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This summer was a little unusual for me.  First of all, the weather was amazing! The last few summers have been mostly chilly to my southern Ontario blood, with maybe a few weeks of heat.  This summer was hot, sunny, and dry.  The dryness was a disadvantage to the growing season, but for the most part, it seems to have redeemed itself as well as the crops with a little more rain in the last month or so.

I usually love to take trips, camping, hiking,kayaking, canoeing.  This year I haven’t gone once 😦  I have taken two weekend trips that were not quite camping, which I will describe shortly.  Some of my favourite trips have been backwoods camping/canoe trips.  A 20 minute canoe trip then a 45 minute drive down dirt roads, where the moose are more plentiful than the people, to the nearest tiny town.  Tiny, meaning a small grocery store, a shoebox sized liquor store, a gas station, and a gun shop.  Ahhh … summer.  Well, most summers anyway.

At least I managed to get out and sleep in my tent a couple times while attending some farming related workshops.  The first was the New Farmer’s Gathering in the Valley back in June.  I wish I had some photos to post, but alas, I do not.  The Gathering was very exciting, and I participated/attended workshops on fermentation, herbs & plants for medicines and teas, and an introduction to Permaculture principles and how they fit into our modern world.  There was also a seed saving workshop, a hands on session with hand tools, a workshop on four season harvesting, great food, and a bonfire. A great time, lots of new people to meet, and tenting in a hayfield.

A couple weeks ago I went to Freeschool at Waldegrave Farm in Tatamagouche.  We arrived Thursday night and embarked on an exciting and busy weekend of workshops, keynote speakers, great food, wonderful people, beautiful weather, gorgeous, clear, starry nights, and for some of us … a sailboat ride!! It was a great opportunity to meet some like-minded folks who are interested in everything from sustainable responsible living, to farming, homesteading, and prepping.  The talks and workshops were insightful and passionately presented.  And the food! Did  I mention the food? Freeschool is not quite free, but the fee is low, essentially covering the cost of food.  It is undoubtedly worth it! There was such abundance and variety of freshly prepared, local food, much of it coming right from the farm.  There was music and dancing in the barn every night, and a surprise for me was Halifax’s own Poet LaureateTanya Davis who came and entertained with song, spoken word, poetry, and her own personal delight at doing so in a barn! I knew who she was, and have read her work, but had no idea she was coming until someone I met on the road between the hayfield where we were camping and the barns told me just as it was about to begin.  I sure hurried back to the gathering to see this splendid surprise for myself! The entire weekend holds for me a delightful and magical memory.

Although next year I am going to take steps to plan better and ensure I get some outdoor adventuring in, I do have a few memories of falling asleep within my blue clamshell nylon tent, listening to the crickets chirp, and breathing the fresh,cool, country air.  Though certainly, the summer isn’t quite over yet, and provincial and national parks allow camping until October 8th this year, so I may just manage to squeeze a weekend in yet!

What were the highlights of your summer?

I’ve been reading a lot about farming.  For months now.  Normally an avid fan of literary fiction, I have been devouring all the practical farming books I can, by the best farmers and authors I can find.

The book I am currently reading is a book of essays called Greenhorns: 50 Dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movement,.  Intended to inform and possibly inspire aspiring farmers, it is full of stories about farming joys and hardships, particularly at the beginning — before acceptance to a hard life has sunk in? I’m not sure.  One single woman wrote about how she sees her fellow farmers, her community, all coupled up and working on things together, and feels very alone.  Then, in contemplative solitude over lettuce transplants, she realizes she is not alone.  Her parents helped her with transplanting the day before, she has a close network of fellow farmers, from those in their first year to those who have been at it for several.  In other stories I have read about bleeding fingers and hands, minor (thankfully) injuries, aching backs, never enough time, never enough sleep, nitrogen deficiency, and the problem of voles.

Now, normally I am a very focussed reader.  I can slip entirely into a book, so much so that when it is summer in my world and winter in the book, I am confused when I put the book down and attend to my own life.  Usually it’s because I have to pee.  It is then I realize that it is summer time, nearly 90 degrees in the apartment, and a trip to the bathroom is enough exertion in the Maritime humidity that I realize a swim at the lake would be just the thing.  With the farming books I’m reading, however, it is quite different.  This one is written in short essays that are easy to read quickly, one at a time.  I can sit (or lay) down to read short sections, but inevitably am pulled back into my own daydreamy headspace.  I wonder if that person’s description will be much like my own experience.  I think about what I might write as my contribution to such a compilation if the opportunity were to arise in my time and place.  I try to plant into my mind that if my tomato seedlings are sluggish, and seem to stop growing after producing two or so leaves, that I don’t need to give up and start again, I need to make a fish emulsion, and spray my plants with it — possibly twice a week — and see what happens.   That this is how farming works.  All the tips and tricks and remedies to remember.  Try this.  Try that.  But never give up on the plants.  Or the animals.  Stay on top of my research, develop relationships, community.  Be persistent.  Do it for the joy of it, and if today isn’t joyful, do the best I can and maybe tomorrow will be better.

It sounds like a very unpredictable, demanding lifestyle, full of hardship and no guarantees.  For those who love me and are worried about this choice of mine it must sound like a bizarre choice, given that I could work a modern job, in an office, safe from bugs and weather, with a reliable paycheque arriving on schedule, complete with medical benefits, pension, and paid vacation.  I could live in suburbia and be geographically close to those same people who love me.  No doubt they are right.

