(written by Sam)
September, as always, was ridiculously busy. And even more so, because we moved again. (More about that toward the end of this post). First, let me tell some stories about the past month and a half.
Fall on the Farm
It’s been quite a warm and dry fall. We had field tomatoes up until our last CSA veggie box on Oct. 7!
The orchard has been pretty decent this fall. But lots of coddling moth damage. Some of the trees that did badly last year are prolific producers this year, and vice versa. I guess we need more than 2 years of data to decide which trees to keep.
The woodpeckers seem to have some ideas for the orchard. Perhaps they are going to install an outlet in this hollow tree?
The geese (and their 3-duck-army) have been patrolling the orchard for a couple of months now, and seem pretty happy with the arrangement. Well, as happy as geese can seem, anyway. They seem to have a permanent attitude problem!
Also, they look really funny when they look at something flying in the air above them. (It’s tough to look up when your eyes are on the sides of your head!)
Only a few squash plants survived the wireworm devastation at the beginning of the season, but the ones that survived are prolific!
Looks like we’ll be eating a LOT of red kuri squash and Cinderella pumpkins this winter!
They’re beautiful! I can’t believe I hatched them all from eggs!
Hm, maybe saying that they are so ugly that they’re beautiful is a better statement.
But, dear turkeys, the whole reason you were raised was for eating. We didn’t really know what we were doing and ended up losing a bit of money on the whole venture. However, we both really enjoyed hatching and raising them, so we’ll probably do it again sometime in the future. Next time, we’ll start the turkeys earlier in the year, and if we sell them, we’ll sell them at a very high price, as meat should be! (And maybe not sell them because we North Americans are so conditioned to expect unrealistically cheap food…but that’s a different story).
Anyway, they were amazingly tasty! Due to my own vegetarian background/farmitarian eating rules, I haven’t eaten a “standard” conventional turkey, so I don’t have too much basis for comparison. But I heard from others who tried it that it was an excellent turkey.
Thank you, turkeys!
The end of Sun Dog Vegetables?
We always said that Sun Dog is our experiment to see if we can make a living by farming.
As it turns out, the short answer is “No.”
But the long answer is “Well, maybe.” We’ve learned that it’s really hard to farm with just two people (well, really <1.5, since this is not my primary occupation), and especially with animals. Never taking a vacation as a whole family, and never even taking a weekend away from the farm is really hard. To do this scale of farming properly requires more than one family on a farm, so chores can be shared. We also need more (or really, any) money to invest in farm infrastructure. With proper infrastructure for irrigation, animal feeding and housing, washing stations, hoophouses, deer fencing, and so much more, the reduction in labour is immense. It’s pretty much impossible to start from below poverty-level income and manage to make enough from selling vegetables to expand and build infrastructure.
So… what it boils down to is that in order to make a living by farming, we need to find someone else who is willing to pay for the infrastructure, and find farming partners. And the cool part is, we found a way to do that!
As of a few days ago, Adam is the farm manager for the farm portion of the farm-to-table restaurant 10 Acres Bistro. And all of our animals get to come too!
The chickens were first. As you can see, Elvis is king of the new combined flock. (We had to get up before dawn and grab them all while they were sleeping and put them in dog crates to move them…I felt like a chicken rustler).
Next were the geese and their army. This we did early the following morning, by picking up the entire coffin full of geese. Holy crap was it heavy.
Next were the 4 turkeys we kept for breeding for next year (1 bronze tom, 2 bronze hens, and 1 black spanish hen). The turkeys were easy, it was their house that was a bit of a challenge.
Luckily this time we didn’t have to drive 30 km on the highway and take it on the ferry. Just driving up West Saanich Road was much much less stressful.
It was really just as funny looking as moving the sandcrawler last year, I suppose.
Once we got the fence set up, the coop inside, and let the turkeys out, then we herded the geese into the pen too. And they were NOT happy about having to share their pen with the turkeys. There was lots of hissing and squawking. Luckily, the turkeys barely seemed to notice the scathing insults the geese were hurling at them.
And lastly, we brought the 4 Khaki Campbells, 4 Welsh Harlequins, and 4 runner ducks. I thought the geese would be pleased that I brought them more ducks to join their army, but I was wrong…
Geese are jerks, as it turns out.
They seem to have settled into a state of slight harassment of each other, but nobody seems too offended by it. Maybe this setup will work? We’ll see.
Our new farm
Farming for a restaurant does mean that we don’t have quite the freedom in farming that we have had the past four seasons that Sun Dog has existed. But I have to say, the benefits FAR outweigh the drawbacks right now. There are so many parts of running a farm business that we really didn’t enjoy, which we don’t have to worry about anymore. This includes figuring out where to sell vegetables and marketing them, building endless coops and fences out of scrounged wood, figuring out how to fix tractors, cars, trucks, and various other things ourselves (since we never had any extra money to pay someone else). We don’t even have to worry about paying for animal feed, and have additional help on the farm without having to pay out of our own pockets. Adam now gets to completely focus on planning the farm, growing food, and teaching apprentice farmers, and have a steady income, which is certainly more than you can ask for with just about any independent farming job.
The aspect of the job I personally am really excited about is getting to learn about raising many different kinds of animals (and not even having to pay for it!) We’ve already ridden out the turkey roller coaster, but we’ll also get to learn about meat rabbits and pigs, and within the next few months possibly meat ducks, meat chickens, goats, sheep, and who knows, maybe even a cow.
We hope to keep Sun Dog on the backburner, forging relationships with other farmers in the area in hopes of someday creating a farming coop based in North Saanich. And in the mean time, we will live and learn in our new home.
What can you do to help? Well, the main reason the 1 family/1 farm plan doesn’t work is because food is too cheap. We simply cannot grow it for the prices consumers expect to pay. We small farmers are competing with gigantic farms in other countries who abuse their workers and the land, and sell their produce to giant multinational supermarket/hypermarket chains, who often sell vegetables at a loss to get you, the consumer, in their door (google “loss leader” if you want to read more about being suckered). So, if possible, don’t EVER buy your vegetables from grocery stores. Buy your vegetables (and eggs, and meat) from farmers markets, or from a farm stand is even better. Get to know your local farmers! Don’t buy vegetables from California (unless of course, you live in California), even though they’re cheaper and available year-round most anyplace in North America (though that may change soon), and only buy vegetables that are in season in your area. You can plan ahead to have your favourite seasonal foods available year-round by canning, drying, and freezing (and by binging on them when they are available fresh!) And, what I think is really the best way to break the corporation-dominated food industry: learn how to grow your own food! Get backyard chickens and have your own eggs! Raise your own meat! The world needs to change, and since we to eat at least 3 times a day, the food choices you make add up quickly and have a huge effect. Eat local!
Thanks for reading our blog! It may be a while before I post here again, but we may start posting on the 10 Acres blog. I will leave a note here if that is the case.