On closing down Red Road Farm

Dear Red Road Friends —

For a variety of reasons, we’re having to change our life, and it breaks our hearts.

When we began this adventure ten years ago, we had no grandchildren, our parents were independent, we were in our late 40s, and we had money in the bank. The prospect of developing a small, sustainable, organic farm in rural Nova Scotia looked promising. We moved here to do that. We made friends more quickly and deeply than we ever had before, and discovered community not just as an abstract idea, but as as a living reality.

Today, our surviving parents (all living in Lincoln, Nebraska) have hit the age where assistance is required. We have four grandsons (one singleton and identical triplets, also in Lincoln) who we hardly see. And we’re ten years older, and all too aware of the physical limitations of our aging bodies.

If we were in our 30s, or even 40s, we would probably persevere: we feel like we have found a good balance that approaches financial and ecological sustainability for our small farm. A small CSA, a successful small bakery, local preserves, the right kind of field irrigation, a passive greenhouse, grapes and fruit and nut trees, the soon-to-be year-round New Glasgow Farmers Market for sales….

But it took all our savings to get to this point, and the approach we have taken requires two fairly able-bodied people doing the actual work, to make a reasonable living from year to year.

We know we’ll be less and less able-bodied in the next few years, and then we’ll be well past 60.

The unfortunate reality is that sustainable farming — especially at our age — can’t support frequent air travel to visit the parents and the grandsons. Nor will it (at this late date) support a viable retirement for the two of us.

Farming — putting food in people’s kitchens — ought to be as lucrative as an electrician’s work, or a plumber or a carpenter. Heck, it ought to be near a local bank manager’s salary.

However, it rarely is, especially at the small & sustainable scale. We’ve been working at well below minimum wage for years, as do many small farmers. That’s madness on a societal level, but a reality currently.

Michael’s previous profession was in academic digital publishing, and if we are ever to be able to take advantage of his previous professional reputation, now is the time. Unfortunately, almost all that kind of work is in the US.

This winter, he’ll look for the right position, while we stay for awhile in Lincoln, where our parents are.

Consequently, we are making arrangements for departure, including ensuring that our “Farm Fresh Bag” CSA continues and concludes with everyone happy. (Community Supported Agriculture may well be the best way yet invented to support small local farmers. Please consider finding a CSA for 2016.) Note: no changes are planned for the Farm Fresh Bag program.

Red Road Farm will, however, have to stop baking and harvesting for the New Glasgow Farmers Market, so we can use the time to pack and plan. September 12th will be our last day at the Market.

We hope to find a young family to either lease or purchase our farm, and put it to good use for the community. Red Road Farm is blessed with 45 acres of long-organic fields of generally rich soil, along with 50 acres of both old and mature forests bracketing the fields. It’s got lots of water, and lots of pollinators, beneficial insects, and wildlife. We’re far from any other farms, which is quite valuable in these days of GMO drift and neonicotinoid toxins killing bees. For the right folks, Red Road Farm is nearly perfect.

We are pretty sure that we’ll find the right people to take over this miraculous little bit of biodiversity.

Our decade here has been deeply satisfying, full of friends and music and laughter and shared experience. We have been able to live our ethics, and have gotten wonderful support while we did it. We can hardly believe that we must give up this hard-fought paradise.

We will return to visit, and we hope to return permanently once the professional days are over, but we also know that we can never recover the sweet pleasure of these particular friends at the other end of the telephone, or these specific regulars at our Market table, or these dear neighbors and colleagues and compatriots fighting the good fight for a sane world, at this key time in the battle.

We are deeply sad to have to leave. We are glad, however, to see a stronger Market than when we arrived, a growing sustainability sensibility, a vibrant community undamaged (so far) by hydraulic fracking, and a growing (if still immature) regional sense that food sovereignty is a good idea for Nova Scotia.

There’s so much more, of course, but this is enough for now. We have relished our time in the North Shore, where we found a real home. Thanks to everyone who made us feel not just *at* home, but cherished as a valued part of “home” for so so many people.

Keep on walking the Red Road — the Lakota metaphor for “the true path.” There are hard times ahead, and our communities will help us get through them.

Thanks for letting us be part of your path.

