Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Why We Need Poetry

A long-time friend of my family died suddenly, tragically on Easter weekend. She was young, only 54, a wife and mother to two teenagers.
For me, a deep empathic response has come for her husband's loss -- knowing how my own husband would feel about losing his wife -- and for her 15-year-old daughter.
Whenever I am affected by a death, my instinctive response is to read poetry, to search out that one poem that will express how I feel about losing this person and what this person meant to me. It didn't take long for Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese" so find me. I think this poem becomes my expression of grief because our friend died as the wild geese are returning, and because back in the eighties she was part of our family (before all our lives took us in different directions and out of regular contact). I sense, too, that it goes deeper, but that's the joy of poetry: it's personal and it doesn't need analyzing. Like death, it can just be what it is.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

(Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Dinoland Or Die: Will Nova Scotia Go Extinct?

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, April 16, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

There has been an awful lot written in the past few months about what Nova Scotia needs in order to reverse the province’s economic decline, to help Maritimers work and live in the Maritimes, to make us not just surviving but thriving.
“It’s now or never,” the consultants sing. “We need action now on all fronts.”
Well, I’m neither an expert nor economist, professor or politician but I’d like to contribute a few ideas of my own. 
Let’s start with my favourite: Build “Dinoland” in Parrsboro. This is not selling out our prehistoric heritage; this is celebrating it and making the most of it. Some of the oldest dinosaur bones in North America have been found right here in Cumberland County so why are we not making a big deal about that? Huge tourist potential. Dinosaurs are cool and while the Fundy Dinosaur Museum is delightful, we need to go big with the potential in dem bones. 
I want to see a giant T-Rex on the front lawn of the county building in Upper Nappan.  
Now for something completely radical: Build the new stadium in Amherst. Yeah, that stadium, the one they’re yapping about needing in Halifax. Every government goes on and on about boosting and supporting rural Nova Scotia but moving jobs from Amherst to Cape Breton didn’t really cut it; it doesn’t get much more rural than Cumberland County, if anyone east of the Pass would care to remember. We all know how important location is so build the stadium in Amherst because it’s in a great location, smack-dab in the middle of the three Maritime provinces. What a no-brainer: Amherst is within easy reach of Saint John, Fredericton, Moncton, Charlottetown AND Halifax. Build the stadium in Amherst because it will provide jobs and boost the local economy for fifty kilometres. 
And while we’re at it, let’s bring IKEA to Amherst. Stop doing things the way we’ve always done them, which means putting the big box stores in the big box cities, particularly a city that is the farthest point from everything else on this end of the continent. Again, Amherst is ideally located to tap into the population of three Maritime provinces including the all-important student market. 
My third idea is even more radical and more imaginative and I know the first reaction will be the usual reaction: “We can’t.”
Build a bridge from Cumberland County to the Valley. 
Whether or not that’s geographically possible is not the point; the point is we need to get more people off the TransCanada Highway and onto our county roads.
Right now, we are a drive-through county; we need to become a destination. Why should all roads lead out of Cumberland County? We are part of this province but more than that, we are one of the gateways to this province and it’s time we grew up and acted like it. 
For a new economy to emerge, we need to revisit all those ideas that people said “Can’t be done” and implement the most exciting ones. It’s long past time to stop asking “Why?” and start asking “Why not?”
Change should be exciting and invigorating so most importantly, we need to stop resisting change. When you hear someone say, “This is the way we’ve always done it,” you’re hearing the beginning of the end. Whether its institutions or organizations or government, that phrase is a killer. Because it means nothing will change. Because it means no matter how many great ideas are presented, no one has the courage or the stamina to act on them. We can’t afford to stay in our comfort zone anymore. We need Dinoland and we need it now. 
If you build it, they will come. 
And if you want them to come in the winter time, build  Dinoland: Ice Age as well. Why not?
Cumberland County needs job opportunities and recreational opportunities; our county needs inspiration and action; and most of all, this county need to be more than a pit stop between Moncton and Halifax. It’s time to take control of our own destiny, use our imaginations and make the most of the potential that already exists in this county.
Of course, if all else fails, we could try marketing our resistance to change. That truly is a unique Nova Scotia quality. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Nurturing Traditions, Part 2: Cheese-making Class