Something I know though is that a suburban, or especially an urban, lifestyle will not suit me.  I can’t wait to get out as it is, and I have a job I enjoy.  I need the fresh air, the sunshine, the rain, the snow, the birds, the worms, the dirt, the trees.  I think at times it will: exhaust me, scare me, make me sad.   I think this, because it already does! But, I also believe it will fulfill me, nurture me, give me room and time to grow along with my plants.  I will feed people.  Establish relationships.  Build community.  Participate at Farmer’s Markets.  I will be fostering the development of something I believe is long overdue, desperately needed, and much bigger than myself.  This seems so inexplicably right to all the cells and nerves of my body, the community of three trillion microorganisms within my own corporeal husk.  How can I not give it a solid shot?

~Lily

Hello.  Nice to meet you.

My name is Lily, and I have a story to tell about how I decided to become a farmer.  Of course, I’m not one yet, and if I understand anything about my life, it’s that it changes without my permission or prior notice.  I love stories though, so please, let me tell you this one.  If you like it, you can come back for more.  Yes.  I promise.

I suppose I could go way, way back, and talk about my early days living next to farms.  Or about my parent’s friends who farmed, and how I felt naturally like my life should be that way too.  Or about stories I grew up with about family members who farmed, back in the day.  My grandmother particularly.  Or about when I was older, and thought that I might like to be a farmer, but was unanimously discouraged. There is no money in farming. It’s not a good life, too much stress, governments … the explanations faded into what sounded like the language Charlie Brown’s teachers spoke.  Not a good life on a farm? Hm.

Instead, I will talk about one morning last winter when I was drinking my coffee while scanning through my newsfeed on Facebook, and noticed an advertisement for a documentary and information session.  The film was called “Grow!” and the session was called “To Grow a Farmer”, sponsored by ACORN.  I knew I had to go see it.  I immediately switched tabs, entered the time and date into my calendar, and carried on with my day.  As the time grew nearer, I learned that  Vandana Shiva was to be at Dalhousie University presenting a talk on food security, women, and farming.  I felt that same knowing in my bones that I must be there as well.  This was February in Halifax.  Metro Transit was on strike, and I no longer had a car.  Not living on the peninsula, the walk took me about an hour and a half.  It was a crisp but sunny day, and as long as I was walking, not too cold.  I found the place and settled in.  I just may have found my future.  The movie was inspiring, and hopeful.  There are a lot of people on this earth and we all need to eat.  A lot of the food on this planet is corrupted, lacking in nutritional integrity, and farmers are the only ones who can save us. Rock on!

After the presentation was over a reporter from the Chronicle Herald came to ask me a few questions.  I answered them as well as I could, as my mind spun with all the new information I just discovered, the buzz of excitement and energy filling me.  Then he asked me my name.  I didn’t tell him.  I have a job, one that I liked and that was as stable and secure as any in today’s world could be.  I didn’t want any of my bosses to read in the paper that I was throwing it in to turn farmer.  At least not until I had a plan.

A couple hours later I was at Vandana Shiva’s talk.  If you have never attended one of her presentations, and you get the chance, go.  I learned that in India there are over 200,000 varieties of rice! Rice! Biodiversity is a much larger force to be reckoned with than I realized.  I learned that women naturally pick up the labour intensive farm work, sometimes because they have no choice.  Doing this, they form communities.  They work together.  They know and grow with each other and each other’s children.  I was fabulously inspired by her talk, both by the aspects that were exotic enough that they may never have anything to do with my life, and by those aspects I hoped I would live and breathe for the rest of my life.

After all this excitement, I discovered that it got colder outside and had started snowing.  I stopped on my walk home at my favourite sushi place, the Wasabi House, and had some spicy miso soup, gyoza, and delicious sushi.  My mind was abuzz, and I was trying to type out my thoughts on my iPhone as I sipped and slurped, and waited for more.  I must have looked like I was having a mad texting session.  Folks, I was abuzz like this for days.  Actually, I’m not sure it ever stopped.  I think I just acclimated.  I spoke to some friends about what steps they took to make major life changes, career changes.  I started doing research.  And more research.  I placed suggestions for purchase at the library to purchase books I wanted to read, but they didn’t have.  I did this often.  I brought books home, read the ones I could, skimmed the rest, returned the ones I was done with, renewed the ones I wasn’t done with, and when that wasn’t possible, placed them back on hold and brought them home again.

This is where I am today.  I am still reading.  I have “liked” and “friended” Farmer’s Markets, local farmers, ACORN Atlantic, farms through both Canada and the United States, Information and Activist groups.  Local restaurants who source locally farmed, natural, clean food.  Organizations who promote and advocate for infrastructure and legislation that relates to clean, healthy, traditional, biologically farmed food.  I started a Twitter account with a focus on doing more of the same.  I read the tweets, the posts, and try to stay on top of everything I can.  I look up the books and bring them home from the library.  I read articles.  When someone calls or texts me wondering what I am doing, my first response is to feel somewhat guilty, abashed; I want to say “nothing”.  But I am doing something.  I am researching my future.  What better way for me to spend my spare time than doing that?

There certainly is a lot more to this story.  Thanks for joining me on my first post.  I will post more about what I am doing now, what I have been doing, what I have been reading, and about the little spaces in between.  I hope you keep coming back for more.

~Lily

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