Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spring awakenings

My first month at the farm has flown by in a flurry of moving, cleaning, painting and unpacking. The house was in a dirtier state than I'd feared, with clean up of cat feces in the corners of many rooms, and mouse droppings from all the kitchen cabinets. And then I started getting flea bites on my ankles, so now even without the presence of all those cats (and apparently mice), I've got to try and eliminate fleas...who only seem to want to bite me. Cluster flies also appeared with the warming weather, whose frenzied buzzing emphasizes to me how important it is for me to fix the screens and seals on all the windows! It almost makes me wish for the frozen hibernation of winter ;P

But not all the new life around the farm has been unwelcome to me. There are snowdrops all around the yard and the shoots of bulbs are pushing their way out of the soil. Yellow crocuses have started blooming, and I even found a patch of dwarf butterfly irises!

Dwarf butterfly irises found in a sheltered patch by the cedars to the east of the house

I've also driven around between the farm, Toronto and Waterloo so much that I've likely wracked up more mileage than I would have driven in a year of living and working in Toronto. I think that's been the hardest thing for me to get used to on the farm, not the isolation, bugs or being in a new house, but rather how much time is spent travelling anywhere. I used to be incapable of driving more than an hour a day without feeling like I'm dozing off at the wheel, but now I can actually drive 3-4 hours in a day and not be too tired out by it. It's reassuring to me that I have adapted so much as the distance of the farm from the GTA had really bothered me...but now that I'm capable of driving that distance, I don't feel like I'm as far away. I have made a concession to all this long distance driving in that I've finally broken down and gotten a cell phone. The last thing I'd want is to be unable to access my CAA membership benefits if the minivan has any issues on the road.

While I have been very preoccupied by moving tasks in March, I really do need to get moving on farm tasks. My fields need to be frost seeded so that I can hopefully get a jump on weeds. I also need to find a farmer with a tractor who'd be willing to cultivate my vegetable field for me and set up the beds for planting. And while I have all my vegetable seeds, I don't have any tools yet other than a wheel hoe. A rototiller's at the top of my list of tools, as well as seeders. And I need to get seeding indoors so that I will have peppers, eggplants and tomatoes this year. So much to do!

The house also needs a lot of work on its exterior, from repainting/caulking/screening the windows, to getting the roof replaced. The barn's also in need of some work to prevent any further water damage. The rain of spring has certainly revealed where water comes in! The grounds around the house need a lot of cleanup to reveal the flower beds and clear up all the branch debris from the trees over the winter (all to be saved for arrangements or as fuel for a bonfire). I've definitely got my hands full! For all those of you who may be paying condo fees and complaining about them...consider all the work you don't have to do to maintain the building and grounds and all of a sudden, those monthly fees seem a lot more reasonable!

I'm currently in Toronto for a week to help my sister with her booth at the One of a Kind show in Toronto which runs from April 1-5. If you can make it to the show, you should definitely come visit us in the Rising Stars section at the 'House of Hsueh' booth (J-45). Just walking through the Direct Energy centre today and seeing all the different artisan booths being set up has been exciting as there are so many beautiful things being made by creative minds and hands. I know I won't be able to resist buying some things, but I'm happy to be supporting all these artisans directly. And I hope my sister's products are a hit and that she sells her whole stock!

After the show, I'm back to the farm to get working on all that needs to be done. My goals for April on the farming side are to get my fields taken care of for the season (via cover cropping or by finding a local farmer to grow grain on them), my seedlings started and lining up someone with a tractor to cultivate my vegetable plot for me once the ground is defrosted and dry enough. On the house side, I'm aiming to have everything fixed and spruced up for May 30 when I'm planning to have my farm warming party. Hopefully various people will come visit to help out and/or keep me company!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Bittersweet farm beginnings

I am now officially moved to the farm. After an extremely stressful week trying to get 2 mortgages finalized to pay for the farm on Feb. 27, everything finally worked out and I took possession that Friday. All I will say about the whole mortgage experience is that this 'recession' sucks, I hate appraisers, and that banks just don't care about getting documents sent to lawyers in a timely fashion. But at the end of the day, all the money got to where it needed to go on time, which is good. Unfortunately, I got less than I wanted and have to pay back more each month than I had planned. Ah, the wonders of 50% loan-to-value ratios and amortization periods that have to be 5 years less than the appraised lifetime of the property :P