Michael and Susan
Red Road Farm

Share Button

Musings on the Mix

I love walking through the fields and looking at the colours and textures of the food growing in their long rows, and one of the loveliest beds is always the salad mix. Rows of green and red, textured and feathered and luscious looking, ready to cut and blend into the most gorgeous bags of salad ever!

Our harvest pattern is simple… Pam cuts the lettuces and carries the buckets to big tubs full of cold water. When the tubs are full, we drive them over to the wash station, a standing unit of three big sinks. Michael and I haul the big tubs full of water onto the table, and I begin the process of triple washing the beautiful leaves. I am in love with the colours and shapes: red oak leaves, green oak leaves, long romaine leaves, curly green leaves, spicy brassicas like arugula and mustard, speckled leaves, ruffled maroon leaves… gorgeous tender lettuces floating in cold, cold water – so cold that my fingers get numb as I gently move the greens through it, picking out the occasional clover or grass blade.

After each batch is rinsed three times, I gently lift them into the spinner, a washtub sized slotted bowl inside a bigger tub, where I spin them dry and then carefully bag each batch. Lettuce must be handled gently, so you don’t get bruised or torn leaves in your bag of salad mix. It takes Pam about 2 hours to harvest, and it takes me about 2 hours to wash and bag 28 salad mix bags for our small CSA, so every Wednesday we start at 8, and it’s usually done by noon.

Once bagged, the mixes go in the big holding cooler at 2 degrees Celsius, until we are ready with the rest of the harvest. Most things that are delivered to our CSA customers is harvested the day it is delivered, but the salad mix takes the most care, and the most time. Later in the season, crops don’t need to be harvested on the same day – squashes often need a bit of curing, potatoes and other root crops can hold for a day or two with no damage, but we take pride in providing the freshest possible food for the people who have made the commitment to supporting small farms like ours by paying in advance for their produce. It means we can prioritize their crops and feel good about the food they will eat all week.

This week we made a goof and let the lettuce sit overnight in water, where it got too cold. The cellular structure breaks down in water; we had overnight guests and we harvested earlier to avoid the rain expected in the morning… big mistake. Our salad mix this week was not up to our high standards, and we are all sorry that life interfered with good practice. We will always harvest on delivery day in future, because we always want to be proud of what we do.

Share Button


On Fireflies and Species Extremes

Out here on our farm, nestled in the middle of somewhere, on a gravel-sideroad part of Nova Scotia, I was out looking at the night sky, and I realized something.

The fireflies are back, and they’re different.

We are blessed to live where biodiversity is still a thing. We have countless field songbirds, moth species, winged pollinators, various flies, diverse spiders, and on and on. It’s a place of life’s richness and strength. And so I try pay attention to what’s in ascendence, and what is struggling.

Five years ago we had fireflies everywhere at this time of year, pulsing out their mating messages, looking for a hook-up: the females, resting insouciant in the grass or the bushes, flashing come-hithers; the males, flying and flashing out where anyone could see, strutting their sparkle and hoping to strike up a light conversation with an interested babe. It was a lightshow fog of firefly glint, as much as eight to ten feet high.

Then, for about three summers, there were hardly any fireflies. Last year’s weather was crazy — a spring of deluge followed by a summer of drought. The year before that had its own extremes of cold and hot.

I suspect that the firefly larvae struggled, in those weather extremes. I think the populations were down.

This winter had layers that lasted — that is, lots of topsoil had an insulating blanket of ice and snow and ice and snow, which meant that fewer ground-dwelling larvae were freeze-killed.

And they’re back this year for sure. The constellations of glow-stars are ever-changing, and amazing.

This year, the males are flying higher than I’ve ever seen them. Twenty, even thirty-five feet above the ground. Some of them may be even higher. As an evolutionary strategy, it makes sense — the higher the dude’s able to fly, the more babes he can see — but these heights are new.

I asked myself why, and then answered it: it’s possible that I’m seeing sudden-onset evolution at work.

You see, the Little Brown Bats of Nova Scotia have all died, in their hundreds of thousands, over the last few years. A fungal infection called White Nose Syndrome had a fatality rate of 99% for most bats that hibernate in large groups — and that included most of Nova Scotia’s bats. And it’s worth noting that the last 1% are more than likely also dead — bat specialists just don’t want to believe that they’re all gone.

