Farmer Graduation

Photos from 2013-06-18
I have officially graduated & am now a real farmer. (According to Heather.)

This afternoon i successfully completed my first solo mission on the tractor: get a new bale of alfalfa & put it beside the goat barn. There was not much of a ceremony, but it felt pretty good. I am thankful to my father-in-law for giving me a quick rundown of what all the levers & pedals do, & then letting me figure it out on my own.

My mantra for the rest of the day is: “I can drive a tractor. I can do anything.”


On Yurts & Crowdfunding, Or, There’s Nothing New Under the Sun


Tonoo (centre ring/skylight) & supporting pillars.

Tonoo (centre ring/skylight) & supporting pillars.

Last Thursday we put up our yurt. (I’m going to restrain the use of exclamation marks for now, since if i don’t i will use them to punctuate every sentence of this post.) Some of you were here with us; some following on facebook. It was a wonderful time, even with the added challenge of rain. I don’t think that we could’ve beat the rain—once we had the roof felts & exterior canvas on, we could put up the rest of the felts in the rain much more easily—without the help of everyone who showed up. Thank you.

Putting up roof poles.

Putting up roof poles.

The felt insulation.

The felt insulation.

Getting the lowdown on yurts.

Getting the lowdown on yurts.

More felt, this time in the rain!

More felt, this time in the rain!

The outer ropes keep the insulation tight against the lattice walls, as well as connecting the doors to the walls.

The outer ropes keep the insulation tight against the lattice walls, as well as connecting the doors to the walls.

IMG_4576Yesterday we had our yurt-warming party. Again, many people showed up; many also followed on facebook. It was also a wonderful time, made even more wonderful by the absence of rain! Burgers & salads were eaten, drinks imbibed, songs were sung, & our new home was warmed—literally & figuratively.

It was during the building & warming of our new home that i rekindled my gladness that we were trying to crowdfund.

Some of you are aware that we have set up a page where people can contribute toward this first major piece of infrastructure in our mini-farm/farmette dream/adventure: our home, aka, a traditional Mongolian yurt/ger. (There should be a link on the righthand side to our kapipal page, but you can also click here.) We started out by getting approved for a line of credit to finance our home—folks at our local bank figured that a yurt wouldn’t qualify for a mortgage—but after giving it more thought, we decided to try to crowdfund our yurt, at least in part. The main reason is that we wanted to give people an opportunity to support us in this new endeavour, we hoped to become an object of generosity. We wanted this to be an adventure supported by our communities far & near. Like many of our other adventures, we hoped it would be a communal undertaking.

When i use the word crowdfunding, i am using it to mean fundraising which uses one or more social media platforms. There are many of these crowdfunding sites already, & i’m sure more are on the way.

IMG_4599So fundraising is not new. But it seems people are using crowdfunding more & more to fund dreams & visions. For a few decades now, a lot of those dreams & visions have been either self-funded, bank-funded, or, in the case of new businesses, venture-capitalist-funded. Now it seems that people in general want to have opportunities to say “yes” to something by giving a small (or sometimes large) contribution. This is evidenced by the success of many crowdfunding ventures in myriad fields, be it filmmaking, product development, charitable projects, or, yurts.

In the introduction to the Foxfire Book, a compilation of articles from Foxfire Magazine, high-school-English-teacher-turned-magazine-editor Eliot Wiggington  tells the story of how his unruly class became the content generators for a magazine that, for many of the back-to-the-land movement, was a source of knowledge & inspiration.

He had tried to get the students engaged with the course material in many ways. He had tried harsh discipline. Nothing was working. So, he proposed that they start a magazine. The content would come from their neighbours & relatives, residents of the Appalachian mountains.

IMG_4606“And money? The school could provide no support at all. Any financial obligations would be my problem—not theirs. … the kids had to find the money for that first issue themselves, and that made them more determined to see the magazine go than anything i could have said.

And so they hit the streets after school. Any donor, no matter how small [the] gift, would be listed in the issue, and [they] would receive a free copy signed by all the kids.”

I was reading this out loud to Heather & i stopped at that point & said, “That’s crowdfunding.”

What i’ve read so far of the Foxfire Book has been thoroughly enjoyable. Stories of elders, their lives, their ways of life, made possible by crowdfunding. Made possible because the students’ community said yes to this vision by supporting it with gifts small & large.

