Monday, December 30, 2013


As I sit here thinking about what I want to do in January, I am watching a few snow flakes fall, listening to Len shovel the drive (again) and waiting for Jessica to wake up. It is Monday morning, December 30th, we just had another good dump of snow and the new year is on the horizon. 

Many people develop New Year's Resolutions - often they are things we can't follow for long or aren't motivated to continue - but maybe we don't make the right resolutions, maybe that is why they don't seem achievable. I saw this picture on a Facebook page and it seems doable, realistic and makes sense. It also focus' on what is truly important for each of us, 12 Steps to Self Care. My wish for 2014 is that I can learn this mantra and the my girls can too - we tend to take things too personally or too seriously... Just let go of what we can't control and be kind to ourselves, seems like a good idea to me!

I am entering the new year of 2014 feeling very grateful for what I have, the people I love and for who I have become. Nine Christmas' ago I never believed I would feel at peace again. I had just buried my first husband, I had a 3 year old recovering in a full body cast from a car accident and a 10 year old who was so traumatized and lost that she would not let me out of her sight. It was strange Christmas but one that I will never forget. My parents were crucial to my survival and my mom moved in for 6 weeks to care for us all, day and night. My Dad gave me that gift of my Mom with his complete love and support and Christmas day, Dad took over the role of putting toys together, playing games with the girls and telling me how much he loved me. My best gift that day was a 2 hour soak in the tub with time alone, as my folks distracted my girls and  gave me some space from being needed every second. Those moments in the bathroom, door locked, classical music on (so I couldn't hear anyone banging on the door or calling for me) were cathartic.

My little monkey!
Today, 9 years later, I am surrounded with love from my adoring husband, my great kids and a few really good friends, near and far. I never believed I would own a home again, but I do. I have learned that Christmas is not about the stuff, it is about the love and being together. This year I made a pact to keep things simple, affordable, local and sustainable and we pretty much achieved that.
Len, all tuckered out!
Nothing was over the top or going to put us in the poor house and we were all happy with how it went. We sure did miss Rachel though! Of course she was busy in Vancouver cooking her turkey dinner and talking to me every 45 minutes to walk her through it, so with that and some Skype time, I didn't feel all that far away from her.

A care package for Rachel
A must for a care package,
Authentic Nanaimo Bars!
 Of course we remembered Rachel and sent her a care package that, as we speak is somewhere in a car driving through Northern Ontario - making its way to her new home. Yes, practical, sent her baking goods, recipes and already baked goods! A little taste of home... Maybe she will make herself and her room mate some good old fashioned multigrain bread, just like mom used to make...
My Kitchen My Favourite Place!
We now move forward into 2014 and as I look at the year ahead I am feeling a little lost. Why? Well, things slow down drastically for me and I  need to set tasks for myself to remain
focused and not to get too lazy. My days will have some routine, getting Jessica off to school, morning coffee by the fire with my handsome, puttering away, lunch with my lover and then write or sew or prep for market, welcome Jessica home in the afternoons, followed by a family supper, homework and then off to bed again. It is a comfortable routine and I should add some winter walks with Len and Duncan into that schedule.

I hope that in 2014 I become more sustainable in my routines, do more to treat my earth and planet better, make even more of my gifts for next Christmas, have a successful year doing what we do out here in our little bit of the country and maybe get to see my parents again. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 16, 2013

...And a Partridge In a Pear Tree!!!!

The 12 days of Christmas is a time honoured classic. Of course I no longer need a partridge in a pear tree, but 10 maids a milking or 5 golden rings would be fine and I would be REALLY happy if I had 6 geese a laying! Yes, my lazy chickens are STILL on strike... down to about 65 birds and still 5-10 eggs a day.. not much to sell these days and nothing this week since I need the few I have to do my Christmas baking.

