“Been a bit of a strange year, hasn’t it?”
It sure has – severe drought & record temps followed by an extended fall and then many major thaws through the winter. Now, as I line up my seed packets and start moistening potting soil, I can’t help to check the forecast, almost hourly sometimes, to see the unfolding predictions.
Over the years I’ve gradually pushed back my initial seeding date – but overall, this has less to do with a changing climate, and more to do with my own needs as a human. Like an olympic torch or funeral pire, here at the farm, lighting the first fire in the greenhouse is a bit of a big deal. Its a new beginning, and from those first ashes, the mineralized dust of giant Georgian Bay Maples, is born a new spirit, one of hope, potential and promise.
Its also a time when my intention is widdled down to its lean essence, and when I shed the unnecessary to focus on the task at hand – raising healthy crops for a bountiful season.
I remember one of the first years I started heating the greenhouse here at the farm I had rushed to bring in wood the autumn before, and much of it was too wet to burn well. That was a real test of my spirit, as I spent countless hours blowing fresh life onto smouldering coals, coaxing what heat I could until finally the flames grew hot enough to sustain themselves.
In a way, in those early days of the farm, each breath of oxygen into the wood stove was also like a breath of life into the farm, which was still very young, and just learning to awkwardly stand and walk at that point.
That reminds me of another story – while not related to the greenhouse, it does involve some unexpected wintry weather in April. I was headed to the co-op to pick up a new batch of ready to lay hens for the upcoming season. On the way there the truck sounded a little temperamental lets say, but this wasn’t unheard of as the truck had been through its fair share of adventures by this time in its life. Anyway, upon arrival at the co-op I decided to keep it running, rather than risk it not starting up again if I shut it off. I quickly filled out the necessary paper work and loaded the hens into the covered back of the truck.
About half-way home I lost all controls in the dashboard – no clock, no radio, no speedometer, nothing. “It’ll be ok” I told myself, “these kind of things can happen, stay calm, keep going, we’ll be just fine.”
As I turned onto grey road 13 the truck began showing signs of distress, less power, not too responsive to the gas pedal – things were getting worse.
I figured worse case scenario I could coast down to the village of Kimberley, make a visit to the general store and call for help if necessary. I had a plan. Then came the sign: “Duncan”. This was it, if I could just make this turn off I’d be so close to home. I decided to go for it. About 75 metres after turning off of 13, trying to make it up a pitifully small incline, the truck threw in the towel. “Sorry Mike, enough’s enough – we’re done.”
And that was it. There I was, in what must have been at least minus 15, but could have felt like minus 40 with the wind chill, stuck about 10 km from the farm with 100 laying hens. Hmm. I got out and checked the hens. Luckily there were enough of them in the enclosed back of the truck to keep each other warm. As far as they knew, this was just another intended part of the craziest adventure they’d ever been on since birth. Jen, my partner, was out of the country for the month so I called my neighbour who hopefully hadn’t left for the day to go skiing yet. Luckily I caught him before he’d hit the slopes and he came to help me out. Its amazing how quickly time passes when your sitting in a dead truck in minus 50 with 100 laying hens during a windy snow storm – really.
When he arrived he pulled valiantly up to the front of my truck to give it a boost. Pulled the hood release lever and rather than opening the hood as planned, broke his cable, rendering the hood very much still closed and the situation in general slightly more complicated. Luckily my neighbour is the kind of guy who drives around with an assortment of bars and prying devices in the truck – its a handy thing and likely inadvertently left there from a tractor repair mission. Anyway, in no time we had the old mazda running again and I was able to beach it in the driveway of the farm and get the hens into their new home with fresh food and water in no time.
So what do these two stories have in common? A young, exhausted greenhouse grower trying to light wet wood and a hundred hens stuck on the side of the road between Kimberley and Duncan? Well, in re-reading these accounts it would be easy to say “I know the link – you’re poorly prepared!”
Hmm, maybe, but thats not the connection I was going for. If anything, both challenges widdled away at all of the superfluous aspects of what I do and helped me focus on the task at hand – providing high quality food to those who appreciate it locally. Both also helped me be much more prepared for subsequent seasons – building upon the lessons I’ve learned the hard ways.
So much of my life as a farmer is incredibly rewarding – whether is seeing smiling kids munching on carrots that were harvested mere hours ago, or hearing about someone’s success in the kitchen making a smash hit for dinner that included rutabaga and kohlrabi. But I find its often the challenges, the curve balls, the ones which test my flexibility, patience or smarts, that keep me the most focussed on the main goal – providing the highest quality food for people who appreciate it, locally. Crop by crop, I feel I’m starting to figure this market gardening thing out – and while I don’t doubt there will be plenty of challenges to come, I’m prepared to accept them as part of the process of honing my focus to serve my clients and my soil to the best of my ability.
Before this rambles on for too long I want to share a quick moment of gratitude for all of the CSA members out there – whether you’ve joined in the flavours of the gardens for the winter or the summer, your commitment and support gives real life and sustenance to the farm. Without your trusting support, this wouldn’t be possible – Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Let the new season begin!