An amazing adventure comes to an end

October, 4th, 2013

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It’s been several weeks now since we’ve been back on the road after an extremely pleasant stay on Good Note Community Farm. It was not easy leaving Maryann, Kevin and Rigel behind after three great, but short weeks. However, we learnt a lot during our stay and we developed very strong bonds with this family who became very dear to our hearts. It was therefore with a heavy heart that we waved goodbye from the car as we left this farm behind us, bringing our incredible, six-month trip filled with many encounters, discoveries, surprises and new friends to an end. We have put so much energy, hopes, dreams and work into this trip.

Fortunately, our journey didn’t end there. On the way back to Montreal, we travelled across the entire country and discovered some beautiful regions. We even went canoeing on deserted lakes that were surrounded by brightly colored maples in Ontario.

Finally, we decided to end our trip in style right where we started, on Belle Roche Farm. We met up again with Caroline and Simon who hadn’t changed one bit. The farm on the other hand, didn’t look the same at all! We were able to harvest the vegetables that we planted a few months ago and we were also happy to meet Raphaëlle, the one month old baby girl who now sleeps in the blue room that we painted in April. Since returning to Montreal on Wednesday, we finally resold our second-rate car and now we’re enjoying the Indian summer on sunbathed terraces in Québec’s first city.

Though this journey comes to an end tomorrow, the adventure continues as we plan to share this wonderful experience and the new ideas that we gained from it with you, in France. In the upcoming months, we will therefore organize events and expositions in the Parisian region and in Brittany; we are counting on you all to come out and support us!

Thank you for your messages and comments. Thank you for faithfully following our blog throughout these six months. Nothing motivated us more than seeing the number of visits to our website increase over the months!

Please do not hesitate to visit our blog in the upcoming days and months to find out more about our expositions, evening discussions and events. You will also eventually find new articles that better summarizes our trip and the new ideas that we’re thinking about implementing.

See you soon!

Clémentine and Valérian

Translated by students from Rennes 2 University, MTLC2M Master’s Programme

Seed conservation

 

September, 25th, 2013

Seed Conservation

Have you ever tried collecting lettuce seeds? No? And yet, nothing could be easier. Unlike for carrots or onions there is no need to wait for two years; just leave your lettuce to go to seed. Tomato seeds are even easier to collect, store and replant — you can pick them up straight off your plate! Just leave them for a few days on some toilet paper in order to dehydrate them before slipping them into an envelope until spring comes around.

Every year, at the end of the season, Maryann collects her own seeds in order to plant them the following year. This takes some time, but has many advantages.

Economic advantages:

Economically-speaking, you no longer need to buy your seeds every year. The farmer is therefore not dependent on seed companies and therefore remains self-sufficient. When it comes to GMOs, not only are the seeds expensive, but what’s more they almost always have to be bought alongside certain “adapted” products, sold of course by the same company… This is the case for the weed killer Roundup © with for example cotton, corn, or soya, products sold as “Roundup Ready ©”.

Social advantages:

Seed conservation traditionally takes place through exchanges amongst farmers. This also allows for genetic mixing and helps forge strong social ties in the area.

A selection adapted to your land and personal taste:

Depending on the plant, the farmer either keeps the seeds (e.g. wheat, lettuce, melon) or other parts of the plant (tubers, bulbs, etc.). Each year he selects the seeds from the plants he judges the best.

Seed conservation allows you to select the plants best adapted to your climate, pests, land, cultural practices and above all your own taste! All of this is difficult for large seed companies to achieve, as once they have selected a plant they sell it across a vast area, even across several continents. And we understand them! Varietal selection is time-consuming and costly for these companies, and it is understandable that they try to make their expenses profitable. Even if they try to adapt their products as far as possible to individual climates, it is understandable that they cannot adapt them to your individual field or garden.

Ecological advantages:

By now you have understood that selecting your plants means adapting them to your land. Let’s not forget that seed companies select their plants in optimal conditions in terms of both land and material input (this is beginning to change, thankfully!¹). Therefore it’s up to the farmers to supply the fertilisers that are lacking in order to achieve the crop yields promised.

If your seeds come from a selection made at a nearby farm, and are adapted to soil, climate and cultural practices that involve low levels of material input, you won’t necessarily need to supply much material input of your own (fertiliser, pesticides, water, etc.) in order to produce a crop.

Lastly, varieties that are selected at the farm, known as “population varieties”, increase the biodiversity of the soil in which they are planted, unlike the pure-line, hybrid or GMO varieties that are often marketed by seed companies.

