After the Harvest, Seasons of life

The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.

Masanobu Fukuoka

There is a natural rhythm to life, if we allow ourself to follow and be guided by the seasons and the seasons of life, all we have to do is listen. Farmers have a very distinct rhythm, often commanded by the seasons. Crops are planted in the spring, once the field is dry enough to drive on. Harvest time comes in the fall when the crop is ready to be harvested. On farms there is seemingly this never ending list of things to do, once one item is crossed off there is always something else that needs attention. If your intrigued by stories of family, the family farm, life, sibling dynamics, and a funny recount of driving tractor in modern day, cooking a home grown meal reminiscing until the wee hours then you will enjoy the read.

Recently, the crop of organic soya beans was harvested from one of the fields on our 130 acre organic Family farm. After the crop is harvested it is prime time to tackle some of the field maintenance jobs before snow fall hits. My brother, Keith, his girlfriend Gaby gathered on a beautiful sunny day in October to clear a portion of the fence line at the back end of the field the week following the harvest of the crop . This was our first time working together as adults without the help and guidance of our father that lives on the farm during the summer months.

The farm is under the care and guidance of my father, Bruce and his trusty companion of eight years, Jill. You would never guess that my father is the later part of his 70’s. He is one of those type of people that can never sit still, he is constantly doing something, I think it is what keeps him young both mind and spirit. He could shame us all with his work ethic, and we grew up with the motto “make hay when the sun is shining”. Or for any modern folks reading this article, we have seasons in life to do things both physically and metaphorically. My brother and I are in that weird transitional time in our life, he in his early 50’s living in Montreal with two children in their early teens, and me (so much younger than he…by two years-lol) with my husband Mike and our three kids in their late teens living in Ottawa. My brother and I both love the farm we grew up on. We appreciate and are grateful for the fact that we have access to this beautiful, fertile land to grow stuff on and to work on projects without the full responsibility of splitting our lives between two places. We both know that one day in the near future we want to return to the family farm, but not sure how to navigate all of that. We have kids to launch into their own lives and we are both self employed with partners that having varying interests of their own.

Me, Karen on the right. Keith, my brother in the middle. Gaby, Keith’s girlfriend on the left.

My father, Bruce, the B in Bloulou is the steadfast keeper of the farm. He came to farming, like a fish out of water, figuring it out one day at the time. Let’s put it this way, farming or hobby farming as it was when he purchased the farm in the mid 70’s wasn’t at the top of his list of life endeavors, however, he embraced the life and like everything he does, he did it with grace, grit and hard-work. My Mother was the force that pushed him from his life of a more comfortable living in Vancouver. She was the one that couldn’t stand living in Vancouver, she hated the rainy climate and felt completely disconnected from her Quebec family. She was the one that issued the ultimatum, she was going back East, no matter what. Not sure if it was her natural calling to live a “back to the land” lifestyle or a feeling generated from the 1970’s self reliance movement but my Dad embraced the move. The farm looks very different now with the tamed fields, cleared from the overgrowth of years of abandonment. My Mom, the force behind the move from a city to farm life, passed away in July of 2011.

The trees shown here were planted in the mid 1980’s. The crop of organic soybeans was harvested the second week in October.

For farmers there is always this fine balance between protection of your crop with a perimeter of trees or hedgerow and utilizing every inch of land to grow crops. For farmers it is important to protect the field from the wind blow of the fertile top soil and for organic farmers shield the field from non-organic farming practices from the neighbours. My father and Jill have consistently worked over the years to keep the overgrowth of trees at bay along the fence line. A thankless job, one that keeps on growing back. When we first moved to the farm in the mid, 70’s the farm had been abandoned for five plus years. The fields were overgrown, speckled with brush and overgrown trees. I am not sure how my parents even prioritized what to do on the farm in the early years, between a 100’ barn that was collapsing from rot, a mouse infested farm house, piles of garbage in the woods and toys dumped into the well. It must have been daunting to know what to tackle next. My Dad held down a full-time job working for an airline in Montreal and commuted three hours a day. My Mom, a committed stay-at-home Mom, was devoted to trying to grow as much food as she could, and can, freeze or store the food to last the winter. My parents had also taken on raising, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, horses and cows. And, in their spare time they tore down the remaining 60 feet of barn, recycled the barn beams, wood, nails or anything else for that matter that they could to build an extension to the original farm house. This extension to the farm house is passively solar heated fully utilizing the southern exposure.

My Dad has been hinting of, or in fact directly telling my brother and I that it is time that we take over the farm. He has been incredibly patient as we both pursued our dream of traveling the world, an education, marriage, grown our families, businesses, and all the ebbs and flow of life. My brother and I are almost at the point in our lives that we can consider “taking over the farm”. On a lovely October day, my brother and I finally coordinated our schedules to spend 6 hours clearing the fence line. I’ve always been that type of person that loves working physically hard. I love that feeling of muscle exhaustion at the end of the day, back sore, muscles aching, and then to wake up the following morning feeling renewed. That morning, ironically, I had dropped my Dad and his girlfriend Jill off at the Ottawa airport at 5:15 am. They were off for the winter, they now spend their winters split between Vancouver, Jill’s condo and Mexico. After dropping them off I came back to the house for a quick snooze for a couple of hours. Before driving the 50 minutes to the farm I went to the flower shop (a business I run with my husband Mike~Alta Vista Flowers), to do a quick check in with staff to ensure everything was running smoothly. It was such a beautiful autumn day, you know the kind of day that you try and etch into your memory to carry you though the long winter days. The temperature was the perfect one sweater layer.