The whole point of the trip to Sweetwood Farm last weekend was to attend Heather's cheese-making class. She took up cheese-making while in England and took classes in France and Italy as well.
Heather is so passionate about making cheese (soft -- feta, ricotta, cottage, cream -- for classes because they are faster but she also makes hard cheeses), you can't help but get caught up in her enthusiasm and be impressed by her knowledge. She is offering these classes as she and Neil go through the lengthy, bureaucratic process of establishing their micro-dairy -- with the intention of creating and selling their own line of Sweetwood Farm cheeses. 
It never occurred to me that one could be passionate about cheese but that is total ignorance on my part, derived from a lifetime of eating store-bought cheese. Shame on me! So glad I have seen the light and tasted the delight of homemade ricotta cheese, still warm, sprinkled with sugar.
Heather offers her classes from November to April, the usual time when farmers have less demands on their time. She's actually squeezing in one last class on May 4 before the dairy goats begin to kid.
More info at  

Nothing says "nurturing traditions" and "inspiring others to make their own cheese" like an old, old farmhouse! A perfect setting for a traditional skill unappreciated in our modern grocery-store world.

Heather discusses the merits of using a roaster for making cheese.
Heather makes a "farmhouse" cheese as a demonstration.

Separating the curd and whey. Whey can be used to make ricotta -- or to feed the pigs!
Scooping feta curds into molds. This is the stage where we can sneak a taste!

The class gathers around the best homework ever! Feta & chevre. Heather holds up the farmhouse cheese she skilleted with oil and herbs. 
Fantasy at feeding time. One of the dairy herd, she's a Swiss Toggenburg.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Nurturing Traditions, Part 1: Sweetwood Farm

"Nurturing traditions" is the mantra for Heather Squires and Neil Yetman, co-creators and co-kidders of Sweetwood Farm in Maitland, Nova Scotia, on the south shore near Mahone Bay.
Heather and I have a mutual friend, Jennifer of Toronto, and she really wanted her two country girls to meet up. So finally I was able to make the 3-hour trip from my country home near Oxford to Heather's near Maitland and get to know her and Neil.
Yeah, I suffer with these kind of writing assignments.
The main point of last weekend's trip was to participate in Heather's cheese-making class on Sunday but we spent Saturday afternoon and evening at the farm, taking photos and making notes and for me, just generally getting the goat bug. How could I not fall in love with friendly, curious, lovely, lovely goats? (Jennifer, did you think this would happen?!)
Best writing assignment so far because it combined everything I enjoy: small holding farmers wanting to maintain the traditional ways of farming, an old farmhouse (1780), animals, good food and most of all, a great story.

If I had time, I'd write a book about how Heather and Neil finally arrived at Sweetwood Farm via Newfoundland, England, Australia and Italy. Articles will have to do for now because most of all, I want to share how they are using traditional farming methods, most learned during their ten years in Britain, to raise their animals and manage the land.Inspiring.

Wish I could be there when the baby goats -- kids -- start arriving but even I know that farmers don't want dumb city girls getting in the way at the most important time of the year. I'll have to be satisfied with updates on the farm's Facebook page (

Thedelightful farmhouse built in the late 1700's by German settlers.

Yes, they shipped this from England.
Official greeters! There are 50 guineas at Sweetwood Farm plus dozens of chickens.

This was the first day for the pigs in their "summer" quarters. Happy pigs!

The pigs will till the land so it can be reseeded to make better pasture for the dairy goats.

Heather with the ever-so-lovely sow, Tammy.

The Sweetwood pygmy goats keep the weeds under control.
These are the dairy goats, Swiss Toggenburgs, who create the milk used in Heather's cheese.

Neil says the goats are just like dogs! Affectionate and curious.

Milking by hand.
A couple of Alpines. VERY friendly goats.
Nunzio, one of three Maremmas, livestock guarding dogs from Italy.
Heather & Neil in front of the hearth that made them fall in love with the home.
Heather and I in the farmhouse kitchen. Delightful!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In Conversation With...Leslie Demmings

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, April 9, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

Not everyone’s life journey follows a straight path nor can that path be entirely predicted. Leslie Demmings of Wallace could not have imagined his life story would involve the twists and turns, and acts of grace, that it has. 
Recently returned from a mission trip to Indonesia, Leslie says missionary work didn’t occur to him until he joined Wallace River Baptist Church about five years ago and attended a course at the Wycliffe Centre  in Linden.