Problems associated with selection at the farm:

Replanting your own seeds can take some time, especially for fruit and vegetables! For cereals, it’s not enough just to pick up a sack of grains at random; you have to choose the plants that suit you best (in terms of taste, appearance, resistance, tolerance, etc.).

Another major issue: the law2. In France, farmers are only allowed to grow varieties that are registered on the French or European “List”. The list is responsible for indexing all the varieties that can be farmed for each species. Registering a variety on the list is time-consuming and expensive, and the registration has to be renewed every five to ten years if you want to continue to grow a particular variety. There are some exemptions made for earlier varieties considered to be in “genetic erosion”—but not for all local varieties—as well as for some species like millet that are not widely-grown; however these exemptions are often quite restrictive and above all difficult to understand. Finally, the exchanging of seeds amongst farmers is now prohibited, rendering these exchanges amongst farmers legally impossible.

Conclusion

You have understood by now that the seed issue is a complex one that touches on an infinite number of ecological, sanitary, economic, social, legal and even political problems.

The right to reseed one’s own crop should be indisputable for all farmers, but this is no longer the case. What was originally one of the foundations of agriculture is becoming more and more impossible to achieve lawfully. In France the law is now trying to take into consideration those local varieties that are “in danger of distinction”, but this is not yet the case for all local varieties, nor for the principle of selection on the farm. There are still many legal obstacles to overcome, since our model is now designed to meet the needs of new varieties. Nevertheless, some countries such as Switzerland have succeeded in finding solutions3 by agreeing to make exceptions for local varieties, so all is not yet lost!

 

1Bernard Rolland, researcher at INRA, suggests selecting wheat varieties from poor soils with low levels of material input. These varieties would be more adapted to organic farming, which uses very little material input.

2 The French Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (FRB) has published a report on the evolution of the biodiversity of wheat in France. Not that easy to read! But very interesting nonetheless.

3 If this interests you, I sincerely recommend that you read Ms. Shabnam’s thesis, “Semence et droit”, presented in 2008. It helps you to develop your own opinion, a subjective opinion of course but nonetheless very informed and thorough when it comes to the issues surrounding seeds.

Valérian

Translated by students from Rennes 2 University, MTLC2M Master’s Programme

Homemade soap

September, 23th, 2013

At the Borch’s, most of the products used are locally sourced. This applies to all areas, from the house built using hay and clay, to food and cleaning products. Yes, Maryann makes her own soap from the fat of her own oxen and the milk of her own goats. That’s right, oxen fat soap! We assure you, you can’t even tell, and it allows for less waste. Not bad, right?

Yesterday morning, in the space of two hours, we were able to see how soap is made. Firstly, Maryann heats up the pieces of ox so that the fat becomes liquid and is separated from the rest of the meat and the bones. This morning we made 1.8 kg of ox fat. We left it to cool down and went onto a specialized website (www.thesage.com) to know how much sodium hydroxide (soda) and goat’s milk we needed. In the end we poured the 700 ml of goat’s milk into a bowl that we put in the freezer (whilst the fat was cooling down), then we weighed out the 225 g of soda. After an hour, when the milk was almost entirely frozen, we added the soda to the bowl of milk little by little, stirring so that the milk wouldn’t burn. The reaction produced is very strong, and it gets very hot! This is why it’s important to wear gloves and goggles (something Maryann doesn’t always do…), to leave the bowl to soak in a sink full of cold water so that the mixture cools down, and especially to add the soda to the milk, rather than the other way round (watch out for the reaction!). The mixture is stirred until the temperature returns to 38°C. Then we pour it into a pan filled with chilled ox fat. This reaction can also be dangerous; that’s why it’s important to pour slowly and stir with a metal spoon (a wooden spoon would be ruined!), and to wear gloves and goggles. When everything is mixed thoroughly, we finish off with a blender or a mixer, as the soap needs to be mixed very quickly in order to thicken. Once the mix is thicker, we add tea tree oil and oats (good for the skin!). Then we pour it into rectangular boxes. We cover it with plastic and then wrap it up in a sponge towel to keep it warm. The blend will continue to react and harden for 24 hours. The following day, we can cut it into rectangular pieces of soap. But beware: the soap will be extremely corrosive and cannot be used until all the sodium hydroxide has reacted. You have to wait for at least four weeks (six is best) before washing your hands with it. We will take it back with us to France, so if you come to one of our exhibitions, you can check for yourself that the soap doesn’t smell of ox fat!