So we have chosen to crowdfund because we need our community, but also because we wouldn’t want to do this without our community. Building & warming our yurt was so much better because of the support from our community here in Saskatchewan as well as those across the globe.IMG_4601

It is a beautiful thing to belong & to feel supported. As we were putting up the yurt, Yves the Yurt Expert/Delivery Guy told us about how each part of the yurt—the wood structure, the insulation, the cover, the ropes—contributes to the strength of the yurt. No one part of the structure is the key. The yurt is strong because of all the parts that belong to the whole. I hope that for many years, our yurt home can be a reminder to us & our community that that is exactly the same way that a community gets its strength.

IMG_4590 - Version 2

We were also told that Mongolians believe that the spirit of a yurt lives in the door frame. People step over the frame & if they accidentally bump their head or foot, they will pass through again, offering an apology for disturbing the spirit. For the same reason people do not knock on the door of someone’s yurt; also because everyone is always welcome in a yurt.

IMG_4579 IMG_4618

So the next time you find yourself driving south of Hanley, Saskatchewan, look for our squat-grain-bin-looking yurt with the bright red door, drive right on up & come in. We can’t promise the traditional Mongolian drink of hospitality (fermented mare’s milk), but chances are we’ll have some sort of beverage to offer you.


Buying vs. Making

I’m currently reading Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity From a Consumer CultureIt is a very interesting book which advocates for the return of the homemaker. No, not the housewife of the ’50s, but a woman or man in a family who is dedicated to the making of a home: growing & preserving food; repairing clothing; cooking food. Doing the things that cost today’s family so much money, causing people to work longer & longer hours, leaving less time for interaction with spouse, children, friends, & family.

I’m not going to get deep into the specifics of the book, nor am i going to go off on a tirade about how every family needs to take back the Domestic Arts (that’s for another post, after i ruminate on this vast topic more). I wanted to share with you something that i noticed in myself.

As many of you out there know—because you know me in person & have witnessed my tendencies—i am a maker. Some of my friends once joked that a statement that is almost always true of me at any moment is that i am “doing arts & crafts.” I think it really started in full force when i learned to knit & crochet, though i did alter my thrift store wardrobe all throughout high school as a result of my grade 8 sewing class. Once i realized that i could now make scarves, toques, mitts, & blankets, the world was my oyster. & i wanted more.

I learned more cooking skills, baking bread from scratch being a perennial favourite obsession. Now i’m learning how to ferment things like mead & sauerkraut. I am also experimenting with woodworking & lutherie.

Shannon Hayes, author of Radical Homemakers, points out that when all the labour-saving devices & industrial convenience foods came into the typical North American household, the housewife* became more of a consumer than ever before. Suddenly her “job” was equated with shopping rather than making. “Being productive” became synonymous with “buying things”.

I am in The City (Saskatoon’s the biggest centre near us, so it is generically referred to as “The City”) today, shopping for various & sundry odds & ends: zip ties for goat fencing, rubber boots to protect our feet from the impending spring mud, & new knitting needles. Reading in the pauses between my shopping forays, i notice within myself how i feel productive after i’ve bought an item. Today has felt like a productive day, despite the fact that i haven’t actually produced anything; i’ve only consumed products.

While this does worry me—this productivity-equals-consumption idea wheedling its way into my brain & my activities—i take solace in the fact that most of what i bought are the ingredients of other things, tools & parts in a bigger DIY project. The zip ties represent the jury-rigged fencing that we are devising in our goat barn; the boots are a reminder that chores go on even when the snow melts & mucks up the land; the needles represent hats, socks, mittens.

*While not gender inclusive, my intent here was simply to be historically accurate. I’m a big advocate for a shift toward a word i learned from my friend Kaitlyn: house-spouse. The historical roots of the words husband & housewife are discussed in Radical Homemakers, which i found very interesting. Again, i’ll probably be returning to this topic more & more often in future posts. Get ready, people.

You Can Take Your Time Eating a Tangerine and Be Very Happy*

We now have more people using the land (that is, living from it) and fewer thinking about it than ever before. We are eating thoughtlessly … It is a crisis of culture.

The quote here is from Wendell Berry’s collection of essays “The Unsettling of America”. Starting in June, i’ve been a part of an informal challenge to read a Wendell Berry book per month for a year. I haven’t quite been able to keep up, but i am still trying to be reading some Wendell throughout the year. For those of you unfamiliar with Mr Berry & his writings, here’s a snippet from Wikipedia: “Wendell Berry (born August 5, 1934) is an American man of letters, academic, cultural and economic critic, and farmer. He is a prolific author of novels,short stories, poems, and essays.” Most of the time, i am in total agreement with what he writes. He’s a practical idealist; poet & plower combined. I like that.