“It was during a course on Bible translations when I realized the goal of the church is not just to sit around here on Sundays and sing hymns; the goal of the church is to send missionaries,” Leslie says. “In one of our learning sessions, part of our training was ‘Go!’ I didn’t realize that meant Indonesia,” he adds with a big chuckle.
He was on the Indonesian island of Batam from February 20 to March  5 to help build a church and refurbish an orphanage. He was part of a group of seven men and woman travelling with Reach Across Missions. 
Their work started in a small fishing village.
“We took a generator so they could have lights and heat. We did repair work on their church and helped build their church so that when we left, the cross on the steeple was fully lit up,” Leslie says. 
The group then returned to Batam City to refurbish an orphanage.  
“We took all the furniture out of their rooms and painted them. We bought them a washing machine, a stove, a refrigerator. But the work isn’t done; I’m returning in the fall,” he says.
The orphanage is home to children aged 18 months to 14; some of the children were orphaned in the tsunami of 2004 while others are given up by parents who cannot feed them. 
“The younger ones go to school but the older ones have to go out; they work for slavers,” Leslie explains. “The slavers put them on the streets to beg or prostitute themselves.
Leslie would go out at night to watch what was being done to them, knowing there was nothing he could do to stop it. He says it was very difficult to watch those children go out.
“I cried for the first three days.” 
Is there anything the missionaries can do?
“We can teach them about Jesus and we can educate them by supplying schools and school supplies,” he says. “Just being there for them to show them there is another way. They know of no other way. The orphanage is only there for them to sleep and eat. There’s always a pot on the stove full of soup. They go out during the day and part of the night. Some of them don’t come back until the next day.”
Even though  many of the children don’t speak English, Leslie found some universal ways of communicating. 
“They always smile,” he says. “I was able to arm-wrestle with the older boys and they had a guitar with three strings on it so they sang songs in their own language for me.”
Now this conversation with Leslie takes an unexpected turn. He brings more than a simple missionary zeal to this work; he actually can relate to the experiences of these children. 
Born in Five Islands, he was put on a plane at nine years old and sent to British Columbia where his mother had moved. 
“The stepfather I went to was very cruel and at the age of 12, I was living on the street,” Leslie says. “I had to survive and survive in an older world. I was sexually molested, being new on the street. So I got tougher. By 16, I was a tough little boy and that’s when I went to the United States. That was in the late sixties, the riots in Berkley, California, and I was on the streets there. I was on the streets of San Francisco and in Haight Ashbury in the sixties.”
This is now the story of a runaway who became a Marine who became a prison guard who became an enforcer with a biker gang who ended up working as an ice road trucker and wilderness guide until eventually he settled in Wallace and found a new calling as a missionary.  
 “I ended up joining the Marine Corps when I was 17 years old. I was walking down the street in Oakland, California, one day and walked by the recruiting depot. I walked in the door and filled out the papers, lied my head off and three days later, they called me and told me to bring my toothbrush. That’s exactly what I needed to bring me in line.” 
After he left the Corps, he became a guard at the prison in San Quentin but shortly after, his life fell apart. 
“I was married, that’s why I have my daughter, but my wife blew the whistle on me,” Leslie explains. “When they found out I was an illegal immigrant with a gun and a badge, they did not appreciate that. They gave me 24 hours to leave. When I went back to my house, my wife had already left. All I had was a motorcycle. She was gone with everything. So I rolled up a sleeping bag and got on my motorcycle. When I returned to British Columbia the first people I met were bikers.”
He was 22 years old. Understandably, he arrived back with a lot of emotional baggage. He admits to being very angry and bitter, making it easy for him to fall in with the wrong crowd. 
“I became a very bad boy,” Leslie says. “I ended up addicted to drugs and had a really rough ride until the early eighties.”
He even worked as an enforcer with the Outlaw motorcycle club. 
He says he’d started to come around a bit when, in 1989, a friend introduced him to Jesus,  changing Leslie’s life and setting him on a different, cleaner path.
When a grizzly attack during a guiding excursion in the mountains left him unable to work, he took a disability pension and moved back to Nova Scotia.  
“I have no fear,” the 63-year-old missionary says. “My life is God’s. I go where God sends me.”
And for Leslie, that means returning to Indonesia in the fall to help build a new school for the orphaned children of Batam.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Gotta Get Me Some Goats

