Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Mood Swings

We are in the throes of our first summer back after our enforced hiatus. We're finally back. And boy, are we ever back with a bang!

Around me, I'm watching friends and fellow farming folk struggle. There seems to have been a wave of people announce they are reducing their farming commitments. Why? Well I'm not sure what the root cause is, probably because this is hard and unforgiving work and the kind of personalities that face up to the challenge suck at self care.

But I'm watching this feeling removed. Not unsympathetic. It's a kind of "oh yeah, we went through that too" reflection and empathy, but actually we're doing pretty great this season and I'm loving this ridiculously crazy summer. I'm relishing seeing the farm alive with people again. The kids camps, the workshops and the amazing, colourful events are lighting up my soul again. Most of all, seeing people's reactions to the vibrancy of the food we produce is nourishing me to my core. I feel like I'm coming out of a fog and there are the first tingles of joy again.

BUT (there's always a but), we are not out of danger yet. The future of the farm is still in jeopardy and this season will either set us up for a great future or it will be our swan song.

Although my physical and mental health is beginning to repair for the first time since the fire in 2016, Ian is struggling to sustain the immense energy it takes to keep this show on the road. Financially the fallout from the fire remains devastating and the onus to fight the corporations responsible for our downfall  and chase the legal team tasked with representing our interests has been with him. It's so frustrating to feel like the ones wronged but have to continually relive the trauma and chase and fight and bulldoze our way to closure. So many times over a 3 year period, we have been led to believe that closure is coming only to have some corporation or anonymous lawyer somewhere think up another needless "requirement" with the true purpose being to waste time. Time that means nothing to them but has meant a rollercoaster of emotion and uncertainty to us. I've lost count of how many times we have said "we're done" only to claw our way to some kind of self-made reprieve. And it's only Ian's tenacity and determination that has kept us at the farm this long....that kind of living is detrimental to a person's wellbeing.

So the current situation is this. We have 3 mortgages. We need to earn $14,000 a month just to get by and that sure as heck ain't farmers income! We've been working, grafting and hustling to make it. We believed it would not have gone on this long but we cannot sustain it much longer. We think there will be some resolution by the end of September. But we've heard that before. Deadlines are ten a penny and only seem to matter to us, not the corporate world, not the lawyers, just the little guy who has their whole life invested in a resolution.

October will be our D-day. Either this whole fiasco will be resolved or we're out. And we will walk away from our home and livelihood with very little to show for it...financially anyway...we'll have a plethora of good dinner-party stories.

Come October, whatever happens, wherever the dice fall, the one takeaway for me will be the lack of humanity in our world. The story of how corporate greed robbed us of a brighter belief in the world and our farm.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Dear Mr Judgeypants, I am an attention seeker, it's my responsibility!

Dear Mr Judgeypants,

This is to the men who left negative comments on our World Naked Gardening Day photos.

You are right. I am an attention seeker. But here is why that is not a negative thing, or a representation of the state of humanity. :) It's my responsibility as a woman and a farmer.

I don't know where, when or why World Naked Gardening Day became a thing. When I first heard about it in 2016, I initially decided we would do it as a promotional aid, nothing more. We are a small-scale, family run farm and we were heading into a busy season. I figured it might get us a few Facebook page likes and then that translates into more exposure for us to use as a selling aid. I admit it, that was shallow. But since then, we have made a habit of publishing our naked photos and the drivers behind it have grown...as have I. I have learned a lot.

Bringing new traffic to our page is still an incentive, but for different reasons. For sure this stunt increases our social media following every year. I know that is not a way to measure anything that really matters in life, but those people who show up on our social media for naked photos then stay for the conversation, education and engagement. We talk a lot about important issues for farming and the planet. On our pages, you'll find things like regenerative agriculture articles, myth-busting about farming, videos on how to become a better consumer, info on soil and water conservation, ethical animal raising and so on. So, you see, it's not just about getting people to look at me, it's about getting people to look at the issues that face all of us as farmers, members of the agricultural community, consumers and humans living on a dying planet. It's about advocacy and ease. The people who see us in our most vulnerable state, know that our community is a safe space to ask any question. No middle-aged, white, wobbly woman who has been naked on the internet is going to berate anyone for asking a silly question!

