Kids in the Stall

Kids in the stall

Triple Trouble

Beware of networking! I’m still coming to terms with the fact that a couple of tentative inquiries into acquiring a milking goat or two somehow escalated into me keeping a dairy herd of eight goats, including three pregnant does who’ve increased the numbers by another seven. I kid you not!

I’ll spare you the details…suffice it to say that someone had eight goats needing a home, and I apparently had a home needing eight goats!

There is a notable discrepancy between goat fantasizing and actual goatkeeping. While still in the grip of some Alpine-meadow-induced trance, I envisioned a quaint herd that would greet me every morning with goatly decorum and follow me devotedly to a designated grazing spot where I would sit on a rock (preferably Alpine) and sip my morning Swiss chocolate while they obligingly mowed my lawn. What I got was an unmannerly herd of caprine gangstas that crash gates, mob me when I carry in the grain and bleat deprecating commentaries when some imaginary contaminant fouls their drinking water.

After couple of days of crushed toes, one bloody nose (mine, not the goat’s), and multiple gate upgrades my head was out of the thin Alpine air and my trampled feet were firmly back on the ground. We hammered out a cross-species entente: they would train me in the ways of the goat and I would become their willing servant.

If I had secretly entertained thoughts about backing out on the deal, Cookies and Cream, a brown and white Nubian, vetoed that option by presenting me with  three little doelings the morning after she arrived. ‘Here’ she said, ‘I can’t possibly feed three kids. Check the undercarriage…only two nozzles. Why don’t you supplement them with a bottle, bond irrevocably with them,  and  then we’ll revisit your idea of returning us.’  After that bit of staged coersion, I succumbed. Now every farm chore includes a detour to the barn to “check on” the kids. Two sets of twins followed, providing further distraction, since kid cavorting trumps weeding every time!

We now have a workable routine: I let them out to graze in the morning and sprint after them through raspberry canes and logging stumps with my coffee sloshing down the front of me. After the mosquitoes have extracted a pint of blood, or  a half an hour (whichever comes first), I slink stealthily back to the paddock, locking the gate quietly behind me to shut the goats out. I then set out the grain and open the gate, simultaneously leaping backwards as they stampede in and take up positions at the trough.

Next I dump out three buckets of perfectly good water, refill them and leave the herd to make beds from all the clean hay in the feed crib so they can  bask in the sun.

At this point they agree that I can begin my day of gardening (this IS still an organic market garden after all) and that they’ll call me if they need me.

So far it’s working.

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How it all began…

WELLSPRING GARDENS…EAT FRESH, LIVE WELL

It all began with a search for community. What exactly does community mean? I’m pretty sure each one of you would have a different answer. The Collins dictionary defines community as a group of people having cultural, religious, ethnic, or other characteristics in common. While that’s true, I prefer to define community in terms of how it feels from the inside looking out…a place where you have a sense of belonging and acceptance, a sense of fellowship, a sense of shared purpose. Community is a place where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

My journey began when I returned home after living seven years in Québec City. While I was there I learned a new language and culture, taught English to  business clientele, earned a translation degree and saw my youngest two leave the nest to go off to Montréal and college. When the opportunity came to return to the Ottawa Valley, it seemed the most natural thing in the world. I’d be able to translate out of a home office, I’d be closer to my two older children, my grandchildren and my Dad, my husband Joe wouldn’t be heading out to parts unknown on a plane every second week, we could build our dream home on that 100 acres we had kept…it all seemed good.

It became clear soon after moving back that the life I had left seven years earlier didn’t fit any more. It was like trying on last year’s bathing suit. Sure I could squeeze into it, but it was snug in spots and I had to keep tugging it into place! I’d apparently grown. I’d discovered a love for teaching and developed a taste for entrepreneurship. Four years of university while raising two boys and holding down a part-time job had trained me to channel my energies and hone my multitasking skills. Seven years of new horizons and challenges had stirred up a restlessness that was demanding an outlet. In other words, it was time to shop for a new bathing suit!

Not all journeys have obvious signposts. Mine felt more like trying to get from point A to point B in a room full of bumper cars.  It began when we discovered that our 100 acres, the site of our future dream home, had somehow been severed without a righ-of-way. The only solution, after a year of negotiating with the township and parleying with neighbours, turned out to be buying back the very farmhouse and property we had severed and sold 12 years previously. Call it fate if you will, or maybe it was simply a case of making lemonade with the lemons life had handed me, but that’s when the idea for Wellspring Gardens was born. Although I didn’t know it then, it was the first step on the path that would lead me to the community I was searching for.

