2013, A Belated Review

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It was around the end of November 2012 when the Mr. and I drove out to our old farm field in Yarrow, BC to work on putting things away for the season…only to discover that our faithful little tractor had been stolen from the field in the middle of the night.  Sadly, at that point we were getting relatively used to farm theft…but it still hurt. I cried a few tears and we filed a fairly hopeless police report and started on our insurance claim.

Now up until that point, we had planned to stay farming in Yarrow, BC for a while…moving to Ontario to farm on Patrick’s family land was but a dream, fuelled by desires to have a secure place to farm that we could invest in for the long term. We like to think of the loss of our first little tractor in a more positive light now – a minor farm tragedy that tipped the scales in favour of Ontario. That, and the cute little house we bought in Clarksburg that I had been pining over for a year was still on the market…and far more affordable than any house we could have ever found living in the Lower Mainland in BC.

Over the next few months we made our arrangements to shut down Skeeter Farm, finish up our consulting contracts and say goodbye to family and dear friends. On February 27th we started our great migration half way across the country to begin our farming dreams in the Beaver Valley…

Road trip!
Road trip!
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It’s a good thing she loves us so much.

If you’ve been following along with us since the beginning, you may remember that we took our belated honeymoon in Thailand just before heading off on our migration.

Can't take us anywhere...
Can’t take us anywhere…

While sipping on some soda pops at the beach…we mustered up some farm goals for our first season.

We like goals…should probably get going on writing our 2014 ones. Although we didn’t do everything that we managed to dream up on that beach in Thailand, looking back, I am fairly impressed with the amount that we have accomplished.

To recap, we arrived at the farm in March, managed to get our farm field started from scratch….like clearing brush and witching for water from scratch, and have a full farmers market/CSA season. The farmers market/CSA combo was not a new venture because  we were doing that back in BC…but the whole growing season/weather/frost/snow!/pests/soils/water situation was brand new, and not without its challenges. We also ramped our farmers markets up, way up, from what we were used to. We did a grand total of 54 farmers markets last year between May and October, which was about 42 more markets than we had ever done in a season, and most certainly way too much for one couple to manage in perpetuity. We’ll be scaling back on that for this season.

I feel like the CSA was a success. It was much smaller in terms of shareholders than we have had in the past, but it seems like most of our customers were quite happy with the experience and the produce that they received. In retrospect, I am happy we started smaller and had happy customers, rather than tried to go all out with the CSA in our first year only to have to ration produce. The plan is to scale up the CSA slowly year by year until that aspect of our business matches the revenues we bring in at farmers markets. That is the balance we have had in the past, and despite the structure being somewhat challenging in terms of crop planning on our small farm (generally for markets we have found it’s best to have more quantity over variety and for CSA more variety with just enough quantity so that the shareholders aren’t overwhelmed), we feel more comfortable with a more diversified business.

Week 1: Onions, rainbow chard, kale, basil, spring mix salad, sunflower sprouts, peashoots, cherries and garlic scape pesto.
The very first CSA share to go out the door sometime in mid July

We whole heartedly delved into livestock with the addition of hogs, turkeys and laying hens to the farm in the spring. It would be dishonest if I failed to mentioned that there were moments of panic throughout the season, and that the experience of slaughtering animals that we had shared so many laughs and cuddles with was quite hard and continues to be hard. However, overall, the livestock have been a fantastic and rewarding way for us to round out our farm operation (yay good compost!), provide a break from the occasional monotony of the veggie season and to meet a whole other amazing group of customers who are into buying meat from small farms.

The beauty of a brand new litter of tams and the heartbreak of losing a sweet little babe a day later.
The joy of a brand new litter of tams followed by the heartbreak of losing one sweet little babe a day later.

For this next season, we’re planning to continue with the pasture raised pork, turkeys and eggs and we’ll also be trying out some pastured meat chickens. There are a couple of small bee hives arriving at the farm in spring which we are very excited about.

Back at the beginning of the year we wrote about our goal of finding the farm-life balance that we have been struggling to find since starting to farm six years ago. I am not sure we really moved towards that goal in 2013. This past year felt particularly unbalanced as we were really pushing ourselves to get things up and running. We also ended up taking on a bit of off-farm work in order to finance more of the infrastructure we need at the farm and to keep things running on the home front. I am working part time with an organization that delivers environmental and business programs to farmers and we’re both working on similar consulting work that we thought we had left behind when we left BC…but has found us again. I didn’t think this would be the case, but I am actually really enjoying the balance that more work, and different work brings to our lives. We both enjoy being connected with the broader community through work and for now, it eases our financial stress as we get through the start up years of the farm.

All this work on the farm and elsewhere hasn’t really left much room for play, and at times it can be taxing on our relationship which is very much entwined with our farm and other work…but perhaps that’s just the farmer’s way? I don’t know…we’re still trying to figure that one out.

In all, an amazing year, a crazy year, a hard year, I am glad it happened, but I am happy it’s behind us. Here’s to more news on the blog as things unfold this season.

Thanks for reading and caring.

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