The move in weekend was perhaps a bit more chaotic than I would have liked since there were so many people up at the farm. I arrived with my minivan loaded to the gills thanks to the packing abilities of Alan and Jen. Kris followed me as she was filming me signing stuff at the lawyer's office in Markdale before coming to the farm. Sarah, Katherine and Devin arrived soon afterwards to set up their filming equipment (more on this later). Mark and Robb arrived in a rented cube van stuffed with larger pieces of furniture, and then my sister Benita and her husband Will arrived. Our first priority was to unload the cube van as it needed to be driven back to Waterloo that night, so most of us were either unloading or sweeping out areas in which to unload stuff. Robb's aunt, uncle and cousin also arrived and helped to unload the minivan and also to scrub the upstairs bathroom (for which I'm eternally grateful!). And around all this, there were 3 cameras to film the various arrivals and activity.

When I first put my condo on the market, I also made a slightly unusual Craig's list post where I said that whoever bought my condo would also get a season's worth of vegetables from the farm, and directed the reader to this blog. Sarah, a documentary producer, found me through this post and took a look at my blog. We ended up meeting and decided that we'd be a good fit for a documentary about my journey into farming. So that's why Sarah was at the farm with 2 cinematographers. And Kris was also on site to film footage for a 4 minute Everdale documentary. It's definitely a new thing for me to have so many cameras around!

The first night on the farm was celebrated with my bottle of Veuve Clicquot champage, Mark's chili and various South American red wines (courtesy of Sarah). We all ended up bunking down in the living room for the night like a kid's slumber party.

The next day, my sister Bettina and her husband Ken, as well as my mother, joined us at the farm. Saturday was major cleaning day! The previous owner had many cats who had unfortunately sprayed in some corners...and also didn't manage to keep the mice out of the kitchen cabinets. My mother fed us a lunch of homemade steamed pork buns which were super tasty. Simeron and Doran also showed up for a visit. And in the afternoon, Mark and I went for a walk with the documentary team in the woods and fields and got interviewed in a snowy field. I made sure that everyone at the farm had a chance for a break to wander the grounds and see what a beautiful place it is. The weather cooperated with a beautiful sunny, clear day. Eventually, most people left and Robb, Mark and I were left to dinner and our first quiet night on the farm. We were all heading out the next day, me to get another load of furniture from my condo, and Mark to take Robb back to Waterloo.

I returned to the farm on Monday night and spent Tuesday washing the walls in the middle section of the house. Mark returned early afternoon on Wednesday...with some rather bad news for me. After a lot of soul searching, he had to admit to himself that moving to the farm and starting to farm with me this year wasn't right for him. He had been battling this feeling for a number of weeks, which I had noticed subconsciously but didn't want to admit might be a serious concern. I thought it was just cold feet, but instead of feeling better once he got to the farm, he realized that this just wasn't right for him. While this is an upsetting decision for me, I understand his dilemma and wouldn't want him to come out to farm without having his heart in it. So I will be paring back our original farm plan to be manageable by one person instead of two. Right now, I feel rather heavy hearted, but I'm thankful that having Mark around for the farm hunt gave me the confidence and courage to move forward with buying a farm. I am certainly excited for the season to come, and perhaps having to scale back the first year is a more prudent way to start.

I will spend the rest of March completing my move, getting the farm house in order and planning the order and placement of the plantings to come. The past couple of weeks have certainly been an emotional rollercoaster for me. I feel a bit like God's taunting me, with two steps forward and one step back, but I know that in the end, the harder the struggle now, the sweeter success will be. Though I really have no idea how I'll measure success in the end. In a sense, even just getting this far, to being on my new farm property is the culmination of years of dreaming. I just have to continue to have faith that God will keep supporting me as long as I pursue my calling. Admittedly, that's much easier said then truly felt ;P