Bats are mostly nocturnal and eat their weight in insects every night or two. Five years ago, We used to see them flying at dusk, swooping and hoovering up the available insects. It’s almost certain that bats prefer insects high up in the air, away from grasses and trees and bushes — just the kind of thing that these firefly dudes are now doing.

One more fact: evolution thinks males are a dime a dozen. Because males of most every species can procreate with more than one female, there’s an evolutionary advantage (at the species level) for male risk-taking. Males, especially mating-age males, are genetically programmed toward risky behavior.

Males of every species are the ones that use risk as a tool to demonstrate reproductive fitness: If I can [drive a motorcycle with my feet/fly higher than every other firefly/find a new microenvironment] and survive, then I’m a winner, and so my genes are promising to the ladies.

For the fireflies, in earlier years, when risk-taking males rose way up high, they’d be the fat & juicy meal for the bats, up in ecolocation heaven.

But the bats are gone. Nobody’s feasting on the high-flying fireflies.

So the high-flying risk-taking firefly males have a smooth, open, straight road to show off their foot-motorcycling skills on. Nothing’s standing in their way, and by flying high (a very risky behavior, previously), the dudes have the best perspective on the babes at the ground-level bar.

I think we’ll see fireflies rising higher, every year for the next many years. Bats only reproduce one at a time, for a handful of years. To regain the numbers that were lost may take a century, if ever.

In the interim, the much-more-rapidly reproducing fireflies will have no evolutionary pressures to not fly as high as they want. Nighttime predators are few.

Already, those flashing bursts they make in the dark sky compete with shooting stars, the celestial dust flaring as it enters Eearth’s atmosphere. I’m not sure which I’m seeing: a burning particle from space, or a firefly?

Is this a good or bad thing for good ol’ Mother Eearth? I don’t know. Bats dying off is clearly bad. Fireflies recovering is good, I think, but I’m ignorant of the whole lifecycle of fireflies (do the larva eat anything I grow to sell?), so it’s hard to say.

Clearly things are out of whack. Ecosystems are changing, and I need to be paying even closer attention to the particulars. It may be easier to see out here where biodiversity is still robust — but urban biodiversity is also being affected.

We are in for a strange time, in the years ahead. It’s trouble for slow-reproducing critters, and for those with specific dependencies (like Monarch butterflies requiring milkweed to lay their eggs).

Climate chaos will lead to micro- and macro-climate disruption. Keystone species (like bats) may die off. Other keystones may be stressed because of it, and the heretofore traditional balances, upended. Nothing much is likely to remain “the way it’s always been.”

The more we can inform each other of these changes, the better. Alas, the corporate-media industries don’t want us to pay close attention, since any change threatens the status quo (which has enriched them tremendously).

Instead, they want us to believe all is well, and that nothing has changed.

The fireflies — whose lightshow is undeniable — beg to differ. Their evolutionary pressures have been dramatically disrupted, and their behavior is changing as a result.

Like the weather extremes we’ve been seeing the last decade, in the seasons ahead we may see species extremes bursting out like fireflies on a dark night.

Human society needs to figure out as much as we can about what’s happening in microclimates worldwide. We need to fund scientists for whom that search is a career. We need more information, because the world is changing radically and rapidly. We need to understand the world we’re deconstructing, so we can slow the environmental disruption we’re creating.

Share Button
Kitchen Projects


On serving breakfasts, week two

Serving Red Road Kitchen breakfasts, this second Market Saturday, wasn’t nearly as harried (or hurried) as it was on the Market’s opening day, May 16, when we served 70+ people.

This Saturday, there were about half the number of visitors to the Market, we served breakfasts to “only” 45 people — which while nearly unsustainable financially, is still quite a satisfying number.

Serving mostly-local food to our community is a refreshingly direct value-add, a way of personally engaging in the Saturday of every person we serve. If we provide them breakfast, we know their day is influenced by something that is local, mostly sustainable, mostly organic, utterly delicious, and generally wholesome. That’s pretty satisfying.