But that's not the prevalent issue anymore. I've learned a lot about women, and our place in society.

Since starting this in 2016, I've had trauma in my life. That hasn't just manifested in my emotional well-being, but also in my physical self. Each year I get fatter as the medication I take to help me deal with the trauma makes my appetite hard to manage and the depression I dealt with for 2 years made me pretty inactive. I'm not telling you this so you'll sympathize with me, I'm telling you this in the hope that you will try to empathize with all women. Lots of the comments left on our photos include things like "they are so brave" and "wow, what confident ladies". This makes my heart hurt for womankind. No one would think or write this if we were size 2, 23-year-old beauties in a glossy magazine and they definitely wouldn't feel the need to refer to a man in the buff of any age or size as "brave". What women are saying is that we don't conform to the societal norms of beauty and so we must be congratulated for our "bravery" for stepping out as our true selves in a judgmental world. But we are the norm. We do represent what happens to women's bodies in realty. I really want to see a year of naked gardening photos in the future when no one thinks to use the word brave for me either. That will be a measure of equality and body positivity and a healthy society, don't you think?

I overheard a group of teenage girls talking about their fear of beachwear recently. These girls will never be as taught, wobble-free and beautiful as they were at that time when they were talking about a fear of their bodies been seen. For goodness sake, if that doesn't promote the need for women of all ages and sizes to take ownership of their bodies and celebrate the beauty within our too big or too small bottoms, our saggy boobs or our small boobs, our fat thighs or our thigh gaps, our sprouting body hair, our knobbly knees or our bunion-ridden feet, then I don't know what it will take. We don't need every woman to get naked, but we do need some women to show us that we can - and we definitely need every man, woman and child to stop negatively judging.

It's not easy to just become confident and comfortable in our bodies when we are constantly judged against unachievable aspirations of beauty and worthiness. So good on the "attention seekers". Those women that stood with me all represent the message...."we are too old and too good for this shit".



P.S. Who wants to organize a naked gardening parade just to piss Mr Judgeypants off?

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Drama Farmers

It's been a year since the last time I took the time to sit and write a blog post. So many reasons for that. First of all, the last update informed you we were done here. We couldn't recover from the fire and a plethora of other dramas that were unraveling around us. At the time of writing that, there were asteroid-sized challenges flying at us from every direction, they took our legs out from beneath us and left us lying winded on the metaphorical cold, hard ground. While closing felt like our only feasible option at the time, the decision broke us. We continued to fight our own battles, sometimes completely exposed in the eye of the media, as well as some very private struggles with mental health. But we could not reconcile closing the farm.

A year later and hardly any of those issues have been completely resolved, but we are stronger. We spent most of 2018 taking back control of our situation. So, while we still await some resolution and closure of the ongoing issues, we are at least back in control of our financial and emotional well-being in the meantime. Despite, or should I say IN SPITE of the trauma and the failures of others, we are stronger, more stable and able to say the farm will re-open this year.

I know what you're thinking.....we're on, we're off, we're back, we're done....you never know what drama is coming next from this 5 acre corner of Langley that most people love to visit, but has been the stage of much misery for us. What can I say? Thank you springs to mind. Thank you for sticking with us. Thank you for coming back when we tentatively reopened the farm store at the end of last year. Thank you for buying our entire annual stock of beef within 20 minutes of it arriving back at the farm. Thank you for signing petitions, leaving online reviews, referring your friends to us, but most of all, encouraging us. It is the people that surround us and the farm, that circled the wagons, and that keep us going.

We have moved into our new hemp house now and many of you have visited or seen the house now. It's a beautiful space to live in and having a stable base for the first time in the two years since the fire has definitely contributed to stabilizing us. We've been able to make space in our own minds to think about re-opening the farm and what that model should look like. We have to be mindful of the problems we have had with our farming model in the past. We've analyzed the key messages and think we have found a balance, both for ourselves and to improve our regenerative farming approach.