Speaking of Christmas baking, I never really enjoyed it all that much. I have mentioned in the past I never was much of a baker but one thing I enjoyed every year, from about the time Rachel was 3 years old was going to my dear friends house and baking Christmas cookies. It is a tradition that started one year shortly after we returned to live in Nanaimo. We thought it would be fun to bake together so I went with Rachel, out to her house one Saturday afternoon in December of 1997 and we created a tradition that lasted all the years we lived in that city. 

We would head out to her house after lunch. We each brought the basic supplies and baked sugar cookies and shortbread and drank wine and ate appetizers and laughed, giggled, cried, shared and bonded for life. When we began this tradition my little girl just played,watched TV and helped somewhat as she could or wanted to. We, the big girls, connected, emotionally, physically and spiritually. These were beautiful treasured days.

Her daughter became a teenager, mine a elementary schooler and my new baby arrived to begin to be a part of it. As the years went by, my friend and I did less of the work and watched our girls take over the task, although we always participated. Eventually, her daughter had babies and they too became a part of this day. There were years of sadness, joy and trauma, but we carried on. So many years and so much fun. I do miss that. 

This year, I miss my daughter, she won't be with us this Christmas and I miss her desperately but I am so grateful to know, that this past weekend she was once again able to participate in this special tradition. This year, the baking was at my friends daughters house, with her children and my daughter was the one drinking wine and giggling, laughing and telling stories with my dear friend. 

Was I jealous? YES! Was I happy? YES! I am so blessed that they are my "family". That they love us, take my girls in as their own and are the god parents who are there to offer support when I am not. My daughter moved away on June 20th - that is 5 months and 26 days ago (yes I am counting!) She has journeyed across this great country of ours. She has lived in 4 different cities. She has had good times; bad times; grief; joy and now unconditional love.

I am so grateful to all of the people who have reached out and helped her along the way. It hasn't always been what we all expected in the interaction but it has all been a learning experience for everyone. To all those people, thank you, truly. She has had a time to grow, learn and move forward. I know that many kids start school in September right after high school but this 6 months out of school, working menial jobs, not working, being alone, being surrounded by loved ones and finding her roots - has helped my baby girl grow into the beautiful woman that she has become. 

There have been times in the past - almost 6 months - that I have wondered: Did I do my job right as a parent? Of course I made mistakes, tons of them. Did I give her skills she will need? Did I advocate or as some people have said "enable" her too much? I don't know. I did my best. I loved her with all of my heart and got really ticked off and frustrated at times too. I do know this - I parented her the best way I could and today, I see a strong woman developing. During the past 6 months I have had "constructive" feedback from young moms and people without children and while I consider their opinion - as the old saying goes "Until you have walked a mile in my shoes..." I know that at times I wonder about other parents and how they care or parent for their child - but I know we all do the best we can with what we know. I was also guilty as a young mom of saying "I will NEVER do that..." but , well, good luck , it is a tough job and the rules keep changing... I do see a young woman who is creating her future, learning from her past, taking the good with the bad and making her own memories and that is all I can hope for.

I miss you baby girl - but I am proud that you are standing strong - bouncing back from adversity and holding your head high. The years have dealt you many blows - but we all have things that either kill us or make us stronger.  

Meanwhile, we are home in Fosterville, NB where Len is still shoveling us out after a huge dump of snow fall - a good foot and a half and I know he would be happy if the Ten Lords a Leaping would show up and give him a hand! Me? I have learned to enjoy baking and now that is my livelihood, so back to my Christmas baking, just got another order, so back to work for me! 


The Twelve Days of Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas, 
my true love sent to me 
Twelve drummers drumming, 
Eleven pipers piping, 
Ten lords a-leaping, 
Nine ladies dancing, 
Eight maids a-milking, 
Seven swans a-swimming, 
Six geese a-laying, 
Five golden rings, 
Four calling birds, 
Three French hens, 
Two turtle doves, 
And a partridge in a pear tree!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The death of the farmer...

