Saturday, March 14, 2015

Planning or Dreaming... Part 2- Fiona's version.

Ralph wanted me to do a secondary post to his Planning or Dreaming post of March 9th.

I grew up on a small farm in a economically poor area of Alberta, Canada. We were officially poor although I did not realize that until I was a young adult. We grew our own food and My mother made us our clothes and we were simply happy little ragamuffins with hopes no different than any other farm children of that era [the 50's and 60's.]

Retirement seemed centuries away. In fact it was simply never discussed or thought of at all. We farmed, that was what we did and what I grew up to do. I was blessed as I have done almost everything I have ever wanted to do. I grew up thinking of things I wanted to DO not stuff I wanted to buy or have . I was a range rider on a 100,000 acre ranch in the interior of British Columbia, I saved money and went to France and England. I bred and raised Appaloosa Horses with success in the show ring and exports to Italy and Great Britain. I raised Purebred Shorthorn beef cattle and saw all sorts of places in North America showing them; from The Houston Fat Stock Show, Denver's National Western Stock Show and the Royal Canadian Winter fair as well as the Calgary Stampede.

I drove Highway tractor with my ex-husband and that allowed me to see even more of this continent from the Alaska Highway to isolated farms in northern Saskatchewan. I saw steel plants in Ontario and hauled maple syrup from Quebec. I saw the back side of cities and industrial areas...we delivered loads at night when we wouldn't disturb the city folk. We saw homeless lined up at soup kitchens in big cities and ate at family owned diners in tiny towns on lonely highways. It was an eye opening experience on this vast continent surrounded by the wealth of North America. I remember thinking the poor here have it pretty good compared to the poor in other parts of the world. I remember thinking how lucky I was!

Well I am still lucky, blessed is more like it. I have still got dreams and things I want to do. Yes I still think of doing things, not getting stuff to compete with the Jones. Meeting Ralph in the Fall of 2005 and finding such a good man made dreams I had put away come out of the closet. Dreams of a home with someone to share it with and work with. We made the decision to start a life together and began to make plans to get that done. We looked long and hard at the 159 acres I owned. The farm had been in my family since 1917. There was a great year round spring of pure, cold water, good pasture and rich black loam soil. A wonderful set of neighbors and friends for support and help if needed. A small orchard of crabapples hardy enough to survive the long, cold winter's . Could we make it work?

This was when dreams and plans collided. My farm house was in dire need of major repairs. It was small and built in 1929. The foundations were slipping away on one side and the roof needed work. Was it feasible to fix it and what would the cost be? The growing season was supposed to be 90 days frost free but in 2008 I had exactly 72 days that let my garden live before a killing frost totaled it.

Ralph and I talked long hours about what to do and decided to subdivide off 80 acres, sell it to re-invest into the 80 remaining acres. That would give us enough land to have small livestock and grow the feed to get them through hard winters. There is an old saying I think of often. “Man plans- God acts”.

The Municipal district denied my subdivision request, the land is zoned agricultural and cannot be divided smalled than a quarter section. [160 acres] I could cut off the home stead which is a 10 acre allotment but that was not feasible as to have access to the road and the spring both, I needed 15 acres. That plan crumbled into dust.

Then something happened, Ralph got stuck, he was making a delivery of orange juice concentrate to a plant in Calgary, Alberta. He would schedule his trip so he would deliver the juice and then on the way to pick up apple juice in Washington state he would spend his down time at the farm and we would work like crazy, getting wood, fixing things and working the garden. On his winter stop overs he would plow the driveway and chop and split wood. When he parked the Tanker for this visit a wicked winter storm blew in. We dragged the rig out of the yard with the tractor after battling to get the tractor started in the severe cold. I wasn't really that cold as it was a normal winter storm to me but Ralph is a “Southern” boy!

This adventure did get me to thinking though. I wondered about this climate I lived in...could we really do what we wanted here? Was there enough time in summer to grow the garden we would need to feed us all year? Could we deal with the house and fix it as we could? Dreams are well and good but sometimes reality knocks on the door and says..take a hard look! I knew then making this place work was just a matter how much we planned it was not going to work. The farm had worked for me and my family for many years, but the new age of agriculture had changed that with the destruction of small farms. The climate was also a huge issue. It was a big step, but I decided to list the farm for sale. I think Ralph was worried that I would regret selling this place I had grown up with, but I have not. As to the sale, it took a lot longer than we expected to sell the place but it was the right thing to do.

Now we could get to planning our next step. We decided to go south to a better, more temperate climate. We made plans to buy land in West Virginia where Ralph was born and his family is still located. Now dreams and plans could come together. We had learned so much from our research. As we waited for the land to sell, a lot of our plans had changed or been modified (such as we are now looking at Kentucky. West Virginia had too many problems with mineral rights.). New ideas and realizations had surfaced. The basic dream is still there. Part of that dream is a good sized piece of land with a mix of cropland and woods, some good flat areas to garden, an area for an orchard with fruit and nut trees, perhaps a pond for waterfowl, scrubby brush for the goats and pigs, a good house (it doesn't have to be fancy, but it does have to be in good repair), and buildings that can be used as a shop and/or barn.