For your information (in case you are interested), Maryann doesn’t use any chemical cleaning products. White vinegar enables her to remove scale in the bathroom and clean the windows. For her tables she uses tea tree oil, and she uses baking soda to scrub pans that are burnt on the bottom or to clean the toilets. And finally, to avoid problems with clogged pipes, once a month she fills the sink up with hot water and takes the plug out with gloves to let all the water flow quickly through the pipes. That’s enough to get rid of the fat that could clog them up.

Well then, are you ready to get rid of your Mr. Clean now?

Clémentine

Translated by students from Rennes 2 University, MTLC2M Master’s Programme

The five-minute rule

September, 22nd, 2013

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When we got to the farm, Kevin immediately warned us: “Here, we use the five-minute rule. For the first five minutes, we’ll help you but after that, you’ll have to make yourself at home. If you are hungry, then check the fridge for something to eat. If you want to set the table, it’s up to you to find the plates.” That’s right, WWOOFing is not only working on farms, but it is also living together with others. Here, we are not the guests of house; we’re more like residents.

We always participated in all aspects of family life on the five farms that we went to. However, we never really felt like we were a part of the family as much as we do here on Good Note Farm. We share everything: the farm and house work, the good times and the bad times, among other things.

During the day we work on the farm, usually without Maryann who takes the opportunity to do other things (cooking, music lessons, delivering the milk, etc.). But when she’s making soap or cheese, or when she’s going to visit friends that she thinks might interest us, she always invites us to join her. To her, we are not just here to work for her, but we’re also here to learn and share.

For meals, Maryann is not the only one who cooks and when she doesn’t have the time do it, we are the ones who end up cooking. We are free to invent a recipe that we like with the ingredients that are available! After meals, everyone participates in doing the dishes so that we can all enjoy the evening together. On weekdays, we play cards or Cluedo with Rigel and Kevin, or we watch a movie downstairs together while eating butter-flavored popcorn. Sometimes, we just get together to knit, read a book, listen to music or chat in the living room. On weekends, friends often come over for dinner or even to sleep over and we spend the evening with them. Last Saturday, we were fifteen at the table and almost everyone stayed to sleep under the roof of the new barn where we hung a dozen hammocks! Around 6am, we were freezing and so we all went back into the house, to the chagrin of the less adventurous people who had stayed in the warmth!

Yesterday, we also went to spend the day with friends who are beekeepers and who live an hour away from the farm, to give them a hand in building their home using straw bale insulation. We worked hard all day, but we also met some really interesting people and discovered how to build this type of house that is cleaner, less expensive and uses less energy. As a reward, after dinner we were allowed to sample the honey and to visit the premises where they process the honey!

Family life on a farm is not always fun and laughter. Two days ago for example, when Maryann checked the weather forecast at 10 pm and realized that it was going to drop to -3° C during the night, we also had to go out with gloves, hat and scarf to harvest the tomatoes and zucchinis that were likely to freeze overnight! Yes, on a farm, there is no set schedule. We have to adapt to the climate, animals and plants.

Clémentine

Translated by students from Rennes 2 University, MTLC2M Master’s Programme

The milking process on Good Note Farm

September, 21st, 2013

After working on three farms, we are almost experts now in milking goats. But here, like on every farm we have been to so far, there is always something to learn and they all have their own methods. This farm is almost similar to Doubletree Farm. There are only five dairy goats and one cow (Vicky). However, it is still a lot of work because unlike Goat’s Pride Dairy, everything here is done by hand. In addition, the goats often have a mind of their own and they enjoy kicking the buckets of milk! As is the case on Cathy’s farm, in North Carolina, Maryann only does the milking in the morning. The only difference is that she starts at 9 am instead of 6 am; we definitely think that’s a good thing. After milking, she allows the mother goats to spend the day with their young ones and only separates them at nightfall, in order to have milk the next day.

After handling such small goat udders, milking a cow should be as easy as 123! Or so we thought for the first five minutes… If it is easier, then it is also more demanding. There is a lot more milk to take out and, unlike three weeks ago, it requires more strength in the arms and forearms! With a little practice, I can now handle Vicky’s milking on my own, but I still take a one-minute break halfway through the process. And there was always that small problem; the right udder empties much faster than the left one. If only I was ambidextrous!

There are also good days and bad days. If Vicky is in a good mood and if she is willing to let us milk her, we can easily get more than four litres, but otherwise, she prefers to keep her milk for her calf Allan. And this is where Maryann’s secret weapon is useful! After taking out as much milk as possible, she brings Allan in and lets him start feeding. Once she feels that the milk starts to descend into the udder, she takes away the little one and starts milking the cow. Therefore, she gets Vicky’s milk that was intended for her calf, which is creamier – the milk used to make butter. But in that case, she does not collect all the milk during the second milking. Let’s be fair, we must leave something for the calf to feed on! This milk is so good that when Rigel – Maryann’s son – was four years old, he was drinking the milk directly from the cow they had at the time!