We have a little place, we call it Golden Unicorn Farm - we don't really farm but we have chickens and we participate in the local farm market and we try to earn what we can from working with our hands.

I sometimes wonder why? I work so hard, I try so much and there are moments where it all seems for naught. OH we had grandiose ideas and planned to do more than we do, but due to age (my husband is 72 and I am 47), lack of money to build good barns and solid fencing, we had to scale back. Now we have to decide whether to continue what we do or just relax and do nothing? (I don't think nothing is possible for either of us.)

Who is at fault when it comes to the fact that we are unable to earn a living wage? Maybe other growers, farmers, cultivators, market vendors and to some extent the public. Why? Because so many people devalue what they do. They sell good quality home grown or home made product for less than the grocery store.

They undercut each other on basics like eggs... We sell our eggs for $3.00 a carton - that is for a local, pasture/free range truly outside roaming bird which is supplemented with grains. We also have to continue to feed and care for chickens that moult and quit laying as well as the decrease of eggs in the winter - less income, same costs. Now, the store charges 3.79 for factory farmed eggs and 4.50 to 5.00 for eggs that say they are free range (which has a completely different meaning). Some people think we charge too much - and in my opinion, they can go to the store. Other people line up for our eggs because they are so fresh and taste so great. Why would someone else come and sell their eggs of equivalent size and value for 2.00 or 2.50? I don't understand it. I suppose I could understand it if there was a glut on the market but frankly there is a waiting list of people to buy the eggs... So why devalue what you do?

Grain has increased about $2.00 per bag since we started raising hens about 3 years ago and fuel has certainly gone up , A LOT - so the drive to town costs more, why does this not have value? Not to mention going out several times a day to check the hens, feed them, water them, collect eggs - several times a day in winter due to freezing eggs, in winter make sure they have water that is not frozen, clean the chicken coop about once a week and.... Well, you get the idea.

Baking. I bake. I started to bake to keep warm in the winter and because I was a little bored and lonely out here in the woods. I now have a small winter customer base and a healthy summer customer base. My costs increase, the price it costs me to bake a loaf of bread has increased, dramatically since I started. Every time there is a rush on the stock market for grains or due to the potential lack of grains in the future - costs increase. My prices have not increased in almost 3 years. I still have to buy the flours, grains, staples, etc.  that I need to make my product. I buy the best quality I can, use real butter and use many organic GMO free products in my baking. For the most part there is little to no question from the customer about the price of my product - for this, I thank you dear customer. 

Where do I see a problem? At Christmas time I spend about two months marketing to the public and my customers to increase my Christmas orders. I know that historically it can be a busy time and that after Christmas the market customer base drops drastically. Therefore, I have a small window of opportunity to sell my product, stock up on supplies and make sure my bills are paid before I have very little business again. This is now my only job and I take it quite seriously as well as try to have fun with it. It can be crazy and stressful at times and incredibly lean during others. I do it because I like it and it makes me feel good to see people enjoying what I do and even drooling over baking at times - feels good!

The farm market I belong to goes year round and is indoors. We pay for a monthly booth and this allows me the opportunity to leave product, eggs, preserves and Len's art at our table for the weekly customer to come at their leisure. On Fridays many vendors attend the market from 8 AM until about 1 PM and bring in fresh product. We are one of those vendors. We generally arrive at the market about 9 or 9:30 AM after my daughter gets on the bus to school, we load the car and Len makes sure the animals are set for the day. We leave our house about 8 AM. This is our one trip to town per week. 

Back to Christmas. One thing I do at Christmas is specialty baking. I supply my customer with a list of ideas and options and I am also very open to baking their own requests and personal traditional foods if at all possible. About 2 years ago I started doing dessert trays for Christmas. The tray is large, ready to serve, decorated in cellophane and makes a great hostess gift. The tray comes with about 6-8 varieties of cookies and bars and anywhere from 40-50 pieces for $20 a tray. I think that is a pretty good deal. I see what people buy in ready to serve trays like mine from a grocery store about $30-$40 or a plastic tray with pre-made (who knows where cookies) in Walmart and other places for $15 - $20. I have had very good feedback on what I do and I think it is good value. 

