you'll know that I've had fuel oil woes due to a drip from my oil furnace's burner which resulted in an order from the TSSA to get the ground tested for oil contamination. The hardest thing about that is trying to figure out who to trust, and not to lose my shirt in the process. Since the process requires certified engineers and lab testing, the cost of the oil drip is over $1500. And it turns out that my oil furnace isn't venting to code, and in fact, the structure of my house makes it impossible to vent an oil furnace to code (at least not without poking a hole in my foundation walls, which could result in major structural issues if done improperly). So I have to bite the bullet and replace the house's oil furnace with a propane one (which doesn't require a 25+ foot chimney for venting, like an oil furnace does). And to think I thought I was protecting myself enough when I required the furnace and fuel tank to pass inspection to close the purchase of the property. The chimney might have been installed to code 10-20 years ago, but certainly doesn't pass now...but for some reason the furnace inspector thought the idiosyncrasies of the house itself made it acceptable to route the chimney the way it was done. Unfortunately, the TSSA doesn't agree, and it would cost me too much money to try and get a variance on the chimney to make it ok. And I'm too freaked out by the thought of future fuel oil drips to want to stick with an oil furnace at this point.

Sigh...once you have a house, you realise that expenses are in the thousands from now on. So let's count the costs of heating my house within my first year of ownership: existing oil furnace ($550 for a tank of fuel oil in October and $1500+ due to the fuel drip), new wood stove ($2200 for stove & installation and $540 for wood), new propane furnace ($4500 for the furnace and another $1000 for the propane tanks and fuel). Grand total: $10,290

Granted, I need to count about $7000 of that as capital costs that will repay themselves in energy efficiencies over my lifetime on this property, but it feels a lot like a kick in the teeth right now.

But I also have to consider the positives for the future. Fortunately, I already had an EcoEnergy audit done on the house so I'll be able to access some government grant money for my furnace 'upgrade' to a high efficiency propane burner (which should bring me fuel savings over time). And I'll have gotten that new furnace pretty much at cost since the furnace contractor is trying to make up for passing the previous chimney system. And my real estate agent is also throwing some money into the pot to make things right, so hopefully the whole furnace replacement will only cost me $3000 out of pocket once all's said and done. I don't regret my original decision to buy a wood stove (though its installation is what precipitated all my furnace woes!) because in the future, I should be able to harvest all my winter wood from the wood lot on my land instead of having to buy it in. So with the wood stove doing the bulk of the home heating, I can hopefully get away with buying in less than 1000L of propane each winter.

I have also gotten my basement insulated and am replacing my upstairs windows and making sure both my attics have optimum insulation (all EcoEnergy grant eligible renovations). Again, in the long run, all of this should make this house more energy efficient, and therefore cost less to heat in the winters. Here's to hoping that all these 'efficiencies' are real and actually do pay off over the years! If not, anyone have a potential sugar daddy they can introduce me to? ;P