We’ve received enough personal responses to know that what we’re doing is working: “Best homefries I’ve ever had. Really — I know people say that to be nice, but really. The best. I’ve ever had.” Or, watching a couple delight in sharing their WalkAround wrap, eyebrows waggling their pleasure. Or, the young daughter who asked her mom for “Red Road Kitchen at the Market” for breakfast.

That’s also pretty satisfying.

We know we’re making great food, and that a delicious meal can make any Saturday special. We like to think that our breakfasts helped 45 people have an unexpectedly special Saturday.

We put up a sign Saturday, and we’ll be sticking to it, as the season progresses:


We are committed to doing the Red Road Kitchen right — sustainably, thoughtfully, and deliciously.

One pleasant surprise at the Market has been that over two Saturdays nobody — not one — had balked at getting metal flatware, even when they’re asked to carry it back to the tub when they’re done — as opposed to being given plastic “disposable” flatware that could just be “thrown away.” We all understand, it seems, the wrongness of “disposable.”

We’ve not lost one knife-and-fork yet.

It’s clear that “sustainability” is something most people are understanding, these days. We all know we have to start paying closer attention, and changing habits, if we want to have a sustainable society that lasts.

Increasingly, we all are acknowledging that sustainable practices are required, everywhere, always, so that we can get back to a semblance of balance.

At Red Road Kitchen, we like to think we’re helping make sustainability, each Saturday, taste delicious.


Share Button
Kitchen Projects


Introducing “Red Road Kitchen”


When the Board of the New Glasgow Farmers Market Co-op asked for suggestions from its members on how we could ensure that the Market would have dependable, locally-driven breakfasts coming out of the Market’s awkward kitchen in 2015, our ears perked up.

During the 2014 season, the kitchen was too often empty. When filled, it was often just for the day — with prepared meals, and experimental fare. Customers couldn’t predict if there would be breakfasts at all, and couldn’t know if they’d want what was on offer. I lost count of the times I went to Tim Horton’s or McDonald’s, to bring back a breakfast mid-morning.

We discussed it, and finally decided that given Michael’s four-year-long career as a grill cook (1977-1981), as well as Red Road’s eight-year-long career learning how to grow a mixed farm of market-garden produce, there might be some opportunities for synergistic skill-mapping.

That last phrase is dot-com-speak for “we could make this work.”

So we signed up for it. Four Saturdays out of every five, we’ll be serving breakfast out of the kitchen at the New Glasgow Farmers Market. Continue reading

Share Button


Red Road Farm’s Summer “Farm Fresh Bag” Subscription (our CSA)

rrf_farmfreshbagLast year, Red Road Farm’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription (even with 2014’s crazy deluge-then-drought spring and summer) was a rousing success, and we are expanding the Farm Fresh Bag program this year from 15 to 30 members.

The basic idea of a CSA is that subscribers prepay for a set number of weekly deliveries of fresh, wholesome, toxin-free produce (and occasionally preserves, baked goods, and the like). This enables the local farmer to plan more effectively and invest in infrastructure more appropriately, and lets the subscriber enjoy delicious diversity, all summer long.

This year (2015), we will have a limit of thirty subscribers. An overview of the program is available, with a bit more specifics available here regarding targets, payment, etc. We will be delivering the Farm Fresh Bags on Wednesdays from 4:30-5:30, from July 8 through mid-October, in front of the New Glasgow Farmer’s Market.

If you’re interested, take a look at the above overview, and then send us an email (redroadfarm A T gmail D0T com). We’ll contact you to confirm that you’re on the “Yes” list, so you can put your deposit payment down.

We’re looking forward to an exciting (and tasty!) 2015.

Michael at a delivery, in 2014, from an article entitled Farmers Markets NS inviting locals to eat 50 per cent local during September, August 26, 2014. Photo no doubt copyright © 2014, New Glasgow News

Share Button


Winter Deliveries of Bread and More (Winter CSA)

January 13 – March 24 (six deliveries, one every two weeks)

Every other week, Red Road Farm is planning to come into New Glasgow with a delivery, to be made at the Farmers Market Dome. Currently our plan is for Tuesdays, 4:30 – 5:30 pm. We are considering a Pictou stop as well.