I need to convince my husband that we need a couple of goats.
This is not going to be easy.
Yes, it's because I attended a cheese making class on Sunday, hosted by Heather Squires of Sweetwood Farm near Maitland, NS, and yes, it's because I fell in love with her goats (full story with photos later this week) but that's not the reason.
Goat's milk is very good for you and goats are easier to keep than cows.
Heather told us that cow's milk can take eight hours to digest whereas goat's milk, which is more fragile in its molecular makeup (an important detail when making cheese), digests in an hour or so. Fresh goat's milk that is refrigerated properly has no "goaty" taste and because of its molecular structure has a silkier texture and richer taste than cow's milk.
Nothing against our dairy farmers but if I can produce my own milk and use it to make my own feta and cream cheeses, and have a couple of pet goats in the process, I don't see any downside to getting goats.
The hard work isn't in keeping a couple of goats; it's in convincing my husband -- a cow man -- that this is a good idea.
Too bad goats aren't the kind of animal you can bring home and have around for awhile without anyone noticing.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Return to the Back Roads

One of our favourite family stories takes place in April in the mid-1970's. We were heading to my grandparents' house north of Cobourg, Ontario, for Easter dinner and my father decided to try a different route.
A back road route.
Beaver Meadow Road. A lovely sounding name but it wasn't so lovely on this spring day.
We were in my mother's new car, what we called the Little Red Renault, so it wasn't a big or heavy car; it was European, compact and light.
And it got stuck very easily mid-way along Beaver Meadow Road.
The Little Red Renault sunk into the mud right up to its axles.
My memory of this, and a vague one now, is walking back out the road in my new Easter outfit, shoes in hand while my tights got very, very dirty.
I wish I could remember what happened next -- I think we made it to Grandma and Grandpa's, I think Dad had to call a tow truck -- but details or not, that is my one and only Stuck In The Mud On A Back Road story.
If Wednesday just passed had turned out any differently, I might have had a new muddy road tale to tell.
My near-stuck experience didn't happen by choice; it happened because, as usual, I did a Bruce Springsteen: I took a wrong turn and I just kept going'.
Since it was two o'clock, my due date for an interview for my next "In Conversation With" column, I made a call.
"Crystal, it's a gravel road and I just drove over a set of rail tracks. Am I on the right road?"

 No, I wasn't. I turned too soon. See, I saw a sign that said Claremont and panicked. Even when I saw a sign indicating I was on the Old Halifax Road and not the Thomas Dickson Road as Crystal clearly told me to turn at when we set up this interview, I didn't turn around.
I kept going.
If this was a different essay, I'd now be extrapolating this as an analogy for my life -- took a wrong turn and I just kept going EVEN THOUGH I WAS PRETTY SURE IT WAS THE WRONG WAY!
I was just at the wrong end of the Claremont Road.

After driving for awhile on an increasingly muddy road, I wasn't sure I was going to make it to the right end.
(Crystal's warning that the road might be a bit muddy was a bit understated.)

It became worse than this, even narrower and even muddier, but there is no picture of that because I couldn't take my hands off the steering wheel since thick mud was pulling my wheels and I didn't dare stop for fear I wouldn't get moving again!
This is the moment when the City Girl in me started to worry.
Not about ruining my Blundstone's walking to Crystal's house; I was worried about the next call I'd have to make.My husband works for the Department of Transportation (Maintenance), at the garage in Oxford, and I really, really didn't want to have to phone him and say, "Honey, I took the wrong road and now the car is stuck in mud at the top of the Claremont Road."
If he had to leave work to rescue me from a mud hole on Claremont  Road, who knows how many co-workers would have to come along to help? I'd never live it down. Ever.

While I was gripping the wheels of my all-wheel drive CRV and wondering why I didn't pack snacks when I was heading into the Cumberland County wilderness, I also wondered why the heck anyone would live out here?
Then I glanced out the side window.

