Farm Love and Beyond

To be sure, finding love as a farmer is no easy task.  My heart for the past decade or so has been wholly committed to farming much to the detriment of other relationships and family life.  I have zero regrets about my commitment and dedication to getting a brand new farm business off the ground from scratch and if anything am actually quite proud of its success.  However, in the past little while, as my years in life grow higher, I thought to myself, on more than one occasion, maybe it’s time I open up my heart a little more to non-vegetable beings.

My niece was born in January 2018 and I never knew the delight of falling in love with someone so instantaneously.  My heart beat faster and stronger all of a sudden and I felt this new sense of strength in our little family that had always been there, but was most definitely renewed with her now in our lives.  Unfortunately my family lives on the other side of the country and visits are too few and far between.

In part, it got me thinking about the isolation I had created for myself amidst the ambition I had for making my little farm a success.   These thoughts led me to ask myself: what does it really mean to be successful?  I had sacrificed my health, relationships, and left behind many a hobby throughout my passionate obsession with farming.  Essentially I had narrowed my experience of the joys in life through one type of lens– agriculture. And no doubt, that lens is big and bountiful and more than enough in many ways, but I suppose in an ideal world I’d share that lens with someone else.  I didn’t think such a thing was likely, but nonetheless I decided to share my open-hearted intentions with the universe, explore beyond the small patch of earth I was already wholly committed and wedded to and so, well, to be perfectly honest, I went online in January 2019!  How else does a rural, isolated farm woman with no extra time on her hands, get in touch with the universe and that someone special?

Despite my heart being more open, it still came with some agrarian focused stipulations.  I realize it may sound all dandy and fun to date a farmer, but the reality soon sets in that I am not your average woman.  The demands I face in life and work are hard, extremely time consuming and well quite frankly, sometimes just gross!  Although I do still like to get my hair done usually once a year…and that’s where it all started.

I came across a profile of a handsome looking gent, self-described as a farmer.  As a first impression I suppose that was enough. However, I still didn’t have the courage to swipe right.  It was my hair stylist, concerned about my awkward and dorky tendencies that actually was the one to swipe right for me.  “If you don’t go for him, I will” is what I recall her saying.  And shortly thereafter I received a message.

Match made in heaven

Lucky for me, this mysterious Vancouver Island farmer man was coming to the mainland to pick up some supplies.  So he asked if I wanted to meet up.  I agreed and we set to meet at a local pub in the town nearby.  As I sat there twiddling my thumbs sipping on a pint of locally brewed ale, I felt less nervous than I expected.  I was, if nothing else, just excited to connect with another farmer.  It was at about the 15 minute mark of him being late that I started to feel more nervous and considered the possibility that he might just not show up.  And at the 20 minute mark I got up to leave.  I approached the exit and in doing so saw the outline of the same tall handsome gent I recognized from the profile pic. I scurried back to my seat.
I can’t remember why he was late and well in the end it didn’t matter.  It is interesting looking back though, our first encounter was very much an indication of our differing, yet complimentary, and perhaps sometimes frustrating differences, in personality types.  

We talked for a long while all things farming.  We were like two people that just met at a party and started talking because we had the same vocation.  I could talk farming to no end (from tools and techniques, business management, soil and trends, politics and culture) and I got the sense that he could too and I felt like I had made a new friend.  It occurred to me suddenly that I wanted to see more of him and maybe even attempt to have non-farming related conversations, but he lived far away.  So, I said, “want to hang out again tomorrow before you leave”.

The next day, we sat on the beach staring at the ocean in White Rock. I brought my dog Lexi, cuz what better judge is there really?  We got deep into conversation about past relationships, life ambitions, our histories and then fell into silence now and again.  We’d sneak peaks at each other. I noticed his beautiful brooding, brown eyes and heavy brow.  We watched Lexi, my big-eared dingo dog, sniff the sea shells and seaweed, bounce off big ocean boulders on the beach and then we’d look out at the horizon. I imagine we were likely both considering how that big beautiful ocean lay between our geographical home/farmlands and how it would influence and our ability to date more seriously.

