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Archive for the ‘Farming’ Category

Lawson (1)For a man who thinks he’s become a little rusty as a presenter, confessing he had given up public speaking some time ago, he certainly still knows how to fill a room and keep us hanging on his every word. Dr. Lawson Drake spoke about changes in farming, and with the room full, including many farmers, he did not raise himself up as an expert by any means. But what Lawson may be best at is observing life. He would have honed that skill as a biologist and inspired students with his passion for understanding living things.

He had a good start in life having been raised in the heavenly spot of Meadow Bank with its grand views of the West and Clyde Rivers and surrounding communities of St. Catherine’s and Clyde River. He could see how things were interdependent and, when managed well, the land could provide sustenance and sustainability for its rural communities. He may have gone on to achieve his doctorate, but I suspect it was to more fully understand the wonder that surrounded him each day. And with his gift of speech, he passes that sense of wonderment to us, despite his modesty.

Lawson began his talk highlighting that although PEI had been exporting products throughout its history, the last century saw farm acreage increase from a typical 100 acres to anywhere up to 1000 acres to accommodate larger production. Along with that, the number of farmers has decreased and, with those remaining, they specialized as dairy, potato, hog, poultry or beef farmers.

Changes in rural community life led to a disappearance of grist mills, blacksmith shops, general merchants, cheese factories, district dairies, local schools, and country doctors. Traditions like working bees where people banded together with their neighbours and those from other communities to complete the harvest and when schools began the year in mid-August so they could close for two weeks at peak harvest for children to go potato picking are now part of history.

Lawson posed these questions, “Did the changes in agriculture cause the changes in community life or was it the other way around? Or were both of these changes part of a larger evolutionary shift?”

He showed slides featuring pen and ink drawings from Meacham’s 1880 Atlas which give us an image of what farm life looked like 135 years ago, not unlike the farm where he grew up. He was a little skeptical that the properties of those days would be so neatly fenced and suggested the drawings portrayed an idealized view.

He offered a handout with a list of words and phrases that were common in his farm boy vocabulary, reflecting early farming days and now considered rare words almost forgotten by some and, for others, not even known. These words passed out of usage with changes in farming.

The first word was “Alsike”, a variety of clover, which he used to describe a typical crop rotation in earlier days. The first year of a rotation, a field would be ploughed and planted with a root vegetable like potatoes, turnips or mangels. In the second year, a grain would be planted like barley, oats, wheat, mixed grain and under sewn with three kinds of clover along with a grass like Timothy. A new meadow referred to the first cut of hay that you took from that planting, rich in clovers…coarse red clover, fibrous alsike and short and sweet white clover. In the next year, the Timothy grass would take over and be cut for one or two years in the rotation. In the following year, the field would be used as pasture or maybe ploughed to begin another rotation.

Fields of four to five acres featuring different crops and five or six-year rotation patterns are in the past. Where there were once several crops grown in succession before returning to the same crop, now, typical crop rotations are two or three years before replanting the initial crop.

He continued by asking the audience to suggest words from the list to discuss:

  • A barrack was a structure consisting of a roof supported by four poles which was used to store and protect hay. Barns were not large in those days, so a supplemental structure was required.
  • A mow “pronounced like cow” was an area in a barn open from the floor to the roof which stored hay.
  • Black leaf 40 was derived from tobacco and 40% nicotine sulphate, basically a powerful tobacco juice. It was used to treat lice on hens. Farmers would sprinkle a few drops in the hens’ nests and the warmth of the their bodies evaporated the juice, the fumes flowing up over them and exterminating the lice.
  • Humpty-dumpty was a container that held 2.5 dozen eggs and featured special separators to protect them from breaking.
  • A firkin is a 9-gallon container or small barrel used to store butter typically in the cellar during the winter months when cows’ milk production fell off.
  • For the full list of rare words, click here.