When I arrived at the farm my brother’s car was there and the large door to the barn was pulled open and one of the two tractors gone. We had not discussed where we were going to start our fence line clearing so I was a bit at a loss of exactly where to find him. I went to get the big tractor, the reasonably “new” four wheel drive tractor. Nothing says you mean business than driving a four wheel drive tractor. I learnt how to drive tractor when I was nine years old. We had a small tractor that we fondly referred to as the “Nuffield” it was a pint sized tractor that was dependable and easy to maneuver. I quickly learned how to use the clutch, I couldn’t quite reach the pedals and had to use the steering wheel to pull myself forward in the seat to be able push down on the clutch or brake. Tractors have two gear shifters, centered between your legs. I think learning how to drive tractor at that age taught me how to be a good driver. Over the years, we’ve had a couple of tractors, I haven’t had much opportunity to drive them. In adulthood our visits to the farm have been more social and less work. In pursuit of efficiently looking for my brother and getting started on fence clearing I jumped into the driver’s seat of this big green four wheeled drive John Deere parked in the barn. It took me a few moments to take in all of the gauges and shifters. Gone are the days of having two gear shifters between your legs. Almost all the controls are on the right side of the fender well. I took a deep breath, started with turning the key to start the tractor and the dash lights came on, I then looked for the button to start it, no button. Okay, “I’ll turn the key”, bingo-the tractor started.” “Great! Now, let’s look at the pictures on the fender on how to get the tractor to go into reverse. Aha, pulled the lever to the picture of the tractor in reverse. Voila! Tractor backs up! Yay!! Okay, A, B, C, D. Interesting. Let’s start with A and see how fast I back up…slow and steady. Wonderful. Oh yes, there is a front end loader, got to lift it up.” “There is a joy stick, that must be how to control the loader. Yep, loader tips and goes up. We are rocking! Now, back up and go and find where my brother and his girlfriend are working at clearing the fence line. Where are they?”

The path from the barn up to the road is a steady hill and of course the top of the drive way is on the crest of this said hill. I creep up the hill, thinking to myself, “I hope there are no cars coming”, as I need to cross the busy road to go into the field across the road from our farm house. My car has a manual transmission and I frequently have thoughts that go through my head thinking that if I stop on a hill I risk stalling the car or sliding back. And now I drive a 3 ton four wheel drive tractor, hmm… As I roll to the top of the hill, I quickly perform a check and scan for cars- “phew-no cars coming, coast is clear.” Off I go down the field to find them.

The farmer that rented our land this past summer planted a crop of organic soyabeans. It was the first time we grew soyabeans and by the volume of grain trailers or “turncoats” the crop was a success. As I putted along the field, sun shining on my face, memories flooded through my mind of galloping my horse up and down the field after the crop was harvested. One of the two horses I owned, a gorgeous bay coloured racing Quarter Horse, called Stretch, he was my faithful stead and could run so fast that tears streamed down my face from the cold wind. My first horse Skedaddle, was a good horse, but didn’t have that consistent and good willing nature that Stretch had.

Finally, I found Keith and Gaby after a small detour into our little field off our main field. I found them working away, Gaby in full control of the chipper and willing the gangley branches into the chipper. Keith had full command of the chainsaw. They definitely had created a nice rhythm of Keith dropping the small trees, limbing and cutting up the larger pieces into firewood while Gaby pulled away and chipped the branches, adding another layer of organic matter to decompose through winter. I quickly jumped into help collect and chip the branches, and from time to time picked up the chainsaw to cut up the fallen trees into logs and or limb the tree.

Gaby the intrepid feeder of the branches.
Keith limbing small trees.

We had a quick late lunch break around three. Chicken noodle soup and a barley sandwich (aka beer) fueled us till sunset, we returned for another round of work, this time with a secondary chain saw, chain, water and renewed energy. We modified our work style, cutting down the trees and hauling the cut up trees into the ravine to decompose. We had debated the most efficient work methods to get as much of the work completed in one go. We even talked about pulling all of the branches and wood into the middle of the field and have a big bonfire in the spring. I suggested to minimize the release of carbon, we should haul the branches into the ravine and allow natural process of decomposition to take place. This method proved physically more exhaustive but rewarding that we weren’t adding to air pollution and the release of carbon. It is interesting to see how awareness can bring about change. When you know better you do better.

Just before sunset we decided to call it a day. We were all exhausted. Keith drove “Big John” back to the house with Gaby and I drove the other “Small John” tractor.

Video of the tractor being driven back to the farm house.

Gaby took the lead on dinner, we had not really planned out what we were going to have. Keith had grown spaghetti squash this past summer and she made a lovely improvised dish of spaghetti squash that was turned into a lasagna, thanks to some amendments of leftover bacon and a can of whole tomato. After dinner we reveled in our work, reminisced about our childhood on the farm, listened to Gaby’s stories of life in Lebanon and Italy and dreamed of how we envisioned sharing and living on this beautiful legacy. Although we didn’t come up with any firm ideas of what the future holds for us on this beautiful piece of land, we do know that we both have a shared reverence and appreciate for all the gifts that were imparted on us by our parents. Like in life and the natural world there is a season for everything and our season will come soon enough.

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