So here's the plan. Baby steps! 2019 will see us both working away from the farm to help with some financial stability and easing back into our farming story. We will drop all the restaurant supply, CSA programs and farmers markets that we were doing before. The farm will be open on Saturdays from May through to October and employ just Ian and I. There will be kids camps, farm tours, meat and (limited) produce sales, workshops and events, as well as a new botanical garden and tannery with help from Mara of Crow's Nest Wildcraft. We have also been taking some bookings for private functions. Basically, we are eliminating anything that takes us away from the farm and focusing on the farm becoming the destination again.

We feel excited. It's the first time in a long time we find ourselves looking forward to something farm related. Let's keep our fingers crossed and hope for at least one drama-free season!

We'll see you in May.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


Fire, flood, drought, disease, debt and disaster. Sounds like the first line of a poem but is, in fact, a synopsis of my farming career. And it is time to call it a day.

Most of you will already know that we have had a disproportionate amount of things happen to us since we moved here in 2013. While it's normal to have challenges, we have had to fight for the survival of the farm following a major incident around 3-5 times a year. That's an exhausting way to live. It chips away at your resilience. It's time.

We haven't really been able to recover from the 2016 fire. Financially, we are still struggling to find a resolution with the big corporation whose device started the fire and have recently taken on HUGE personal debt (again) to keep going. The personal cost to us for uninsured loss has been catastrophic and there has also been an almost daily battle just to get the things we were entitled too. Emotionally, we are still struggling - mainly with the personal resource required that continually fighting and repeatedly having to relive the fire every time we call or email the people who should be making this right! I would like to live this year in a way that doesn't require medication to keep me going. And schedule...we are still rebuilding when we should be farming. It's time.

On top of that there have been additional and significant changes occur, all of which came together and totally disrupted our existing business plans. These events left us looking at a million different scenarios focused on both keeping the business going and folding it. Eventually we realized that all of the options were crappy! Getting out is now just as hard as keeping going as we have invested so much in new websites, business cards, t-shirts, equipment, seed, etc. We have sold CSA shares, event tickets, etc that will all need to be refunded. But going on is next to impossible too regardless of the plethora of ideas for change we have run. We find ourselves caught between a rock and a hard place. It's time.

When you realize there is no preferably way to proceed, that there is no sensible plan or easier path, it becomes quite liberating. It's at this point you can let go of thinking about the business and just focus on what is right for your family. I am not strong enough to do what needs to be done to rewrite the business model and find people to get on board with us at this point in the season. Ian is drained with the battle too. He is the strongest, most resilient and reliable man on the planet, he's my absolute rock, so to see him bruised, battered and battle weary hurts my heart. Our kids don't really care! Not because they are heartless human beings but because they have become emotionally self-sufficient  due to us being so removed by the trauma, toil and tragedy of the farm. That's not ok. It would be one thing to continue if I believed that things would get better, but I don't. I cannot knowingly continue to fail them at this crossroads in pursuit of farming. It's time.

I am not special or more entitled than any one of you reading this. I can only expect the same from life that everyone else gets. I am not a religious person, or particularly spiritual. My life is fairly black and white usually. But I do now believe that for whatever reason, this was not meant to be. This is a sudden decision in as much as we were talking to chefs and customers about the season just 48 hours ago. However, we knew this year was our 'do or die' year. The year we had to turn things around and here we are at the end of January with every last option snatched from our reach. And it's frustrating because it should have worked! Our business plan and financial forecast showed a strong year, but fate it beyond our control. It's time.

There are lessons to be spoken and commentary to be made. There are 'thank yous' to be said. But not now, we just have to reel for a little bit before we can collect our thoughts and strength and let all our farm supporters how much we have appreciated them. It's time.

Monday, August 14, 2017

We didn't come this far just to come this far

The last year, life has thrown us in a lake and held our heads under water, letting us up occasionally for a quick gasp of air before shoving us down again. With the last breath we decided to metaphorically swim for another shore. It's time to set some goals and some boundaries. Enough with the ifs, buts, maybes, what ifs and most of all, the complaining.