We are exploring interest from our customers, regarding our likely two options:

Option A) Like a CSA, we will provide a loaf of great bread, a jar of preserves, a dozen eggs, and a dozen cookies or other sweet delight (or something along those lines) – at least $20 of value per delivery, but no substitutions. It’s like Christmas, every other week. $120 to be paid by or on January 13.

Option B) Prepay for a “debit card” of $100, and then pre-order, a week ahead of time, $10-20 worth of the above, at market prices, until the card is used up. This option is best if you want a specific bread, or only gluten-free, or more cookies than preserves.

We can only take fifteen subscribers to these services, and will need at least six paid members to initiate the deliveries. Let us know if you’re interested!

Email: redroadfarm@gmail.com
Phone: 902-351-2739

Share Button
Growth Musings


First serious snow arrives at Red Road Farm

It’s nothing big — four inches of snow — and while it’s wet and sticky, and froze after deposit, and has made young trees bow down onto Loganville Road, this snowstorm ain’t so much.

We are, however, out of practice.

And not just out of practice — we don’t have our equipment out of storage.

We don’t have the ice chipper, which we use to shatter buildup on our porch stairs.

We haven’t set up the heated water for the chickens.

We haven’t even ensured that each car has a scraper-and-brush.

In fact (and we are so embarrassed about this) we haven’t even undercoated our cars nor put on our winter tires.

There’s so much to do, and less time than we need to do it. Part of that, we’ve come to realize, is because we’re older than we think we are, and we schedule ourselves accordingly.

That is: Surely we can weatherize the greenhouse, and then clear the squash vines from their fieldrows, and then walk the perennial rows and fix the wiring, and then shift the sunroom into a coolroom, and then bring in a couple days’ wood.

And why not? That’s not so unreasonable.

At least, not unreasonable for the age we think we are — our mid-30s. That’s the age we expect to see in the mirror…

But wait — that’s not the age we really are. Not even close.

We’re past mid-50s. We’re at the stage of discovering physical limits we didn’t understand even existed, when we were in our mid-30s.

And so it goes — we make plans imagining ourselves lithe, limber, and capable. Instead, we confront the reality of aches, constraints, and limits.

It seems to me that one of the secrets is to recognize these absurdities, and laugh about them, and learn from them.

If I’m lucky enough to turn eighty, I expect not to think that I’m thirty anymore.

Instead, I suspect that I’ll think I’m now only about 60….

And perhaps, by the time I’m a hundred, I’ll have figured out how to plan ahead for winter, by starting preparation in August, or perhaps early September.

Or, in all likelihood, I’ll plan as if I’m only eighty, and so can stretch it to late September.

Share Button


Winding up, winding down, winding differently

It is now November 11th. We’ve had one semi-hard freeze, and one light freeze: the squash are finished, the field tomatoes kaput, the peppers wilting to death. Our light and lively lemon cucumbers finally gave up the ghost at the semi-hard freeze, and we were sad to see them go.

We still have our greenhouse, and we’re plasticking over the doorways, resealing the overhead plastic, and trying to make it as still a space as possible, since air movement produces temperature averages, instead of temperature layers that are driven mostly by soil temp.

It’s been an incredibly busy and complicated season, overall. We can’t honestly say it’s been a great summer, but we can honestly say we’ve survived it, and are stronger and clearer because of it.

We’re now looking toward the end of the Market season (Nov 29th is the last market Saturday for 2014), with only the short burst of community-hall Christmas craft markets to come — we’ll be in River John, and Scotsburn, and a few others, as the season winds down.

For those kinds of markets, we’ve got some cool preserve “Gift Packs” (four different small jars of preserves, in a sweet little wooden crate, wrapped in cello with bows [photos to come]). These seem like a wonderful present for someone, at $15, and we’re thinking of it as our “2014 Christmas Product.”

And we’re also working out how to make a “Breads and more” subscription work effectively, for January through March — where we deliver some bread, some sweets, and some preserves every two weeks to New Glasgow subscribers to the service. We hope it’s a big win all around — our customers are happy, and we can eke out a sustainable living.

That last part is key: how to eke out a sustainable living by providing high-quality products at reasonable prices.