In much of his writing on farming, he has three basic premises: 1) We need more farmers farming smaller portions of land, 2) We need to go back to older ways of farming, 3) There is a spiritual aspect to our food & the land from which it comes. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? I think so. I think it also reflects the growing concerns of the general population surrounding food.

The amazing thing to me is that he has been writing this for decades. Like, before people got this intense about their food. To me, the fact that his writing can be so timely 30 years after being written is a sign both of how far we’ve come & how far we still have to go. Or maybe more specifically, i find that it speaks to me where i am & points the way forward in agriculture.

So, when i read the quote above, i was pleasantly surprised to find that i had to disagree with Wendell on this point. Or at least about the part about us eating thoughtlessly. Heather & i recently attended the Harvest and Hunger forum, put on in Saskatoon by the Saskatchewan Council for International Cooperation (SCIC). People from across the province were in attendance & ranged from people new to food issues to seasoned farmers to urban beekeepers to conscious consumers. Our keynote speaker was Frances Moore Lappé, who had many wonderful things to tell us about the future of ecology & food. The second day was full of workshops on theory & practice around various food issues. It was so wonderful to be around so many people who were taking an interest in where their food was coming from & how it was being produced.

I’ve heard debates on what is the best method (or gimmick) when it comes to food: local or organic? meat-free? some other thing? I don’t think there’s one answer, but there is something very important to notice in the fact that we are having these debates, which is that more & more people are trying to eat more mindfully/thoughtfully.

So, while i agree with much of what he has to say in general, i am proud to say that i disagree with Wendell Berry about the fact that we are thoughtless eaters. I can only imagine that people like Mr Berry & Ms Lappé have paved the way for people like me. For that i’m very thankful.

For a few more of my thoughts around food production, you can go here.


*Thich Nhat Hanh

**Wendell Berry

Does a Garden Have a Value (Beyond Vegetables)?

Can you tell where my assumptions with gardening lie already? I’ve never really been one for flower gardening, though i love to enjoy others’ efforts in that field. I do love vegetable gardening for many reasons. First, you get to eat stuff that grew from the ground, stuff that you nurtured. Second, you get to wear a cool (or uncool?) hat and play in the dirt. Third, you get to pretend to be a farmer.

This third reason has me thoroughly engaged these days. I’ve started on a journey called “Year of Wendell Berry”. (Let’s call it a book club. Let me also say a big thank you to Friend Thera for inviting me to the group.) Wendell has a lot to say about real farming, & i like to pretend that what he has to say applies to what i do. (This post’s title is lifted from his very wonderful & similarly titled essay “Does Community Have a Value?”. Please find it & read it.)

What i want to share with you, friends, is what he has to say about our relationship with nature. One of his gripes with modern society is that we assign value to nature (for the most part) based on the potential monetary value of what we can make from it. He applies this to modern farming as well. He advocates strongly for preserving wildness even among our cultivated fields; fencerows of bushes & brush & brambles, perfect for nesting & burrowing if we are willing to leave space for other creatures to live. He argues that preserving wildness in this way is a way of having a more harmonious relationship with nature, but also that it makes sense. For example, wildness in conjunction with agriculture can help preserve & improve soil fertility & combat soil erosion.

I’m realizing the great mental health value that keeping a garden has for me. When i spend time in it, even if i don’t do much work, i feel more at peace with myself & my surroundings. Taking a walk through the rows laden with beans, peas, greens, tomatoes, beets & (hopefully) potatoes & carrots, i feel satisfied with the work i have done & at the same time, amazed that this produce has come into existence. After all, i haven’t done most of the work that goes into the vegetables becoming vegetables; nature/God does that.

The other day as Heather & i surveyed the small piece of the universe that has been entrusted to us, we saw that the sunflowers, which we did not plant, had begun to develop their flower heads. & my goodness! They filled my heart with so much joy. So, i’m learning to appreciate the inedible, yet spiritually nutritive, aspects of our garden & the land around me.

Still Frame / Still Life – June 1, 2012

Apparently it’s my turn to do a Still Frame / Still Life entry. (It might have something to do with my having the camera…) I believe it is my first. As many of you are already aware, i’m currently enrolled in a luthier course in Manitoba. It’s being taught by a friend i met back in college (the one in the John Deere shirt in the collage below), who’s now been building guitars for about 10 years. Here‘s his website.

The course continues to both overwhelm & excite me. I’m learning so much, but it’s such a short time (five weeks!) that all the information is sort of overloading my brain. I think once i can settle back into a routine in Hanley, the building process will feel more manageable.

These are just a few highlights from last Friday, June 1st. If you want to see more of the guitar-building process, go here.