And this was on BOTH sides of the car. The top of Clare-mountain. Imagine if I'd had the proper footwear to get out of the car and climb on top of the crusty snowbank for a real panoramic view. What a fabulous view.
Crystal told me during our interview that when she and her husband first came to view their home, she knew it didn't matter the condition of the house, with a 360 degree view of Cumberland County, there was no way her husband wasn't buying this house.
I get that. View is good for the soul. You can ignore a lot of mud if you're always looking out at this view. 

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

A New Shopping Mantra

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, April 2, 2014, by Sara Jewell Mattinson

Could you go a year without buying any clothes, shoes, furniture, books, toiletries, cosmetics, gifts and cards, garden supplies, technology and hardware?
I mean, absolutely nothing but food. For a year. 
Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. Is it even possible? 
If you ask Lee Simpson, she’ll tell you not only that it’s possible, it’s easier than you might think. 
Because in January, Lee, a retired minister who lives in Lunenburg,  began her “Year of Buying Nothing” (an idea so shocking, she’s been splashed on the cover of newspapers and interviewed on television and radio).
The roots of this challenge run deep, however, reaching back to when Lee was the publisher for a group of women’s magazines based in Toronto.
“Part of my job was to promote the purchase of stuff,” she writes in her introductory blog post ( “The majority was fattening, silly, fragile, fleeting of use and unnecessary to the well-being of the reader.  I was an enthusiastic participant in a business that reduced people to their lowest common denominator: consumers.”
But the life-changing epiphany that inspired the Year of Buying Nothing didn’t happen until she  went in search of a Christmas present for her two-year-old grandson. Not having shopped for toys in years, Lee was shocked by the gender stereotyping (a girl side of the toy aisle all pink and a boy side all blue) but also by the branding.
“Do you know that it is very hard to even buy diapers that aren’t branded by a character that leads to a game that leads to a video?” she told me in a recent phone conversation. “I also discovered that it’s almost impossible to buy something made in North America.”
Lee’s ix-nay on buying doesn’t include the necessities for life, it only excludes the unnecessaries for living. Food is on her family’s “green list” but if it can’t be eaten, it can’t be purchased. That means no paper products, shampoo or cleaning supplies. While she did stockpile dishwasher and laundry soap as well as deodorant and bath soap, she now dusts with rags and a mop, cleans with baking soda and lemon juice, and uses a handkerchief instead of tissue.
“I would love to tell you that it’s really, really hard but it’s not,” Lee said. “Part of it is that I was brought up in a household where the motto was ‘Make it do, wear it out, use it up or do without’. My parents lived through the Depression and my father fought in World War II; they lived with food stamps and other wartime deprivations.”
I first heard about Lee’s Year of Buying Nothing when the magazine hosting her blog posted her first essay. Even though my knee-jerk reaction to this idea was to list all the ways in which it would be impossible, Lee’s endeavour stuck with me. Her personal challenge to buy nothing for 365 days became a chance to examine my own spending habits, especially my impulse buying. Do I really need that? Do I really need this when I haven’t used up what I bought last month? She inspired me to raise my own awareness and perhaps even experience some sacrifice by declaring April my “Month of Buying Nothing”. 
I have to admit I chose April because there are no birthdays this month so I don’t face the pain of creating a homemade birthday card or figuring out what to give as a gift. Yet Lee has the answer to that dilemma: Her son-in-law loves homemade bread so she is baking him a loaf every week.
“The things that are important to my family these days are better served by hospitality,” she explained. “My grandson is the light of our lives and my husband and I contribute two or three days a week to his care. That doesn’t require any money at all.”
But honestly, how is Lee surviving without her favourite things, cosmetics and toiletries?
“I am answering that need within my soul -- and it’s hard to admit my soul needs a bubble bath! -- by using up all those bits and bobs that have been lingering in the bottom of baskets and toiletry bags and a suitcase. Even if it’s a teeny tiny sliver of soap, that will do just fine.”
That will do. Words to live, and shop, by.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Sit. Stay. Write. Good Girl!