So how do I feel when I see other people selling a similar product for $2 less than me? Why would they do that? I don't mind the competition, I don't mind them getting customers too, I just wonder WHY would they devalue their and my product? Neither of us mass produce it, we all have growing families, I just don't understand it. They have a great product, I think I have a great product. Why sell for less, make even less than we already do? I know people will pay $20, so why down sell?

I have spoken to farmers in the East as well as the West who tell me that it is   difficult to grow crops,  they have to endure the elements, a poor year, good year, no customers coming on "bad weather days" - fresh produce left to wilt if no one decides to shop that day. I am like minded with many of these people - I will not give away my product. If it doesn't sell then I will take it home and if we can still eat it, we will, if we can't, my chickens will or the farmers pigs... I have also learned that many farmers are closing up shop - getting out of farming because they can't make a sustainable living - when all they need to do is charge their customers a fair market price - stop selling at prices that were fair 10 or 20 years ago. 

We also learned this year about the price of beef and pasture raised chickens and the value. If it costs $1.50 to buy the chick, take the loss on the early deaths of 5-10% of your birds, feed them, pasture them and protect them from predators, take them to the abattoir and pay $4.00+ per bird to be processed for selling and then sell them for $3.00 lb - less than the going rate of organic birds in the store which is $7-$10 lb - why bother? Or selling beef at $2.50 and $3.00 lb for a whole side - when in the store ground beef factory farmed starts at $5.00 lb, why sell grass fed for this price? Just to cover your costs? What is wrong with allowing yourself to make a little money? I do not see this as gouging. 

People who try to live off the land, sustain-ably, working with their hands - MUST value what they do. It is hard enough to get the consumer to understand but if we farm market sellers don't work together we are not helping ourselves or anyone else. As it is, our consumers earn anywhere from minimum wage of $10 per hour to ... well, it really depends on where you live and what you do on how that caps your income. A farmer - full time farmer - earns about $1 per hour. Maybe a little more at times or less at others but on average the farmers I talk to make very little. Remember this is based on the work hours in a week all year long.

When going to a farm market, please remember - the person you are buying from is there to help you - help you understand what you are buying, how it was raised or grown or baked or created, help you eat better, healthier and in many instances for less or at least equivalent to what you buy in a store. They will produce product you want if you ask. They are excited to tell you about themselves and why they do what they do and how they do it. There are not secrets - well maybe some recipes held close to the chest but in general - questions are welcomed and answered. 

Openness is not the response from a grocery store - in part because they don't know, didn't raise or grow or bake for you - or the producer is under a strict confidentiality agreement and can only tell you so much - they don't want their secrets out or to let you know why they can sell cheaply - but you may want to research and question those methods. Big stores and corporations are subsidized by big business and government tax breaks = lower prices. My theory is : if you can afford to cross the border, stay two nights in a hotel to go Black Friday shopping just so you don't have to pay taxes at the border - you can afford to eat at KFC or McDonald's - you can probably afford my eggs for $3.00 or my bread for $4.50 - and if you can't or wont, that is OK - I will not devalue myself, my time, my expenses and my values - I will either quit doing what I do - or come home and feed it to my chickens - they like it too.

Is this a rant? Probably. Is this a blog on questioning our values? Yes. Will I lose some customers or fans? Maybe. Is this my belief and should I stand behind what I believe? Yes. Do I support the farmers and vendors in my market and buy their product at their price without question? No. To qualify that answer - yes, I buy and support them and as a buyer think the prices are amazing - but no, I do tell them in many circumstances they should increase their price to bring up the value - people WILL pay it. We just need to stand together.

Now, I look forward to any response.... Have a great day, eh?!