I began by talking up the idea with friends and family. Their enthusiasm and support encouraged me to go for it. I soon developed a core of loyal veggie customers. This was followed by a couple of years of trial and error (mostly errors) while I played with the idea of becoming a full-time gardener. As it turns out, tractors and implements do not a farmer make. Armed with this disheartening knowledge I took a huge leap of faith and signed up as an intern at The Rainbow Heritage Garden in Cobden, ON. My internship there brought me in contact with a new generation of farmers and farming models, agricultural communities and resources as well as the current food movements (locavores, 100-mile diet). After six months of full-out gardening and marketing at the Lansdowne and Carp markets on weekends, I was more convinced than ever that this was the right decision for me.

The eureka moment came when I sat down to map out a mission statement and five-year business plan. Here was a framework that provided for all of the things I had been missing from my urban experience: contact with people from other places and cultures; an educational component (interns, schools); working with the public (markets); entrepreneurship (growing the business); and a creative outlet (giving something truly my own to the local residents).

Somewhere along the way, I found my community. It includes people of all ages and from all walks of life. Some are old friends and some are new. But we’re all joined by our passion for good food, land stewardship and supporting local endeavours. It is a place of acceptance and belonging, a place of fellowship, a place of shared purpose. My journey is over and I’m finally home.

Contentment

Contentment

The Boys are Back in Town

This is our third year keeping laying hens. Every year we select a different breed to add to our stock, partly because it’s fun to diversify, but also because it helps us to distinguish the new hens from the old. The original idea was that when it came time to cull the flock, we’d be able to easily identify the old girls. So far it’s year three, no-one has been culled, and we might as well get used to the fact that they never will be!

What started out as a purely production flock has become an unruly mob of 70 some feathered dames that rule the barn, the yard, the garden, the greenhouse, the veranda and my husband’s garage when he forgets to close the door. They appear to make decisions by majority vote. Why else would I all of a sudden find a series of  floor nests crafted handily from straw and filled to overflowing with eggs when only a couple of days ago the nesting boxes I provided were doing the job just fine. They also plan mass “anointing” parties, choosing some hapless piece of equipment left carelessly in the open and encasing it in cement-like guano practically overnight.

By and large they’re a peaceful population comprised of several smaller cliques that band together during the day and roost beak by jowl at night. Of course there is the occasional squabble when some young upstart challenges the established pecking order, but normally these are pretty zen hens.

Last summer we disrupted the convent by introducing roosters. It was never our intention, but vegetarian friends who breed and raise novelty birds for their own laying flock found themselves with a few too many roosters for their hen quota. It was understood that as meat-eaters, we would probably dispatch them and add them to the pot, but we decided to observe them for a few days to see which rooster might prove worthy of our harem.

One Wellsummer, three Ameracaunas and a cross-bred mutt rooster called Falcor all got trounced in turn by the indignant  and unwilling brides-to-be. Pandemonium ensued and the whole operation started to resemble some twisted version of “The Bachelor.” The boys preened and strutted, every once in a while gathering enough nerve to sidle up to a likely conquest, only to be driven back into the bushes until they worked up the nerve for another foray.

Integration began to seem unlikely, but a week passed and a clear leader emerged from the huddle of disenfranchised Romeos. Falcor, the smallest, least flamboyant rooster, called up some dominant gene from the depths of his murky lineage and began a dating schedule that would have killed a lesser bird. Eventually the remaining bachelors gained favour with the girls, but were granted only the occasional clandestine rendezvous when Falcor was otherwise engaged.

In the end, we kept them all, deciding that their hilarious antics more than compensated for the extra grain. Although, at 3 a.m. when the one demented Ameracauna  begins another day of incessant crowing, coq au vin recipes start floating through my head.

Intern Julian a rare capture with Falcor

Intern Julia in a rare capture with Falcor

Wanted: Hungry Mouths – 2014 Wellspring Gardens CSA Memberships

2014 CSA Memberships

Wanted...hungry mouths

Wanted…hungry mouths

Incubatorship Opportunity

 

Wellspring Gardens is an organic market garden located in the Upper Ottawa Valley. It is owned and operated by me, Sheila Selby, and my husband Joe Renaud, both of us long-time residents of the area. I’m the gardener and Joe is the invaluable infrastructure guy.

We live, work and play on 150 acres of mixed forest and field, only 3 acres of which is currently under cultivation. We raise pastured meat chickens and turkeys, pastured pork, and eggs in addition to our vegetables.