Writing a book is easier than training a puppy.
The principles are the same, the methods are similar, the hard work pays off with a finished product that impresses the neighbours but a half hour walk with the puppy wears me out faster than four hours sitting at the computer.
It was while putting the puppy back into a sit-stay after she followed me for the ninth time that the truth dawned. 
I would be a better writer if I applied to my writing the same rules that go with training: patience, persistence and consistency. Writers and puppies have much in common: short attention spans, frequent bathroom breaks, the need for kind and gentle handling. This calls for lots of positive reinforcement – and a great reward for the right behavior.
Right after breakfast, I head out into the yard to run around. No point in trying to concentrate if I haven’t worked off some energy. I throw the ball around and roll in the grass until my tongue hangs out of my mouth. Back inside, I fill a bowl with yummy treats and put it on my desk. Food is a powerful motivator. With one eye on the bowl of chocolate chip cookies, I sit.  One cookie!  I open up my laptop and engage the writing program. Another cookie! This is going so well. I begin typing. Jackpot! Three cookies. Good girl! You’re such a good girl!
The first test of my training comes as my attention wanders off. Someone is cooking downstairs and it smells wonderful. My nose is twitching and I really, really want to go and check it out. Staaaaaay. Good girl. Have a cookie. After typing a bit more, I notice the framed pictures on the bookcase need to be rearranged. I head over and reach for – Sara, leave it! My hand hovers then drops. Cookie! Back to your chair. Sit. Good girl! Cookie!
After another hour of sit-stay, I’ve written six pages. Jackpot! Six cookies. Good girl!  Let’s go play.
Since my previous literary companion came to me as a three-year-old, this is the first time I’ve raised a puppy so I’m probably trying too hard with her training. Funny thing is I’m not like that with my book. I understand it takes months to write and edit.  I expect to rewrite parts that don’t flow the way they need to. There will be days when I only work on one section until I’m satisfied and other days when it’s time to introduce new material.
What I need to do is think of my puppy as a book in progress. One page at a time. Sit. Stay. Come. As the months pass, the chapters will gather and the puppy will grow. The next thing I know, I’ll be finding new distractions in a two-year-old dog and my next book.
All it takes is patience, persistence, consistency – and a big bowl of cookies.

by Sara Jewell Mattinson

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

In Conversation With...Janet Rose

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, March 26, 2014, by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

As Janet Rose leads me through her home’s mud room, scattered with coats and dirty boots, her youngest son passes us carrying a BB gun.
“What’s he up to?” I ask as Evan heads outside into a cold but sunny Sunday afternoon. 
“Shooting birds,” Janet laughs. “Not really. He scares them off to keep them from going inside the barns.”
If you’d asked Janet at the age of 26 what she thought she’d be doing when she turned 50, running a 153-acre farm in Linden likely was not the answer.
“I was born in York, PEI, and I grew up in the city of Moncton,” Janet says, “and then one day, we moved here!”
That’s the one-sentence version of her journey from single social worker to a doyenne of the local farmers’ markets yet the detailed version is surprisingly uncomplicated.
When Janet met Marty Rose, she was working with young offenders in a group home then with mentally handicapped adults on work placement. She had no interest in getting married but fate had different plans. 
“I met Marty at a New Year’s Eve party that neither of us were going to go to,” says Janet. “He decided he’d stop in to be polite. I finally agreed to go. And we met. He was the only guy not drinking and I was the only girl not drinking. We dated a long time before I thought of him as a boyfriend.”
And yet 18 months after meeting, they were married.
“It started slow,” she explains. “But it was meant to be because if anyone else had of asked me to marry him, I would have said no. I had no intentions of getting married.”
Shortly after the wedding, the newlyweds moved 45 minutes north of Moncton. 
“We bought a little place with ten acres and a brook,” says Janet. “The whole farming thing is an accident.”
Six years later, daughter Breanna was born, changing their lives a little more than expected. 
“How did we come to farm? You’re going to laugh,” Janet says. “We were still at home north of Moncton. We were planting our garden and I gave Marty a bag of beans and said ‘You can plant the beans while I plant the onions.’ I did not intend him to plant the whole bag of beans. He planted four 250-foot rows of beans. Well, we always planted a big garden but a thousand feet of beans! I told Breanna [who was seven] and her older cousin that they could sell the beans if they picked them. I weeded the beans all summer then helped them pick,” she says with a wry smile. “Then I found the sale from them. They made pretty good money.”
Thanks to Marty’s connection to Linden (his family moved there when he was 14), the couple regularly read the Oxford Journal so the following year, an ad in the paper about the Pugwash Farmers’ Market at Sunset Industries caught Janet’s eye.
“I said we were going to do it,” she says. “We went and in the beginning, it was very little, there was only five vendors. We had planted more stuff so we had beans, carrots, beets, onions and potatoes. The basics.”
Breanna always went with her to the market and when the people who were selling coffee decided not to  stop, Janet said her daughter, then ten, would take over. Although only ten years old, Breanna took a food services course and has sold coffee at the market ever since. 
In 2001, the family purchased a property on Lake Killarney Road and began establishing themselves as farmers (and parents: Eric, now 12, and Evan, who is 9, joined the herd). Thirteen years later, the house is larger, there are three barns and a horse shelter. They have pigs and meat kings as well as a market garden. Sheep, goats and laying hens have come and gone. 

