Monday, May 9, 2011

The Family Farm

I read about it everywhere. Avenue Homesteader just wrote a post about it this weekend, Kevin Kossowan has a series of short films about local farms, the permaculture group and the Eat Alberta group have all talked about it. The disapearance of the family farm (or the difficulty in surviving on one) and the city paving over the best agricultural land.

Being the cheap person I am, I didn't want to buy manure this year or cart in loads of compost, yet I know that my soil can use annual ammendments if I plan to ever eat all of our veggies off of our own city plot of land. This year I followed the advice of a friend and drove to the country and knocked on a door asking for free manure (or in exchange for small amounts of cash or the equivalent value in Girl Guide cookies).

The first two farms didn't look approachable. The first one was just sort of "closed" looking. The next looked like they'd already upgraded the homestead to be able to sell at urban prices. It was landscaped beautifully and had a lovely (closed) gate at the end of their long driveway. It looked unwelcoming and for sale.

The next had a big old barn, an old typical farmhouse, cows near the house and looked like a working family farm should. We knocked. He didn't seem to think it was a weird request, didn't want cookies or money and just pointed to his aged manure pile. "Just don't let the cows out and don't chase them", he said.

We dug right in (pun intended).

When I had first suggested this little field trip to the kids, I'd said we were going to scoop poop on Saturday. That met with three groans and three "do we have to?"s. However, when we got there they seemed happy enough to help.
Once I'd filled my first bag and dug down to the older, more composted stuff, I didn't get to use a shovel again. The kids took over.

Triumphant! We filled all the bags we had (6 doubled bags) and considered coming back for more, but I can't do it on my own. The ground was soft and uneven, the bags very heavy and I was worried that my knees would give out.

At one point the farmer came out to see how we were doing and chatted about the farm. It was his grandparent's farm initially. The cows who wandered up to us out of curiousity and a scratch from the farmer all had names and are shown at local fairs, probably to make a point that his good productive land was soon to be lost. With the city developments within sight of his quarter section, he would initially have a choice to sell. If he doesn't sell voluntarily though, the city would soon start taxing his land at a residential rate and force him out that way. He mentioned the paving of agricultural land and it's going on all around our city. He wasn't a big talker, but he'd said what was in his mind at the moment.

It's sad.

I can't go back on my own and I really need to start seeding things this week, so I'll wait until next year to visit him again. I hope the developments in that area move slowly.


Patty-Jean from LittleQuiver said...

What a great idea for getting manure. How sad for the farmers! And yet it feels like there should be more of an exodus out of urban areas and into rural areas with all the green trends.

life in this 1880 farmhouse said...

Hi Evelyn I found your blog through another this week and thought I would visit and introduce myself. I too am Canadian ,a Mennonite in Ontario. We have a dairy and Romney sheep farm and too many kids, but heh that is life. I enjoy seeing you dig into the' Poopnuer' as my three year old calls it, and liking every moment of it. Seems like we spend days cleaning out ours. I can sympathize with you here.

Blessings Marlyn

Evelyn in Canada said...

Patti-Jean: I think that there are still a lot of different ideas about living "green". Infill development in the city is green, converting warehouses in the inner city can be green, buying everything at farmer's markets rather than growing your own, etc. When you immerse yourself in a permaculture/gardening/simple living group (like I seem to have done) you can imagine that everyone wants a rural lifestyle. That's not always the case though.

And then there are those of us who could never afford to move to good land (or have non-farming husbands with no interest in that!). One couple at the Eat Alberta event said they'd looked at 160 acres for a market garden near the city and it was listed at $7 million! How can a small farmer afford that?

And there are still loads of people who love their green expanses of lawn who don't support local farmers at all.

Welcome, Marlyn! Is that your house on your blog's image? That is my dream house. Sigh...

life in this 1880 farmhouse said...

Yes Evelyn that is my house. Eight kids requires a lot of room. We have thought of living like Abraham in tents but that would require a move to a warmer country. Canadian snow requires brick and wood heat.Besides the kids would still argue on which side of the tent was theirs anyway.


Unknown said...

What an awesome adventure!

Manure compost is the key to a successful garden, IMHO. That, and getting rid of the quack grass...