Exploring the Neighborhood

Time does fly and it is longer than I thought since my last blog entry. I am waiting for milk to thaw so I can make cheese so thought I’d put down a few words. Norm, my current goat milk supplier, freezes milk to keep it fresh and it does work well. The milk quality is very good and my only complaint is that I need to re-think my cheese-making schedule to allow for thawing time. It just means that I’m a little slower getting started in the day, but the cheese gets made eventually and so far it has turned out really good. I was worried about the state of my cheese cultures, after their trans-Canadian trip, but they held up well and seem to be still alive and doing their thing.

Our little dribble of snow is gone after mild temperatures and rain yesterday. There is more snow on the horizon, though, so we may yet have a white Solstice. We have snow tires on the car, the snow blower is hooked up to the tractor and there’s lots of firewood in the barn so I think we’re ready for winter! One neighbor, who keeps records of such things, told us that over 14 feet of snow fell in McKees Mills last winter. Now this isn’t all at once, of course, but the total snowfall of the season. Still, that is a lot of snow! Will and I are getting each other cross country skis for Christmas and will be watching the skies for the fluffy white stuff with even more enthusiasm once we’re so equipped.

Things are pretty quiet on the farm. The goats are doing well and seem not to mind the cold we’ve had so far. They’ve experienced cold and snow in BC so the winter won’t be a total shock to them. They are enjoying their new hay and still going outside to munch on weeds and tree branches. I’ve taken them outside the fenced area towards the forest a few times, though they are pretty spooky out there in the wild unknowns. They eat conifer branches and a few of the leaves they find on the ground. There’s not too much else to eat outdoors otherwise.

We visited a small organic vegetable and livestock farm yesterday: Hope Farm. It is about half an hour’s drive north west from us in St-Norbert. Reiner is the owner and farmer and he’s been farming in Canada for about 20 years. He grows vegetables for a CSA and also sells at the farmer’s market and to a few restaurants. He reckons the market for organics is on the rise and now is a good time to be starting out here. His biggest challenge is labour and I could sense his frustration in wanting to satisfy the markets but, being only one person, not being able to do so. He hires apprentices for the season and has his niece working with him this year, but it sounds like he really needs a partner to share the responsibilities and to develop the farm to its full potential. His son is coming out from Germany to join him next season, though he is only 18 and probably not ready to settle down yet.

Reiner sounds keen to work with other farmers and we talked a bit about the co-op marketing model we used in BC (Langley Organic Growers). I get the feeling that his spirit is willing but when it comes down to actually saying “you can grow this and I’ll grow that”, the flesh is a bit weak! For someone who has been running their own show for 20 years, the idea of working cooperatively, even if it is just the marketing side, is a big leap of faith. We did get from him that he has no luck growing tomatoes so we may be able to supply him with tomatoes for his CSA and to sell at the market. Tomatoes go for a good price here: $4.50/lb so it may be worth putting a few plants in the ground for next season. We would grow tomatoes in a cold frame, like we’ve done in BC. Late blight is not the scourge of tomato production out here like in BC, but late summer frosts are common and will be the death of uncovered tomato plants. Will and I are already making plans to convert the bathroom (way too large for our needs!) into a tomato start room. So if we get rid of the drier, we’ll have even more room for peppers, too….

According to Reiner, no one is growing organic berries or apples in marketable quantities. Now sometimes the reason no one grows certain things is because they just don’t grow well here. However this is not always the case and it’s probably worth putting in a few plants and seeing how they do. We were planning on planting some apple trees and any other fruit we think may grow here: plums, sour cherries, pears. We are also looking for a nut tree that grows locally. My grandmother planted nut trees quite a few years ago. According to my uncle, who now has my grandmother’s property, these nuts were a hybrid of Japanese heartnut, walnut and beech nut. They produce lots of nuts but the shells are so hard, no one can get into them! So they don’t really sound like what we want. Japanese heartnuts are meant to grow in zone 3 and above (we’re about a 4 – 4.5) so are worth trying out if we can find the plants. As far as apples go, I would love to plant some Belle de Boskoop apples and a variety that grows out here that I love is called Empire. I can’t wait till spring!

Reiner also raises beef cattle, pigs, laying hens and broilers. He had goats but sold them recently (to Norm, actually) because they were too much work and he couldn’t make any money on them. He is keen to buy goat’s milk and cheese from me for his CSA so there is some small scale market potential here. I’ve been looking at mechanical goat milking equipment on the internet and there are some great small-scale suppliers in the American Midwest. You can buy the entire unit (compressor, milkers, milk cans) for about US$1500 and this would be enough to milk 2-3 goats at one time. If you are milking 60 goats three at a time, you’d spend less than an hour at each milking. So this is quite feasible and a lot cheaper than I’d supposed it to be. They do ship outside the US and, of course, the cost goes way up when shipping is included, but it would still be quite manageable. Will and I are meeting the goat farm and cheese-makers next week Tuesday so we’ll talk to them a bit about the complexities of being a legal milk producer.

Don’t I just go on and on about the farming details! It is nice to meet and talk to all these farmers because it gives inspiration and it is nice to be starting to build our farming community. We are buying all our veggies and eggs from Reiner’s farm and will be getting a winter CSA (root veggies stored in the root cellar!) from him this winter. We still do most of our food buying at the farmer’s market and are finding more and more produce locally. Norm has just bought a Jersey cow and is separating cream and making butter – I am quite excited to be getting locally made butter! It doesn’t get much better than local butter, eh?

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One Response to “Exploring the Neighborhood”

  1. Shawna Says:

    Hi there,
    Mom and Dad are visiting and I was telling them about your adventure. They don’t know anything about growing nuts in NB, but said if you’re planning to do apples, check out Fleur du Pomier, south side of Cocagne River. It’s a huge operation; family run, maybe some organic (my parents aren’t sure) and have booths at the Dieppe farmers market. My parents say hi and are expecting to hear from you sooner rather than later (they’ll be back to NB mid-Jan). Tel (506) 388-1133. BTW, my uncle Guy also has an apple orchard, but isn’t currently doing anything with it so they’re all wormy… if you’re open to requests, I love Alexanders. PS my mom is already planning to introduce you to Guy and Cheryl PPS I so can’t wait to see you! Is that a spinning wheel I saw in a later post? Haven’t got there yet… Happy solstice! Aaron is doing some drumming for the Unitarian solstice celebration (it’s the only church I could bring him to in good conscience). PPSS Have I mentioned I’m excited to see you and totally jealous that my parents might get to see you before I do…

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