We keep on working at that!

Share Button


Red Road Farm featured in article about 50% Local September

The New Glasgow News interviewed Michael for an article on the recent “buy local food” push by Farmers Markets Nova Scotia. The reporter (John Brannen) called 25 minutes before I was to leave the house, in order to deliver our CSA bags to New Glasgow (thankfully, the Matrix was already full with the fully-packed bags, so I could be relaxed).

We had a nice chat, and I gave him some sound bites about why buying local was a good thing, and why Nova Scotia’s economy would benefit from it, and why the climate might benefit, and why the customers might benefit (local is picked more recently = more yummy), and how it might make a difference for some farmers.

John asked if there was a good time for him to come out and get a picture of me. I told him that I was leaving for New Glasgow in ten minutes, and would be at our pickup spot at noon. Now *there* was some carbon savings — his entire trip! He was delighted, and so we got a picture of our gravel-road dusty car and the CSA bags, with little time or effort on anyone’s part.

For almost a day, it was the top story on the News’ home page, and the picture below was front-and-center. No doubt tens, even hundreds of people saw it…! Who knows, it could be lots more than that.

Too bad you can’t read the logo on the bags in the picture, but otherwise, it was very nice to get some local-media attention! John Brannen did a great job of not misrepresenting anything I said, and even helped clarify a thing or two. I’m told that the picture appeared in the actual paper newspaper — I’m sorry to say I’m not a subscriber :-/ so I don’t know how differently it was edited.

Photo no doubt copyright © 2014, New Glasgow News
Farmers Markets NS inviting locals to eat 50 per cent local during September, August 26, 2014.

Share Button

The gigantophant in the room

Weather has made it, so far, a very strange year.

In February, we had a false spring, with balmy weather for more than a long week — a week long enough to bring out buds on our young fruit trees, seducing them sufficiently to make their sap begin to run. This was followed by a really, really cold few weeks, among the worst of the whole winter. It froze the sap within the trunks, killing 95% of many tree species.

This climate see-saw killed off most of our cherry trees, as well as most of our young peach trees. Thankfully, our nut trees, and our pear trees, survived fine — along with almost all the bushes and berries we planted into the black plastic. The raspberries are looking promising, and the high bush blueberries are pretty happy.

The spring through April, May, and June was extended, and stayed cold, until it was suddenly summer, and became super-hot. It played havoc with our plans. When we took the row-cover orr of our first broccoli, for example, we found it had grown long and lean, and then in the hot, turned instantly to head. The extended heat convinced the plants that it was July. For us, the broccoli head was the size of a dime, on top of a trunk that was a foot tall.


Today, I heard that the strawberries that last year had remained “pick-your-own”-ready for nearly a month, had “gone by,” two weeks after the season opened. Probably not many pickable strawberries, from here on out.

While we have not been “in drought” here in our region, it’s been very dry. The rain, when it comes, mostly isn’t drenching — it’s almost moisturizing rain. The top half inch dews up, but the lower levels of the soil remain in a sort of stasis, waiting to absorb. And the roots of our greens, and our beets, and even our potatoes, have to work harder to find their goal.

Fluctuations in local weather are always unique. That’s what makes a microclimate. But the experiences we’ve been having are not limited to Pictou County, or to the North Shore. It seem regional, perhaps to a large swath of the Maritimes.

Is this climate chaos in action? Are we destined to have a fundamentally unpredictable microclimate, at Red Road Farm?

Microclimates may always be unpredictable — but my sense, from talking to neighbors in the area who have been here for decades if not generations, is that this year’s weather is especially unusual.

Is this the Polar Vortex — driven by a warming Arctic — changing the overarching atmospheric gradients? Is this the warming Arctic driving some El Nino variation? Is this a newly-named thing (how many years ago had you heard the word “derecho”? One?)?

It’s hard to know whether to publicly blame the elephant-on-steroids that nobody names (climate chaos, the “gigantophant” of this post’s title) for the extreme variability week to week, and hour to hour. We could be disproven, I suppose, if things went back to “normal,” though that seems unlikely.

But it does seem likely that we, at Red Road Farm, have no choice but to come to some conclusions about the question, in order to plan effectively for the next couple of years.

