Many of you have asked us whether things are all right on the farm (wondering, perhaps, whether the den of coyotes got us, and that’s the reason for our radio silence!). We thought we’d write a quick update about all the amazing and not-so-amazing things that have happened in the life of Larch Grove since the new year.
If you’ve been following the blog, you already know that Larch Grove is a dream in progress. We didn’t inherit a farm. We didn’t inherit a house, a garden, a pond, a way of life out on the land. Like so many others who work with the earth, we did have an incurable desire to live on the land and be part of something that would sustain us. And so it’s been a long-haul job of some eleven years, working full time during the week, and then turning around and working full time during the evenings, weekends, summers, and holidays on the farm. Along the way, we’ve been gifted a place in an amazing community (Barrhead), among mentors who awe and inspire, and in a landscape we can’t live without. It’s been an incredible journey.
Along the way, we’ve had another journey, one that we don’t talk about quite as much on here: our journey as teachers. We’re both career educators, Thomas with elementary school students, Jenna with high school and then college/university students. We teach because we love it, because we believe in talking with young people about the land and our relationship to it, and because teaching gifts us something as well: at the same time that we’re able to give back to our city communities, we’re also able to continue to support our farm and its growth, and to protect the wild land on the quarter we call home. If you grew up in a rural community, you already know this town/land story. It’s one farmers have been living for generations.
Three big things happened this year, two of which have given us great joy (and also some serious exhaustion), and one of which is heartbreaking but expected. First, after twenty-nine amazing years working with children, Thomas is retiring – TODAY! It’s been a crazy year for him, readying his students for his departure, preparing paperwork, and looking toward a future that, for the first time in twenty-nine years, isn’t bound by the school day. This means more time for him to look after himself and his needs, and to spend more days on the land that he loves. It’s a beautiful and well-earned thing.
Jenna ended one stage of a journey this year, too, achieving tenure after nineteen years of working toward it. She’s able to settle into a college community and one single job, instead of shifting with the wind as positions come and go. Not only can she now help to create positive change for others where she works, but her job also means continued support for Larch Grove as we grow into an artists’ retreat and apiary. The work on the land transfers into Jenna’s classroom, too, where she works in creative and environmental writing. One stage of the journey is done, but there are so many more to come!
And the not-so-great thing, friends? If you live anywhere in Alberta, Canada, you’ll probably have experienced the unpredictable weather of the past few years. And if you’re in a farming community, you probably know neighbours who are really struggling: the canola crop didn’t come off in time for the snow last winter, and the land has been too wet and windy to plant this spring. Many of our growers are really behind, and they’re having a hard time. Larch Grove is no different. This spring, we had our second flood year in six, and the market garden was once again a boggy mess (but – bright side – our pond is better than it’s ever been!). The windstorms in June caused huge damage to the province, and so, like many others, we’re on a rebuild year. We’re doing it exhausted, after the past three years of living and teaching in different cities, meeting up to work the farm every spare moment, but we’re doing it with goals and dreams in mind, also knowing that the land will tell us what it needs, and we’ve got to be in tune with that.
We know we’re lucky, and that, as farmers and teachers, we have a backup plan as the climate continues to be more and more unpredictable. But there are many career farmers out there who are really having a tough time, and we can all lend our support. Friends, if you can, this is a great time to buy local and support the growers in your area. Every market gardener and local producer could use your help. It’s been a mad season, and we need to step up for each other so that food can keep coming from here, where we live, instead of thousands of miles away.
As for Larch Grove? Well, we might have been (literally) underwater this spring, but we’ll be in rebuild mode this summer, following the land’s lead. As the ground dries out, we’ll be raising again our organic growing beds, readying for next year, crossing our fingers that we’ll be allowed a good season in 2018. And in the meantime, there are wild berries to harvest, jam to make, and the earth to get reacquainted with after a soggy spring. No matter what happens, there is always, always beauty.