We wanted to go out to eat, but I had Lexi with me, so we went to his mother’s place (who was away at work at the time).  I’d like to say he cooked me one of the best meals ever and won my heart over that way, but it was actually perhaps one of the worst meals I ever had.  Mind you his options were extremely limited and it wasn’t his kitchen.  And it was January.  I didn’t hold it against him. More importantly he was bonding with Lexi in a very admirable way.  We admitted that we liked each other, my eyes likely nervously darting away from his, and we discussed how we might be able to see each other again.  I believe we left it pretty open.  We knew, as farmers, we weren’t likely to have much extra time on our hands to ferry back and forth.  I believe it was the good night kiss that gave us the confidence that we were more than likely to meet again.
And well, we did. We made the time.  I felt confident in my well-trained crew to manage the farm tasks I left behind and it basically meant putting in a really long day at the market on Saturday, returning to the farm, unloading, showering real fast and heading back west again to the ferry terminal in my muddy little farm pick up in the usual, but much more tired than usual, rush-to-catch-the-ferry-on-time-fun.  I know for me it was not easy to leave, but once I was on the ferry I felt a renewed sense of freedom. Again, I stared out at an open ocean.  I had two days to explore the world outside my self-contained farm existence and I was still heading to yet another farm.

At a fundraising dinner

It went back and forth and to be sure, with all the fun and games, and ocean time, there was lots of work.  This beautiful island farmer showed off his skills in building and growing with each visit.  When apart we sent each other pictures of flowers and veggies and irrigations systems we were each installing.  And then together, we built a chicken tractor, we fertilized garlic, we picked strawberries, planted potatoes, picked sugar snap peas and flowers and all the while we wondered where this dirty romance would go with our farms being so far apart.  

Building the chicken tractor

We took counsel from an experienced friend and coach, we discussed different scenarios, we felt ourselves feel vulnerable and for the first time in a very very long time I felt my heart and brain open up to new possibilities, which in and of itself was previously a no-go zone.  My farm has been my strength, its been my home wherever I’ve landed geographically, its been my support (sure its beaten the crap out of me at times) but always offered me many gifts that have led me to heal from past wounds, given me confidence and made me mentally and physically stronger with each season.  I depend on it and it depends on me.  To consider opening myself up to new possibilities, trusting that I can handle myself outside of these now well-known intimate walls of support felt terrifying.  

But in the end, he moved here.  It was hard on him and in extension hard on me.  The only thing that carried us through the transition (which is ongoing) was in the support of friends, family, the excitement we have to farm together, the other half of his garlic which is currently sprouting and still growing in Cobble Hill on the island and I suppose in large part, the love for one another that grows and evolves each day we share together.  
I never thought in a million years I would meet someone that would think I was sexy in the way I used my angle grinder to cut through sheet metal, shovel chicken shit with my tractor bucket or my transplanting kale pace.  I never thought I could meet someone that had such patience, natural curiosity and intelligence, compassion, warmth, strength and also be such a fun weirdo.  I never thought I’d meet someone that also wanted to farm, wanted to share the struggle and experience that farm-life is and share a life that was simple and yet complicated all at the same time.

And ya, it’s not all going to be lollipops, rainbows and frolicking through the fields with unicorns. We will fight I am sure.  We have fought and I suppose it’s part of getting to know one another, trust one another and to reveal the darker sides of ourselves that we aspire to improve upon.  It’s hard to know your areas for improvement when you have no one to point them out to you and the opportunity to practice new ways of being.  All in all, I expect with the right intentions, the larger picture can only get bigger in love, in life and in farming.

I mentioned earlier on in this post, our differing, complimentary, and sometimes frustrating differences in personality.  He is patient (most of the time) and I am impatient (not always, but more than I’d like to admit).  He generally carries that sense of chillness and don’t worry be happy island air and I have about 100 things usually darting this way and that through my brain at any given time ready to take on the world.  In the months we have spent together though I can feel myself chilling out more and well, he still seems pretty relaxed.  Then again, to kill time as of late, he goes out to battle the beastly invasive Himalayan blackberry slowly dominating the wilder areas of the farm with his walk-behind tractor and flail mower attachment.  I’d rather build spreadsheets and organize the 100 things going through my brain in graphical like way and write out to do lists to chill out.  