Susan and Anika and I would all, I think, agree that we each anticipate, over the next few decades, a profoundly disrupted weather system. I don’t think that any of us imagined it would happen super-fast, however. A rapid-change context would demand radical rethinking of our near-term plans.

That is, if we’re on the cusp of rapid, extreme, and unpredictable disruptions,  year in and year out from now forward, along with similar disruptions in other microclimates, then what does that mean for us at Red Road Farm?

  • more covered spaces/greenhouses, with consequent costs (CC)
  • more water catchment and delayed irrigation, with CC
  • more diversity of planting regimes, so that “what can prosper, is planted”
  • more hyper-tailored artificial microclimates (black plastic, row cover, white plastic, micro-irrigation…), with CC
  • even more diversity of crops during the growing season
  • more-local outreach to ensure our local necessariness as local food provider
  • more experimentation with winter crops in the greenhouse, under plastic in the field, etc., with CC

It’s easier, of course, to blame the weather extremes on natural variation, and to believe that the greenhouse gases we humans have produced over the last century somehow isn’t the cause of the extremes.

That “natural variation” line, of course, is utter horseshit. If you believe that, you’ve swallowed the whole denier line, and probably won’t listen beyond that. If so, I’m sorry that I’ve alienated you.

But let me be clear, at least as far as what we believe here.

There Is No Doubt for us. The “just right” climate within which Western civilization developed (from 1600-2000), has been radically disrupted. The disruption is mostly humans’ fault, from its carbon and methane emissions during the Industrial Revolution.

Here at Red Road Farm, we sadly acknowledge the faster-than-expected climate disruption, and  hope to engage with the implications as they become clearer, year on year.

This is not debatable, nor deniable. It’s just reality, as we’re experiencing it. We wish it wasn’t the case, but there’s no denying what we’re seeing, and hearing from the local farmers who have spent their entire lives in this region.

Things are changing, and not for the better.


Share Button


Joyous Rain

Rarely have I had as enjoyable an afternoon at work as I had today.

If you live along the North Shore of Nova Scotia, you know it rained today… a steady, cold, soaking rain that the fields loved.  I put on my rain gear (slick new stuff I bought in Bangor; like all Canadians, I know where to shop!) and headed out for some good old field maintenance work — otherwise known as weeding.

I have a lovely tool called a loop hoe, that cuts small weeds and can sneak under a vegetable plant to reach the nasty little buggers that hide there… after I use the wheel hoe in between the rows of plants, I take the loop hoe to get the weeds in the rows themselves.  Today, walking slowly down the rows, revealing Swiss Chard or lifting peas up to their netting, hearing the rain on my hat and the mud squinching under my feet, I was suddenly enormously happy.

I should say that this is not my normal outlook — I’m pretty low about climate issues, politics, and my size; I miss my kids and grandkids fiercely; I wish we had more money and more time — but golly, gosh, gee willikers, the world is a beautiful place!  Even in the rain, or maybe especially in the rain.

Twenty or more years ago, I took a train out to San Francisco to visit a friend of mine who had recently been diagnosed HIV positive.  He took me to the beach on a blustery, rainy day, and we walked and talked up and down the long stretch of sand, getting completely soaked.  I intended to complain, to suggest we go get coffee, to say, “hey, I’m cold!” but I never did.  At some point, the rain and the cold and the wetness became reasonable.  Maybe my friend was embracing every experience as he faced the reality of his illness.  I know that I relish that memory, that sensorial inundation, as one of our best shared times together.

I have another rain-relishing memory:  when I was doing field research in Kenya for my Master’s degree, I was living with a group of international folks in a village in western Kenya near Kisumu.  Every afternoon it rained — like, a deluge.  One day after a long hot work day, we were chatting around the oil lamp, and a couple of the girls decided they would “take a shower” in the rain.  It didn’t take long for all of us to run outside and jump around, yelling and lifting our faces to the sky as the water poured over us all.