We are entering our fourth year of operations offering a 30-member CSA program, a booth at the biweekly Deep River Farmers’ Market (DRFM), and possibly a weekly roadside stand or farm-gate sales this year.

Our mission is to provide fresh, locally grown produce using sustainable agricultural practices and promote farmland as a community resource through ecotourism and education. Because our long-term goal is to integrate the present organic vegetable production into the larger framework of a farm B&B and other related agritourism components, we feel the time is ripe to explore an incubatorship. This will not only give a potential farmer/producer a chance to try their wings, but it will also allow us to build expertise on multi-component operations and our future hope for an intentional community.

We are registered with Corocoro Farmstay as a host farm for Japanese international students seeking a language immersion experience in a rural setting. We also support the local high school by offering co-op placements to interested students.

Applicants are asked to submit a detailed project proposal. We will consider either an individual, who would barter three days of labour on the farm for use of the facilities, room and board, or a couple, who would barter a total of four days for use of the facilities, room and board. It is expected that you will keep the revenues from your own project. Of particular interest to us is the construction and operation of an outdoor bread and pizza oven. Raw materials are supplied and we have a local source for organic grains.

You will have access to cultivation equipment (two tractors, flail mower, 5-foot tiller, disks, flat harrow), irrigation, greenhouse, garage with power tools, gardening materials and a client base provided by our CSA membership, the Deep River Farmers’ Market and the Ottawa Valley Food Co-op. We anticipate your participation from May to October, however we are open to alternate arrangements.

Accommodations are a square timber outbuilding, the Milkhouse, which is equipped for sleeping, lounging and light cooking. Laundry, bathroom and shower facilities are in the main house. We also own a family cottage nearby on the Ottawa River where you can spend free time swimming, canoeing or fishing. Driver’s license and vehicle an asset, but not required.

If you would like to discuss the project in more detail before submitting a proposal, or any other aspect of your stay at Wellspring Gardens, please feel free to email, call or arrange a visit.

Email: sheilaselby@rogers.com

Phone: 613-401-0879

A Word from Julia

I grew up in what I used to consider a small town in Southwestern Ontario, yet I now know better after living in a few true small towns.  I spent the last four years in Montreal completing a B.Sc in Environmental Science at McGill University. While I chose this degree by chance, it uncovered and cultivated the environmentalist inside of me whose existence was unbeknownst to me at the time.

After completing my degree and embarking on quite a miserable job search, I stumbled upon the possibility of a farming internship.  I jumped at the opportunity as I have always wanted to learn more about organic agriculture and how to produce my own food, ethically.  Whether this internship will bring me down the farming road or simply prepare me to grow a self-sustaining garden has yet to be determined; my future is still a bit foggy.

I wasn’t sure what to expect before arriving at the farm as every single thing would be (and has been) a new experience for me.  I had to accept the fact that I was clueless about everything, which is a feeling I am not used to.  I quickly learned to swallow my pride and ask every question that comes to mind, no matter how obvious the answer may seem!

Despite the sometimes demoralizing cluelessness that ensues, I really enjoy working on the farm.  I feel so at peace and in tune with nature every day, no matter the task, rain or shine, and despite the constant buzzing and biting of black flies, mosquitoes, and deer flies.  I have yet to be given a task on the farm that I dislike or find mundane!  From the transplanting hundreds of tomato plants, to the endless weeding, to the daily animal care, I find enjoyment and repose in every task.  I think Sheila is more enthusiastic about me taking time off from the farm than I am!  I love to be outside and active every day and getting up close and personal with the earth.  I cannot wait to watch the fields become a diverse display of delicious organic fruits and vegetables, and to be a part of such a fundamental aspect of human life.

A friend and fellow gardener said to me before I left, “growing food is simply the best time spent;” I am starting to agree.

Quiet repose

Quiet repose

Playing Fowl

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Chicken Launcher

One of the tests any new animal on our farm must undergo is their compatibility with chickens. I love letting the hens free range, which means ensuring that visiting dogs and our own Wellspring canine division understand that these are not playthings. Peace reigned on the farm until we adopted Hudson, a lively Lab-Shepherd cross with a penchant for chasing down hens and liberating a few tail feathers. I finally succeeded in convincing him the consequences were not worth the sport and he backed it down to the odd feint when he thought I wasn’t looking. Or so I thought. The other day as I was approaching the barn to top up the hens’ water he raced ahead and systematically launched a row of indignant birds off of a low perch by putting his nose under their rumps and tossing them off with a flick of his head!