Full disclosure: we don’t work on the farm full time.
There are many, many days when we wish we did, but there are also many reasons we teach, travel, and wander from this place we call home.
Working off the farm isn’t new: generations of rural kids grew up on the farm during three seasons of the year, and then the whole family relocated to a rented house in town over the winter, where jobs were more plentiful and school was more consistent. We’re in a similar situation in that we go into the city for work during the cold season, but we never truly move away from our cabin on the land. We hold down our city jobs while we’re doing this crazy and amazing task of building a farm literally from the ground up.
We didn’t inherit a farmstead and outbuildings. There was no road cleared into the property when we bought our quarter. We’re both immigrants with no family history in Canada, so when we started Larch Grove, it was just the two of us and our axe and 160 acres of wild northern forest. We needed to work off the farm to make ends meet while realizing the dream we have for this place.
But teaching is about so much more than a 9-5 that puts food on the table and buys tools for the farm. It’s become its own profession of hope for the two of us. Thomas teaches Grade One, and he gets to spend each day showing the littles how to read. After his thirty years in education, these wee ones are the students he most loves to work with. He gets to be there, witnessing their worlds open up to language, to images, to imagination. It’s pretty magical. And he gets to work with them while they’re just growing into consciousness about what kind of world they live in, and how they want to be in that world in the future. He talks a lot about the earth with his kids. They grow cucumbers and herbs in an unused room in the school, and geraniums in the classroom. As much as possible, he gets them outdoors and under the sky.
I teach the students his littles will become in twenty years’ time. We delve into William Butler Yeats’ poetry about beekeeping and the country life with a taste of honey from our own farm’s bees. We read about the changing environment in Canada and its impact on animals, and talk with on-campus ecologists who work in bear tracking. We think about protected environments and threatened environments, land guardian programs. My kids go out into the forest to write poetry and into the world to travel and volunteer on organic farms.
Hope comes in all forms. When people ask if we feel a loss, not being on the farm all year round, I have to confess that there’s also a huge amount of hope in walking with young people who are finding their paths in life. Teaching and farming might seem like different worlds at times, but at their foundations, both are about surrounding yourself with hope: for the land, and for the young people who are going to inherit this land.