Rain has a smell, a texture, a temperature, as well as its wetness.  Every sense is awakened when you allow yourself to be outside in the rain until you are truly wet.  None of this running from car to door; get wet!  When I brushed a bug off my cheek today, my wet leather glove would leave a smear of mud…when I finally came inside, I looked a bit like a kindergartener after a mud puddle swim.  My hands were yellow from the wet leather, my glasses were spattered with droplets, and my view over the long open field was framed with drips from the edge of the hat.

So often we hold on to our sense of propriety rather than relish the unexpected experience.  I had thought to myself, “sure wish I didn’t have to weed those beds today”, but instead, I got to tantalize every sense and immerse myself, literally, in the joy of water.  I can’t always explain to others why I love farming, but this day, weeding in the rain, sure made it clear to me.

And, I got a hot shower and warm pasta when I came inside — how great is that?

Share Button


Laughter is a fine medicine

Let's hope we keep on laughing!

Let’s be sure to  keep on laughing!

Share Button
Growth Projects


What a weird spring

We’ve had drought and deluge, unseasonable cold and unseasonable heat, and strange skies. And that was just in the last six weeks!

Part of the challenge of farming, these days, is designing for resiliency. We can no longer depend on predictable weather patterns (if we ever could) — the small mixed farm, even in Nova Scotia,  can’t just rely on a natural bounty of rain and sun. The small mixed farm (like ours) needs to engineer flexibility into its systems.

We’ve taken the approach of micro-irrigation (to protect against drought), soil amendments (to encourage strong root structures and robust plants), some greenhouse space (for growing ahead), foliar spraying (to deliver nutrients to the foliage as well as the soil), a diversity of produce (diversity being its own protection), and more.

Micro-irrigation is what I’ll talk about tonight.

This year, we learned about “drip tape.”

Not our picture, but representative of our tape.

Drip tape is super-cool, from a small-farmer perspective. It’s relatively cheap (a few hundred dollars for a mile of the flat 6mm hose), and while it requires attention to infrastructure (ensuring a supply of constant-pressure water, for example), and a lot of specialized valves and plugs and the like,

Not our picture, but representative of our valves.

it means we can, with careful attention, keep our beds selectively moist.

Most seedling plants don’t like extremes of wet and dry, as they grow. They prefer a predictable, relatively consistent amount of moisture in the soil. They mostly don’t care where the moisture comes from (rain, or spray irrigation, or drip tape). This means that drip tape can be really valuable.

Drip tape has a tiny slit, engineered every six  (or eight) inches, which weeps a tiny amount of water. It’s a carefully engineered “soaker hose,” without the fragility or the uncontrolled soaking-ness of those foam hoses.

This works well with the water of our farm. We have a gravity-fed water system pulled from a spring/well, which allows us to water our beds via micro-irrigation. It is not infinite — that is, we can easily accidentally drain that spring/well, if we’re not paying attention.

We’re also capturing rainwater from the big barn’s roof, so we have a small reserve held in a handful of water cubes, just in case a short-term drought kicks in, and we need to keep things alive for a week or two.

These 3 x 4 x 4 liquid-boxes (generally used to transport chemicals, concentrated fertilizer, and the like) hold 300 gallons of water — enough to drive a fair amount of drip tape tears, aimed directly at our plants.

Drip tape, and the tiny reservoirs, is an experiment (as most farming tends to become), but they’re a thoughtful experiment. It allows us to take advantage of deluge (and harvest the excess), in order to stave off the worst awfulness of drought. The system wouldn’t protect us in the case of a serious drought — say, four+ weeks without rain — but it might help us avoid the worst pain of a two- or three-week drought.

Perhaps next year, we’ll build an irrigation pond, to capture winter runoff, which would hold much more than 300 gallons, and would allow us a more significant resiliency. But regardless, I’m expecting drip tape to be part of the next few seasons and forward.

It aims a bit of moisture directly, without great cost, and without great nuisance, to the place it’s needed — the soil near the roots of the plants that grow into crops.

Part of me resists such a hyper-engineered plastic tool (“shouldn’t we be carrying water in oaken buckets?”),  but another part is delighted that modern technology can be so smart as to provide water so slowly and precisely.

We’ll keep on developing micro-irrigation strategies, as we learn from this season’s weird weather. We’ll also explore new approaches to resilience, as they become apparent.

Share Button