I am short and close to the ground, he is tall and can reach things up high. I am particular, he gets the job done.  I get frustrated with little finicky things and he stares intently at it and moves through it with calm focus.  He is generally more calm and I am a busy body.  We are both weird.  I think we work really well together.  And as we continue to forge our knowledge, skills, tools, personality traits and hearts, we shall only better serve our other loves in life.  Family, hobbies, our love for the natural world, friends and community all feel brighter and more important than ever moving forward.  Sometimes you just gotta dare to do something a little different in life, be bold and dust off your way of being for a little while to discover new passions, strengths and bonds in life.  In the end, I have no doubt that farming will always be there, but it’s not my be all end all.  It’s part of a greater family I belong to and I am inspired more than ever to love this family and our community together.

So who the heck is this guy you might be wondering?! His name is Michael Nyberg.  He has viking heritage; his last name is Nordic for “New Mountain” hence his farm business name; and he has farming in his family dating back a couple generations ago in Alberta and before that many generations ago in Sweden and Finland.  You may have already met him at a farmers market, on Vancouver Island or maybe you already knew him before these aspects of his life- he’s a pretty popular guy.  He’s been farming for the same number of years as me (going on year 10) and generally has a strong intuition and friendliness for many things in life, most obviously in cultivating green things really well and encouraging growth and life in a market garden setting.  He grows garlic really well.  Like stupidly well. Like I have never seen such large heads of garlic, so many varieties procured, encouraged and doted over.  We went a little crazy this year planting over 30,000 cloves of garlic between Glen Valley and Cobble Hill from seed and and bulbs he saved over the years.  Hint hint- you need garlic seed?, garlic for your menu? or in your kitchen pantry?… in 2020- please look no further.  Just to give you some sense of how important garlic is to him- our very relationship came to a pinnacle point in decision-making because it was time to plant the garlic and we had to make a decision about where to do it.  I embraced and showed as much affection for his garlic as I could and in the fall of 2019 I managed to convince him to plant his seed in my soil 😉

Cured garlic pre-planting

Part of our business ambitions in working together is to focus a little more than we each have individually and independently in the past.  We are fond of our diverse array of growing abilities, but it’s time to get even better at what we do and so we are focusing in on some crops and leaving a few to the wayside.  I hope to buckle down in front of my computer more, and I’m looking forward to sharing the machine work! We are looking forward to continuing to strengthen the important partnerships we have with other farms, namely with Close to Home Organics and Snowy Mountain Organics in our shared CSA program and at farmers markets in the lower mainland via Farm Circle Organics Collective.  We have spent some of our lovely winter ‘down time’ in bed in the mornings watching tractor videos, dreaming of new tools, implements and putting our brains together to figure out some ingenious way to outsmart the weeds and pests we face here at Glen Valley. It’s all very romantic and exciting, although there has also been some head butting when it comes to agreeing upon which crops are yay and which ones are nay.  

Without question though, we both agree on doing our best to treat the soil with love and respect as we depend on it so very much. We have discussed the use of the chicken tractor as a way to deal with pests and weeds more naturally, whilst the soil is fed by their droppings.  We’ve chatted about cover crops and integrating them more holistically into our crop plans.  Crop rotations and how much of something we can realistically grow of one crop family.  And much to our regret, we’ve discussed not growing so many brassicas anymore.  Unfortunately like many farms now in Canada our soil has succumb to club root.  Its a rather sophisticated and complicated plant parasite, once considered a slime mold, but now filed in the category “Phylomyxea” amongst the diverse group of protists with zoospores and flagella and shit, living in the plant cells hidden in the soil that is pretty much impossible to get rid of with the exception of not growing anything in the brassica family for 5 to upwards of 20 years.  So.. it is really quite irresponsible on our part to continue growing brassicas in the way I have for the past 10 years. Problem is that many many of our most favourite veggies are in the Brassica family, including: cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and Brussel sprouts, radishes and turnips, arugula, mustard and kale and more.  Some are more susceptible than others to club root and so we are using those crops as a starting point to whittle down our list of things to grow in 2020.

Well, there you go- I managed to return back to farm talk.  And there you have it- my heart is open to you all and I hope that the story was interesting to you. And I hope that you check out our garlic web store coming soon!  Please come visit us at the farmers market, meet the garlic obsessed Farmer Mike or if you’re looking to visit the farm, get in touch.  May the year of 2020 and beyond be filled with new bonds, growth, much success and love.  Your Farmer Always,Shirlene  

Shirlene and Mike overlooking Glen Valley

Farm Love and Beyond