We plan for all the contingencies we can think of and our plans are flexible within our basic framework. We want to work at growing our own food. This will be good for us on so many levels: the food needs to be healthy and drug and chemical free, the physical exercise of doing the gardening, the handling of the animals. The mental satisfaction of having something of our own that we are working on together (of us just being together and talking), getting back to the rhythm of waking early in the mornings with the birds and going to bed at night tired and ready for sleep after a long day of doing things we need and want to do, and this is much more productive than buying a gym membership and walking on a treadmill.

I think the disconnect of growing food for your family and all that that entails is part of the decay of the world around us. Planning a garden is a satisfying adventure that combines dreams of the taste of summer tomatoes, and the actuality of eating those tomatoes. It becomes an adventure that starts with the arrival of the first seed catalog, to the sun warmed earth of spring, to the juice running down your chin. Then the final stage, using some of those home grown tomatoes you preserved in a sauce for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. A cycle that starts again with the arrival of the next years seed catalogs!

Making plans with your husband or wife gives you both a sense or purpose and direction, something to strive toward, together. If you have children or grandchildren those shared times together become even more valuable. The other part of life, dreams allow you to look to the future and that keeps you more positive, positive thinking has benefits of its own.

We all need dreams, and we can all plan on working toward those dreams, regardless of our ages. However, we have to be honest with ourselves and be able to recognize attainable and realistic dreams and not confuse them with pipe dreams. I have learned so much as we have planned for our future and I know there are still many things to do yet. I just know we have to dream big but plan realistically and sometimes the two come together. Ralph and I are so lucky to be able to walk this adventure together and to be so blessed by God as we travel. He put Adam and Eve in the garden and I often believe its why there is so much joy and peace in our hearts as we work the land and pursue our life together.

God Bless you all.

The old home May!


  1. We, too, have been thinking of pulling up stakes for a more temperate climate. Our growing season is 60 days (if we are lucky). It is hard to think of leaving after 20 years but your post has given me the kick in the pants we needed. We are getting on in years, but life is about the journey, right? The hardest part is actually making the decision to move. We are in that stage now,,,....we just don't know where we want to go. Water is the first consideration. Good tasting and plenty of it. Your post is always inspiring and full of good ideas and sound thinking. Thank you.

  2. Ahhhh of the farms we looked had the best water ever...from a spring. However it failed on too many other levels. I still think of that water though. One thing I do miss a lot from my old place is the spring there!

    Yes deciding "Where" to go is the hard part. More temperate is nicer for "old" bones but it does mean more people. If there is anything we can do to help please let us know...I am good at research!

  3. Oh I LOVED this story I knew there was Canadian in you. It takes one to know one. Good luck on those dreams it sounds like you have thought it all out very well. I do live on a farm we bought when we got married 35 years of hard labour, good times and love have gotten us this far but as we age this has been slowly taking its toll. I crave some warmth too. I admire your being able to make these decisions. Hug B

    1. Winter had become more of a challenge...I do love the fact there are four seasons in Kentucky...distinct seasons. I was used to 8 months winter, 3 seconds of spring..a breif blast of summer then fall!

    2. Here, in the high desert, the saying is: We have winter and July.

  4. Times do change and what once worked no longer does. As you get older, it's harder and harder to get the physical labor done you need to maintain a country place. On the other hand, I don't think I could ever live in a hive like an apartment, or condo.

    You might like New Mexico. Land is still cheap, water rights and such aren't a problem, and there are places like Bosque Farms or Cuba that are still largely agricultural.

    1. We liked New Mexico very much but it did not suit our gardening needs, just the warmth needs! :)

  5. I have been giving this subject a lot of thought recently. While I much prefer a colder climate, if I remain a single homesteader, I may have to rethink going north. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your and Ralph's sharing of all your wonderful research - and the clear, common sense way you both write about it.

  6. Thank you for the compliment and I understand how you feel about a colder climate. I do miss the cool nights of the old farm come mid-muggy July! Then we harvest a basket of tomatoes or work in warm rain and I know coming south was right for us. We try to use common sense as much as we can...and I know you use it all the time!

  7. I am glad that I am able to visit your site!!
    Wonderful Post! Good luck with everything :)

  8. Very interesting post. I love how you considered not only goals, but the best way to achieve them. Sounds like you have the willingness to make necessary changes whatever they are. I agree with you on how out of touch folks are, not only with their food but with reality. Taking steps like you are is a great example to others.

    1. Change is not always easy, it can be daunting to move to new place but we all need to take a hard look at how we live and how modern foods are making us sick. We hope we can help people realize they can work toward dreams and to research things to learn more about healthy alternatives!