He finished off his talk with an excerpt from an “old reader”, a book of English literature from his school days that so eloquently describes the technique or art of using a scythe, authored by Hillaire Belloc in The Mowing of a Field, detailing the skill and pride taken in being a farmer. You can read the except, click here.

Lawson brought along an old newspaper clipping that he received from Roy Jewell featuring a Clyde River School Fair held on September 11th, 1928, where pupils from Meadow Bank, Kingston and Clyde River exhibited agriculture products, handcrafts and baking that were judged by a Miss Maszard, Mr. Edward MacPhail and Mr. Walter Shaw. Agricultural exhibits included oats, wheat, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, beets, turnips, mangels, carrots, cabbage, sweet peas, crab apples and plums. Crafts included sewing, crocheting, embroidered linen, milking stool, nail box, hammer handle. Animals included livestock and chickens. Plants included potted geraniums, mixed flowers, tree leaves and weeds. There were also categories for drawings and writings. The list of winners are well-known names that in many cases represent parents or grandparents of those currently living in the area.

Thank you, Lawson, for an entertaining and thoughtful presentation that reminds us of how farming deeply connected our neighbouring communities.

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Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 12.38.39 PMThis is a reminder that the Clyde River Lecture Series begins this coming Saturday at Riverview Community Centre beginning at 1:30 p.m.

Saturday, February 8th, 1:30-3:00 p.m. – Dr. Lawson Drake – Rare Words and Old Readers – Changes in Farming

Lawson Drake was educated at Prince of Wales College, MacDonald College, Cornell University and Dalhousie University. He taught biology and agriculture at Prince of Wales College and is now retired from UPEI where he taught biology. He served as the first Chair of the UPEI Biology Department and was its third Dean of Science. He is a native of Meadow Bank where he lives with his wife Eileen in a house built by his grandfather in 1881 on a farm that has been in the Drake name since 1852.

In his lecture, he will lead an interactive presentation “Rare Words and Old Readers” where he will highlight changes in farming during his lifetime and from earlier times. For example, he might ask you, “If someone gave you a firkin, could you eat it, spend it, put it in the bank, give it to someone else, fill it or plant it? His talk will no doubt stimulate some interesting discussions about farming.

Lectures continue February 15th and 22nd
Saturday, February 15th will feature Judy Shaw presenting on “Renovating the Shaw Family Homestead” and on Saturday, February 22nd with Jack Sorensen, “Capturing the History of a Community for Generations”. For more details, click here. The lectures run from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. followed by refreshments.

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Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 12.38.39 PMIn between Winter weather warnings and following a little touch of Spring in Winter, we can think of what activities we would like to take in. The Clyde River Lecture Series last year was popular and many people were asking if it could be continued. The Friends of Clyde River group extended invitations and we have three speakers confirmed for February. We hope for good travelling. Make sure to mark your calendars and plan to attend. Invite your friends and family from other communities as well. The lectures will take place at the Riverview Community Centre.

This year, we are spreading the lectures out over the year, so here are the three that will launch the 2014 series. I think they will be well worth getting bundled up for and heading out to learn, meet friends and enjoy a hot cup of tea or coffee.

Saturday, February 8th, 1:30-3:00 p.m. – Dr. Lawson Drake – Rare Words and Old Readers – Changes in Farming

Lawson Drake was educated at Prince of Wales College, MacDonald College, Cornell University and Dalhousie University. He taught biology and agriculture at Prince of Wales College and is now retired from UPEI where he taught biology. He served as the first Chair of the UPEI Biology Department and was its third Dean of Science. He is a native of Meadow Bank where he lives with his wife Eileen in a house built by his grandfather in 1881 on a farm that has been in the Drake name since 1852.

In his lecture, he will lead an interactive presentation “Rare Words and Old Readers” where he will highlight changes in farming during his lifetime and from earlier times. For example, he might ask you, “If someone gave you a firkin, could you eat it, spend it, put it in the bank, give it to someone else, fill it or plant it? His talk will no doubt stimulate some interesting discussions about farming.

