Friday, October 21, 2011

Being in the barn...

It's really just four old plywood walls, and a dirt floor. In our dreams we had envisioned a majestic old bank barn - but our reality is a pole barn in various stages of disrepair.  Still, I often find myself hanging out within it's four walls.

Take tonight for instance. The sheep were fed, and their heads were happily in the grain toughs scarfing down every last morsel. The donkeys had their heads stuffed into the hay racks, trying to mine for the alfalfa hidden in the hay, and the ram was pacing his pen - itching to get out and join the girls.

I stood in the sheep enclosure, with Smokey the barn cat doing figure eights around my ankles. I still had water troughs to fill, but for a moment I was content to stand amongst them, listening to the happy sounds of eating.  It was warmer than usual in the barn, surprising as it was such a bitterly cold autumn night.

The barn lights are not that bright, and seem to always cast a yellowish glow no matter how many bulbs manage to remain on. It makes for a cozy place to stand and observe.

A small head butted my thigh, and I looked down to see one of the ewe lambs seeking attention.  I softly scratched her head, and continued surveying the barn.

We still had work to do, floors to level and water systems to install - but the addition of the sheep pen had definitely made this old pole barn feel like more of a true barn. The sweet smell of hay, and the musty smell of wet wool gave it a distinct smell, one that I seem to find comforting these days.

Filling water troughs could wait, for a moment I was enjoying simply being in the barn.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Together we succeed

A question that I am often asked is "How do you manage to work a full time job and run a farm?"

When I am asked this question, I wish I could provide a step by step guide on how to do just that, but the reality is that I couldn't do it alone. It's about teamwork.

There are so many tasks on a farm that simply can't be done alone, whether it's erecting fences or repairing tractors, two pairs of hands are far better than one.  Many folks in the farming community have reiterated to me that "The couple that does chores together stays together".  I suppose that there is something which bonds you when you shovel poop together, but I do think it's more than that.

Sharing repeated tasks with a partner means that you have to work together to find efficiencies.  You also discover your partners strengths and weaknesses.  While I may not be adept at driving the tractor, I am fantastic at healing injured livestock.  It's through our shortcomings that we enable our partner to shine. 

I also think that the key to a successful partnership is to recognize your partner's efforts and successes.  We all like to be recognized, even if it's for the smallest thing.  When I get home from work and find that supper has been started already, it puts me in an appreciative mood.  I find myself thinking "wow! that was nice, what can I do to reciprocate?"  This is how after dinner my better half finds himself looking down at his favorite type of pie.

Kindness begets kindness.  

So how do we run a farm and work full time? We work together to prioritize, we support each other when things go wrong, and we divide tasks so that we each focus on what we each do best.

Of course, a little silliness helps too. It's very hard to take someone seriously when they have straw in their hair.

Ontario Federation of Agriculture

I am not really entirely certain when the idea began to take shape. But suddenly I found myself smiling and nodding, in agreement to take on the new role.

It began when I got an invitation to attend the Annual Meeting for the Dufferin County Federation of Agriculture (DFA). I made a mental note of the date, intending to go.

Weeks later, I was in discussion on Twitter with Wayne Black, Director for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA).  Wayne was considering the idea of running for President of the OFA, an idea I strongly supported. Not only is Wayne tech savvy and forward thinking, he comes from a long line of agricultural history and understands the issues in agriculture.  I think Wayne would be a breath of fresh air, and an opportunity for a new voice at the table.

I suggested he attend the DFA meeting with me.  It would be a great opportunity for Wayne to meet folks from Dufferin County, and for me to connect him with local farmers.

So Wayne came, and I found myself sitting next to him as they asked for nominations - looking for Directors for the board.  Wayne raised his hand, and spoke my name.  I suppose I could have declined, but I was secretly thrilled.  A chance to have a voice at the table, an opportunity to learn more about agriculture within the province....I nodded my head. A vote was cast, and voila! I am a Director for the Dufferin County Federation of Agriculture. 

I truly hope that I represent the farmers in my region well, and that they share with me issues or questions they may have.  I am looking forward to this next great adventure!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Spectacular Colour

I simply couldn't let the amazing splendour of fall go by without sharing it, it's breathtaking in person. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I am a Sundowner

It’s often frustrating to have to split my time between the farm and my day job. While a part of my brain is fully aware that one wouldn’t exist without the other, it becomes painfully obvious at times that there are advantages to farming full time. Sadly, one of those advantages is NOT being able to pay the farm mortgage, and so I continue to have a day job!

Fortunately, I love what I do each day. I have a career in something that I enjoy, and am passionate about. Some mornings, I do feel odd as I put on my office hat and take off my farm hat – or literally take off my coveralls to hop into the car with my suit and heels on! The one hour commute allows me to disconnect from the farm and provides time for me to focus on the day ahead at the office. Vice-versa on the route home I begin to leave the office behind and think of farm tasks that wait. The commute becomes my decompression time – or my preparation time. Depending on how you look at it.

We spent quite a good deal of time this year preparing our Environmental Farm Plan (EFP). As a part of this program, bursary’s are available to farmers to assist in implementation. As new farmers, any sort of cash flow is a good one, and we were quite excited about it. We spent many hours preparing our plan, used vacation days to attend the in class EFP training, and were eagerly awaiting the final submission date.

But that’s where things did not go as planned.

You see, the way the funds are allocated is that all farmers within a county must show up in person, bright and early in the morning, and line up for the funds. Funds are distributed until they are gone, which often takes only an hour. Some farmers line up at the crack of dawn to ensure that they receive funds. That’s not so bad, right? Well, for those who work a day job it is a challenge. This distribution happened on a weekday, during business hours. Unfortunately, neither of us was able to get the time off work – and since our day job is important in terms of the overall success of the farm we had a choice to make.

That day, as I sat in a meeting at the office my mind wandered to the scene that was likely unfolding at the Agricultural centre. I longed to be in that line up with our EFP. I felt that I deserved a chance to implement some of the environmental solutions that we had worked so hard to create. But as I refocused on the task at hand, I realized that part of being a “sundowner farmer” is the unfortunate fact that it is not equitable. Full time farmers will always have the advantage.

But that doesn't mean we won't do our best to be included.