Marty, Janet, Eric, Breanna, "Jake" and Evan
They work very hard for a small margin of profit.
“We build almost all our own stuff,” Janet says.  “We have to. Marty and Eric weld.”
Marty also continues to work off-farm as a refrigeration technician.
“If he didn’t have a full-time job, we couldn’t live off the farm,” Janet states. “Marty really loves pigs but none of the meat really makes you money. You put more money into your animals than anyone realizes. You have to have a barn, there’s the feed, and I’m out there a couple of hours a day.”
Now she sells her produce and meat at four Cumberland County farmers’ markets. If it’s such hard work with so little return, why do they do it? Janet is emphatic: they love it. 
“I still make more money doing this then if I had to pay a babysitter when they were little,” she says. “It’s not all about the money. It is so good for the kids. They have learned to get out there and talk to people. They have learned how to work with people. Even Evan who is nine years old can serve customers.” 
“They have a great work ethic,” Janet adds. “They’ve all learned you have to work for what you want. When the kids work, we always pay them. The sausage business, the selling of hot dogs, that Breanna and Eric’s business. That’s not our money. We donate the sausage to them,” she says with a laugh. “I don’t pay them for helping me at the Pugwash market anymore; instead we donate the sausage and pay their table fee. That’s Breanna’s summer job.”
For ten years, Breanna has been a big part of her mother’s market work but that changes this fall when Breanna heads off to Acadia University to study business. Janet says she’s really going to miss her but the boys are worried. 
“Evan keeps wondering who is going to cook because in the summer, Breanna makes most of the meals,” she laughs. “She likes to cook. Even the boys cook. I believe in independence,” she says. “You have to be able to take care of yourself.”
Evan returns from his chore of scaring the birds, peels off boots and coat and toque. He doesn’t hesitate to tell me what he can cook: cakes and cupcakes and boiled eggs. Whether he can feed the family that way is another matter entirely.

Janet with "Mama"

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Winter Weary

Are you getting the impression that this week's stormy days are just the last straw for our part of the world? Everything that has held on and defied the weather has lost its will to live.

Our flag is hanging at half-staff for itself; the do-hickey that holds it to the top of the pole finally gave up. Too bad we weren't flying the Nova Scotia flag -- otherwise this might be an accurate representation of how Bluenosers are feeling as winter continues to rage on April 1st!
On PEI, schools are closed for the fifth day in a row.

This was my drive to work along Route 301 this morning.

Plow season ended Saturday night so there is no assured salting and plowing service. Driving 40 km/hr made it relatively easy to take some photos. Actually, this spot isn't too bad; usually this is the place where snow drifts badly, sometimes dangerously.

Our osprey usually return around the 11th or 12th of April but their summer home is currently iced up. Amazing, though, that with the winter we've had, and the high winds of late, the nest is mostly intact. They'll have some repairs to do, they always do have to build it up again but it's ready and waiting for their return.

Doesn't really look at that hopeful, though, does it? Less than two weeks till the osprey return -- the same time frame since 2009 -- and their property is encased in ice. I wonder if their migration instinct adjusts for bad weather at their destination? Hope they're checking their Twitter account!