Saturday, February 15th, 1:30-3:00 p.m. – Judy Shaw – Renovating the Shaw Family Homestead, St. Catherine’s

Judy is the granddaughter of Walter Shaw, former premier of PEI from 1959-66, and is now living in the family homestead in St. Catherine’s where she had spent summer vacations with her grandparents. She is the daughter of Bud and Ethel Shaw who live in Oshawa, Ontario. Judy is retired but is working as a consultant. She is a graduate of University of Guelph and worked for 34 years in regulatory affairs, government relations and public affairs with Syngenta and its legacy companies (Novartis and Ciba-Geigy), that included six years at Syngenta’s Global Head Office in Basel, Switzerland, on the product development team. Judy’s passion for agriculture led to a philanthropic giving back program focused on agricultural leadership in Canada as well as sustainable agriculture and hunger issues; enrolment with Imagine Canada; and a leadership development program for grower association board members to enhance their effectiveness as advocates for agriculture. Judy is currently the President of the Canadian Agriculture Hall of Fame and Director with Genomics Atlantic and, among many other previous roles, she has been President of the Canadian 4-H Council.

Judy will speak about coming back to live in the Shaw family homestead that her grandparents built and managing renovations over this past year. The home is a modified Cape Cod style similar to homes built in the 1860s and particularly to a home that her grandmother lived in while she was nursing in Boston. The home was built in 1923 on a farm settled by the Shaw’s in 1808. Judy will speak about the interesting things she found during the renovation, what is unique about renovating an old family home and gardens of a place with so many memories, what to consider, what to keep and what to change. She will bring along some old photos as well as some before and after shots.

Saturday, February 22nd, 1:30-3:00 p.m. – Jack Sorensen, Tryon & Area Historical Society – Capturing the History of a Community for Generations 

Jack Sorensen is a retired Electronics instructor from Holland College who is now dedicated to developing a vintage radio collection, researching and interpreting local history and being active in church, cemetery and watershed activities. He chairs the Tryon and Area Historical Society, Archives Committee at South Shore United Church and Tryon Peoples’ Cemetery.

Jack will speak about the growth of their Historical Society and how it contributes to community spirit. Their activities include walks, talks, concerts, interviews with area seniors, establishing collections of historical artefacts and materials, developing interpretative trails and carrying out school heritage projects. Jack’s presentation will offer us a wonderful example of what another country community has achieved in capturing and celebrating their area’s history. Of particular interest will be how they actively support intergenerational events and projects where young people and seniors come together. Young people enjoy hearing old stories, and technology can be a great way of making history available in a way that interests them.

Lectures run from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. and are followed by coffee/tea and homemade treats. If you have any questions about the lectures, please contact Vivian at vivian@eastlink.ca.

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I stopped by Don Northcott’s farm today and his orchard was busy with customers picking apples. Don says it may be the best crop of apples he has ever had. With temperatures in the high teens and not a cloud in the sky, it was a perfect day for such a wholesome adventure. He has a number of apple varieties.

An apple picker from Charlottetown said that she found out about Don’s apple farm on our website. She “didn’t want to drive all the way to Cardigan”. Her family had already filled 5-6 bags and they were coming back for more bags to fill. The apples are so beautiful. I picked up a bag and shared it with my Aunt Hilda.

So for all of you Charlottetown folks, here are the directions:

When you arrive in Clyde River (just 15 minutes west of Charlottetown) on the main Trans Canada Highway, turn right on the Lynwood Road. Don usually has a sandwich board sign out by the highway to direct you. Just drive in the Lynwood Road a short way and make a left on the lane way that leads into the orchard by the big red barn. Bags are provided.

The Clyde River Apple Orchard is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.

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This past week, the 13th Annual North American Agroforestry Conference took place in Prince Edward Island and, as part of their program, delegates were offered local tours that included Don Northcott’s farm in Clyde River. One hundred people from places like U.S., Germany, France and provinces across Canada learned about the innovative research and development that Don’s company Phytocultures is carrying out in Clyde River.