With regard to last years fire, we are finally making in-roads. We fought tooth and nail almost daily to get our hempcrete house design approved and last week, we received our permits and broke ground. Not only is it exciting in itself to start building a house but we're amazed at the interest in the build and hempcrete as a material. Somehow we find people joining us and supporting us as we push forward with the house. However, it's not all sunshine and rainbows. We thought we had made some victories with our insurance company, but they are causing some issues again. There's a point where you have to throw caution to the wind and just start building. We have missed an entire farming season this year, we CANNOT afford to miss next year because we are still waiting to build. So it's on, we are starting a build that we now don't know will be fully covered by the insurance money. We're nothing if not dramatic! And it's just us. You know when you hear people say "oh, I'm building a house" when what they mean is "I'm sitting in my kitchen giving instructions to a contractor"? Yeah, well, that's not our reality. It's me and Ian sweating at the bottom of the foundations we dug in the blazing sun.  And of course, Ian's type-A syndrome has kicked in with him declaring that "there is not another person on the planet who is accurate enough to frame his house". Sweeping generalizations and insults to the global carpentry industry aside, with or without a decent insurance payout, there won't be enough money to pay other people to build it.

The farm without farming has been has been like a party without wine this summer! We've kept the animals going and another farmer has used our land for a few crops. But most of the growing soils that we worked so hard to build and nourish, lie empty or covered in weeds. We had a couple of events just to keep breathing life back into the place but Laurica Farm has been a quiet shell of it's former self. No crowds, no new growth and no farmer burn out, tantrums or break downs! It's almost become cliché to say it's been a time of reflection. Reflection suggests something quite and peaceful but we have a gun to our heads as we choose our pathway. And so it goes on...new plans, new relationships and renewed vigour. 2018 will be our 'do or die' year.

Next February will see us merge with our friends at True Grit Farm. Ashlee founded True Grit this year and mainly grows microgreens for restaurant supply as well as  CSA shares for the local community. Check out this story though, it's almost as daft as ours. Ashlee met Devin at the end of 2016. Devin has been so blown away by farming and inspired by the farming community that he is going to give up his well-paying job to become a farmer. Ha! Where have you heard that before?! Every time I look at him, it is with either pity or amusement, I can't quite figure out which emotion is stronger. But in all seriousness, you can teach anyone to farm, but you can't teach values. Devin is hard working and has innate farming values, he just doesn't know it yet.

So, Ian will be at the farm full-time for the first time since we moved here. He will farm mainly with Ashlee, who will teach us about microgreens and share her areas of expertize. Devin is chatty and confident so he will look after the customers. I will head up the events, which will see you strengthen an existing partnership with The Watershed Arts Café, and the rental of the tree house. And there it is! Not a complex master plan, but a plan nonetheless. A plan to keep going, a plan to address the burn out, a plan to pool our resources and aid the mutual growth of two awesome farms. A plan to make a living and reclaim a lifestyle during 2018 and if not, call it a day. It seems the last year has certainly made us fragile, but not fragile like a flower. Fragile like a bomb.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Turning Tides?

I have started this post so many times and had to abandon it mid-page, and that is a reflection on the rapid changes in our situation and the way we feel from one day to the next. I left the last post amidst a crisis that was starting to look like the end for Laurica Farm. That 'end' has come and gone several more times. We've found ourselves at the absolute edge of what we can control, we have even called the Realtor to list the property more than once, and then something, some little glimmer of hope has emerged on the horizon and we would step back from the precipice, sometimes just for an hour before the next wave came. But we've gingerly been inching back from the edge for about two weeks now so maybe it's time to write some of this down.

There is no need to tell you every detail and change, there have been some hairy times as you can imagine....like when we had $25 in our bank account on Saturday and our mortgage payment was due on Monday. There's been significant changes in attitude, not so much for me, I can have fifteen different life goals in a day, but Ian who is a careful and methodical thinker commented when he was finishing siding on the barn that he was "getting the place ready to sell" -  believe me, that's a big deal for him to say something like that. But in brief it's been a long interaction with banks and insurance companies, building departments and engineers. And now, largely thanks to Ian's tenacity and patience, we are in a much stronger, and more positive position.

The practical side looks like this; we have negotiated a much better settlement with our insurers. As well as Ian's efforts, Bethany and her team, the insurance representatives at local level have been in our corner the entire time. We are extremely grateful to them, without them I suspect we would have not been heard by the decision-makers. We can now afford to build a new house which was not the case before. And thanks to Ian McClean, our brilliant architect, we have an exciting design. We've had the opportunity to practice with some of the materials we want to use in the house as we've refurbished the barn in to a funky new event venue and built the living space in the tree house.