 

Clémentine

Translated by students from Rennes 2 University, MTLC2M Master’s Programme

Harvesting honey

September, 16th, 2013

Eating honeycomb fresh from the beehive was one of my biggest dreams, until that dream came true a couple of days ago!

Janet and Leslie, who have set up their hives at Maryann and Kevin’s farm, suggested last week that we help them harvest the honey before winter. So we slipped into beekeeping suits to avoid getting stung too much (even if apparently, on bad days, a pair of jeans or leather gloves won’t stop them) and we went off to tackle the beehives. In order to calm the bees, we first smoked them out with a bee smoker in which we burnt a small piece of jute fabric. Then we removed the top of the beehive to get access to the frames where all the honey is produced. Up to three levels are dedicated to the production of this precious liquid. The lower level, separated by a grate that prevents the queen from getting upstairs (because she’s too fat), is reserved for the nest – that’s where the young are raised. But the bees also store a little honey on that level that cannot be harvested as they need it to survive during the winter. Here, from November to the end of April, the average temperature is
–20°C, and it can get as cold as –40°C! To help the bees, Janet and Leslie cover the hives with blankets from October to May. Yes, the winters are harsh for bees in Alberta!

It took us an hour to dismantle the upper frames and remove the bees, then load them into a truck so that Leslie could harvest the honey once she got home. She takes the frames and places them in a centrifuge in order to extract the liquid. During the harvest, we were eventually lucky enough to find one honeycomb that had been made outside of the frame. We put it in a box so that we could show it to children and taste it later on. However, we saved ourselves a small piece to eat straight away and it was delicious! You place a piece of the honeycomb in your mouth and chew it to extract the honey. After eating all the honey, you chew the beeswax that’s left in your mouth and make a little ball that you can spit out (or keep like chewing gum).

Clémentine

Translated by students from Rennes 2 University, MTLC2M Master’s Programme

Chicken hunt on Good Note Farm

September, 14th, 2013

Flying feathers, frantic race, desperate crows of roosters going to the slaughterhouse, that is what we imagine happening when a truck is loaded with chickens right? Well, it did not happen like that at all for one good reason: these chickens are stupid. When I say “these chickens”, of course I do not mean this lovely black hen that makes eyes at me every time I work outside but I mean these awful meat chickens that the Borch family and its small community have been trying (somehow) to raise for sixteen weeks now.

That’s what happens when you do not want to have a meagre meat that’s hard like leather on your plate. You have to raise chickens that were skillfully chosen to be big, ugly and above all very stupid. Next to the beautiful laying hens (that can be found all over the farm), two hundred identical and white chickens get fat everyday on a fenced lawn with plenty of grains and workforce.

We already told you about the community farm. Well, these chickens also a part of this community farm system: eight families shared the cost of purchasing chicks, feed, treatment, slaughter and other expenses related to raising these chickens. Moreover, according to a precise schedule, each family feed them every day. The contract is simple: out of the three hundreds chicks bought, two hundred of them are shared among the eight families and the rest is for the Borch family. Unfortunately, a hundred birds died this year, maybe because of the lack of protein supply (even if there is a lot of it).

Last week, when the chickens were sleeping at night fall, the eight families in charge of the hen-house gathered to load the chickens into the truck. And that’s when the magic happens… We just had to bend over to catch the young roosters! They did not struggle or make a sound or try to flee. They let themselves be caught, indifferent, suspended by their legs, head down. So the job was done quickly: three people were in charge of putting them into the locker while the others carried them. Naturally, the last one-third was a little bit more complicated. The liveliest rooster kept wandering around. So we stood together in an arc, trying to trap them in the corners of the hen-house. The smartest ones hid under the hut but it was not hard to remove them from there. Five other smart roosters from the other yard joined the livestock to be eaten too. After one hour, they were all put away in batches of ten in lockers. They spent the night in the truck before being taken to the slaughterhouse at 6 a.m. the following day.

Around 6 p.m., all the chickens were brought back, cut, cleaned up and vacuum packed. All that was left to do was share them up among the different families and the work was done. Well… Almost…We found a little rooster which had escaped! A smart one of course, so we decided, as a reward, to spare its life!

Valérian

For more information:

Butchering, Processing and Preservation of Meat (see bibliography): an old book which explains how to prepare, cut and stock all kind of meat and fish. This book is quite old-fashioned though and I am sure you can find some more up-to-date books on the subject.

Translated by students from Rennes 2 University, MTLC2M Master’s Programme