Don and his team led the tour through research plots to allow visitors to taste some of the early Haskap berries that will be ready in another week or so. Don sees this as an opportunity to expand his network of contacts as he builds his Haskap operation.

Phytocultures is a horticultural company that has been specializing in Haskap genetics and propagation since the berry’s North American introduction in collaboration with the University of Saskatchewan. Haskaps originated in Japan and the Japanese refer to them as “longevity berries” for their nutritional benefits, offering at least twice the antioxidants as blueberries.

Phytocultures has established a five-variety research plot of Haskap berries. By profiling these new varieties of Haskaps, their goal is to identify critical production and management techniques to aid in crop development, offer production recommendations to producers, determine traits for commercialization and develop a new berry industry. Specific research includes:

  • New variety development for hardiness, yield, taste, harvesting ease and insect and disease resistance
  • Variety profiles for maximum growth performance
  • Selecting a plantation site
  • Pest management
  • Pollination
  • Harvest technology

As Don says, “In apple, strawberry, and grape crops, we know the diseases and we know the particular problems each variety tends to have, the harvest issues, which variety needs fertilizer when, what pests are an issue and how to control weeds. For Haskaps, it is still an open book. There are no sources of information that can be used to answer questions like when to fertilize the plants for best growth and to produce the best berry. We are trying with our production plot to develop initial information to profile the crop and become the go-to source for growing Haskaps.”

“This is a new berry for North America, so it is important that varieties be developed that will meet requirements for commercial production. Our company wants to develop top-performing, volume varieties to wholesale nurseries and berry producers while providing them with the research expertise to support their success.”

Phytocultures’ current production inventory for Haskap plants already exceeds 150,000 plants annually. Big selling features of Haskaps are the plants can easily withstand Spring frosts, be grown further north and produce the first fresh berry of the season in late June. Also, the berries taste good!

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Screen Shot 2013-06-22 at 4.29.37 PMLast week, Prince Edward Island hosted an animal health and nutrition conference, VetHealth Global, that featured leading international companies and presenters talking about the latest trends and innovations in the industry. This event offered an excellent showcase for local bioscience companies focused on animal and fish health and organizations like the National Research Council and Atlantic Veterinary College. The event was covered by Animal Pharm, a leading publication out of London, England, that offers animal health and nutrition business news and analysis.

I worked at the conference managing the business partnering meetings and their attending reporter happened to mention to me that he was looking for photos of animals in a typical rural Island setting. I told him that I had a collection of photos that had been featured in a recent book on Clyde River, so he requested that I send them along. They ended up using eight of the photos. You can click here to view the slide show of Clyde River animals that are now famous on a global scale. They include Dixon’s cows and chickens, Livingston’s cows, MacPhee’s horses and my dog Max. Scenics include Beer’s farm and Lorne MacLean’s potato field. The story is entitled “How an animal health hub is developing on Canada’s “Million-Acre Farm”. The story is closed to subscribers, but if anyone wishes to read the full article, please contact me at vivian@eastlink.ca.

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Open Farm Day Today

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It is Open Farm Day in Prince Edward Island today and Clyde River’s Don Northcott welcomed over 200 visitors to his farm. Don featured varieties of grapes that he is growing on a hill sloping up from the marshes of Clyde River. He offered guests a chance to rate the taste for each grape variety and provide comments on a handout questionnaire.

On another part of the farm was a fruit stand of plums and crab apples. Behind that people were picking their own blueberries. Within the next few weeks, apples in the large orchard will be ready for picking.

This is the 11th year for Open Farm Day in PEI, and the event promotes awareness for Island farms, products and producers. On this warm sunny day, it was great for folks to get out and breathe some fresh country air and take a walk around this beautiful and fruitful farm with its harvest of colour and flavours.

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