But with something new comes new challenges, and of course we are not choosing the easy route with the house. We've spent the last four years talking to anyone who visits the farm about sustainability. We've talked the talk and now we have to step up to the plate and walk the walk. Even putting aside our own thoughts and feelings on what we want our house to be, how can we look you, the thousands of people who have toured our farm, in the eye and build a house that is anything other than THE MOST sustainable house? We can't. And we won't. So, after copious research we are trying to build a hempcrete house (please take two minutes to watch this short clip on hempcrete). Again, I'll try and surmise the challenges. Although hempcrete is widely used in Europe and Australia for both residential and commercial developments, it's not an approved material in Canada. There is a mass of data on the material but we need an envelope consultant to sign off on it. So far, two envelope consultants have sat on it for four weeks and then advised us that it's not an approved material in Canada.....very frustrating as that is the basis of us employing them! Anyway, we think we have found someone progressive who is willing, and dare I say excited, to work with us on this project. The hempcrete debacle has been really annoying. It's not like we are trying to build some wacky design with wattle and daub. This is a regular, modern looking home with a tried and tested material that happens to be a really good thing for the environment. It should be exciting for a professional and municipality to be showcasing, especially when the build happens on a very public farm, but I guess that requires stepping out of a box and maybe some independent thought - oh the horror!!!! Anyway, our battle is not over yet but we are starting to dust off our victory flag.

Some rather significant practical victories that have allowed us to take a minute and exhale. Now it's time to think about the emotional side. It's time to recognize that despite my conviction when I recite "I'm fine, we're all fine, everything is fine", it hasn't been fine at all. We are not fine. I don't know whether the fire is the root of my trauma or whether it was the episode that allowed me to stop and fall to my knees for a little while. I suspect it was the straw that broke the donkeys back and on reflection maybe I started last years farming season with burn out.

But it's ok not to be ok after what we've been through over the last 4 years. As we heal our farm and home, we have to take the time to heal ourselves too, and maybe the new build will be cathartic for us. Maybe it'll give us the strength and motivation to breath life back into the farm business next year. Maybe it won't and then we'll know it's time to go and do something else. But whatever happens, we thought we had lost control of that decision, but we've reclaimed our power and whatever happens from here on in is our own fate, the outcome of our own input as opposed to outside influences redirecting our life path. That we can deal with.
Ian and I have felt every EXPOSED!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Ok, Universe, I'm Listening.

The Curse of Cathy strikes back. Apparently it was going too well. There was positivity, four days of a job I was enjoying, a nice home and a general air of optimism, well for me anyway.

Yesterday, I misjudged some stairs and have torn the ligament in my OTHER foot. That's right, you're casting your mind back to last summer when I tore the plantar fascia in my, right foot, aren't you? This time, just 8 months later, I've completely detached the plantar fascia from my heel in my left foot. I'm just so damn annoyed. We really have experienced a disproportionate amount of bad luck. I hate saying that because there are people with way worse problems and challenges, but the relentless assault of accident, injury and mishap is wearing. I'm sick of the sound of my own voice complaining.

As usual there's no time for moping because my inability to work again at the moment means no income for the time being. And I am sure you are sick of me publicizing my money troubles, but this time it's different, this time there's an air of finality hanging over us. There's no more credit or loans available to us, we have a week to make a plan, if not, we will have to list the property. There is no other option this time.

I'm usually a black and white kind of gal. Things are clear and concise in my world, I don't buy into the suggestion of outside influences and believe we make our own fate. But are we meant to be here? Is this constant assault a sign? Well, Universe, I may be listening now but you should know I'm angry. We've talked about leaving this place on more than one occasion, but it was always going to be our choice, and in the end, we always stayed and fought. I'm not ready to throw in the towel yet. Give me a minute to catch my breath and a pair of crutches and I'm coming back at ya, fate. A week. That's all, that's what I have to create some kind of solution or opportunity.

In the meantime, if anyone reading this has a rich friend who can come and airlift us all out of here and drop us on a warm, secluded island somewhere, now is the time to call them. If not, then wish us luck, I'm coming out swinging or I'm going down!