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Newsletter #2011-2. March 2011


Hello everyone –

As I believe we’ve relayed by now, we are in the throes of moving to a new location, on the eastern periphery of the loosely defined settlement of Bergen.  The move itself has been protracted by the freakish spring.  Certainly we have never seen an April 3 that looked like this one for volume of snow – ever!

The reasons for the move are various. We have adequate space here to be far more farm-sufficient than on the other place.  Grow our own feed and all, which gives us a highly level of control over quality at a fraction of the cost.  The land will undoubtedly be inferior in its initial state to the rich prairie soil we are leaving, and the growing season shorter, but these are problems we know how to address in a healthy and lasting fashion.   In the meantime, there are attributes of the area that are vastly superior.  There will be more moisture.  More importantly, there is community here.  We wish of course to be a vital part of both our local and extended communities.   For this to work, there must actually be a community to be part of.  Unfortunately, prairie Alberta has become not just an agricultural, but also a social wasteland at this point in its history of attrition.  (And its history has been overwhelmingly one of attrition, which will be complete as energy reserves tighten.  Without all the cheap oil of the past century, I am sure our plains would be more a wilderness akin to Mongolia.)  I suppose agricultural wastelands are bound to also be social wastelands – the two things going hand-in-hand has certainly been the norm for most rural areas.  The plains, being an area only marginally suited to human settlement, are simply at the worst end of the spectrum.  They are now dominated by corporate farmers and Hutterites, two immensely destructive groups due to their preferred modus operandi whom, no matter how large they are, dream of being yet larger. 

Here in this particular section of the foothills of Alberta, things have remained on a more human scale.  In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that the feeling here, a mere hour and some due west of the former location and equidistant from Calgary, is one of living in an entirely different country peopled by an entirely different, and on the whole much healthier, race of beings.  We have met a number of neighbors (there are many more of them here,) and the level of initial interest and acceptance for what we do has been universal.  So far so good!

Don and Jon arrive in Bergen.


Whatever the challenges the new location brings, we have the overwhelming sense that we can make a better go of it here, and ultimately provide a broader range of the healthiest food the area can naturally produce.

As for the season at hand, things (as none of us can avoid noticing!) seem to be off to a slow start following one of the nastiest winters in memory.  Last year we were in the fields with the horses preparing ground by now, this year the ground yet lies under a thick blanket of snow, which at this point is bound to go fast and create some issues not just for us, but for pretty much everyone, we’d hazard to guess.  Whether or not the commencement of the CSA season will be delayed remains to be seen, however.  Last year we all thought we were way ahead of the game, yet ended up at least a month behind.  So hopefully this year the reverse will be true!

We’d like to thank everyone up front for joining this year, whether veteran or new members.  In keeping with the spirit of the CSA model, we like to think we are offering more than just a healthier way to augment your diet in season.  We hope our efforts (and by “our” efforts we mean the joint partnership between us here on the farm and you who are supporting us,) represent the fledgling days of a more hopeful way of life for ourselves and future generations.  By growing poison-free food appropriate to place, being involved in local community, and keeping centuries-proven and truly sustainable traditions such as draft-horse powered farming alive, we hope that even if we get warshed out by a tsunami this year, you will still go away feeling that your money has been well placed, and that the returns on your investment will go beyond our particular farm and the given season at hand.  This is our hope and it is what we are striving to provide through our efforts.  It is, of course, a challenging work in progress for all of us, regardless of whether we work the land directly or from downtown Calgary.  


Well, it’s all aboard and full-steam ahead from here!


-Jon and Andrea

Humans spent thousands of years living in small groups, hunting and gathering. The group was small enough so that each person knew every other person. Democracy could work because both the “voters” and the “politicians” were visible. It has only been in a tiny fraction of the life span of humanity that political units have been created that are far too large for people to know one another except as abstractions. Small groups have their problems, but in terms of providing happiness for the average person, the band or village is more efficient than the empire.

-Peter Goodchild

Newsletter 2011-1. January 2011


Hello everyone!

Hope you’re all wintering well.  Seems like a hard one, so far.  Lots of below normal temperatures and not much sun, eh?

Things are good here.  The chickens are coming back on laying after the usual solstice low, and there hasn’t been a lot of mortality so far (there’s always winter mortality in chickens.)

We lost our young yak bull Enos, but we were expecting this: he was born deficient, in the lungs we believe. He is feeding the magpies, and hopefully the ravens and coyotes will get some of him, too. 

The dairy cows are doing well – Mary is milking still, and Prickle is due to give birth next month.  Andrea has been making cheese: cottage, cheddar, mozzarella type, other types, cream.  We’ve all had our hand at making butter and I make lots of yogurt.  It’s all turning out very well, delicious.

The horses are very tough, of course, and take the winter well – they look glorious in their fuzzy winter coats coming through the snow. 

The big news is we’re moving the farm!  We’re headed for a place equidistant to this one from Calgary, but to the west, outside Bergen.  Here we will have better facilities, amenities, and more space to do what we do.  We’re headed out there end of February so we can get into gear for the summer 2011 CSA season.  We’re excited about this move and the changes it represents and looking forward to continuing to provide for folks in Calgary.

We had a great year last year and would like to thank you all again.

Hope to see you this year!

– Jon and Andrea

Newsletter 2010-5 October 2010

I went back to see the a man about a cow – same man, same cow.  The man, John, an elderly Hutterite, no longer on the colony.  (I had originally been told by another that he was a Mennonite, but this is apparently incorrect.)  The cow – Prickle – was back with him, visiting a boyfriend.  But first, I phoned.

“Is John in?”

“No.  Who is it?” (his wife.)

“It’s Jon, I bought a cow from you, and it’s back there getting bred to the Jersey bull.”

“I’m doing my exercises… heh-heh-heh,” she said.


“Okay.  Tell John I can get the cow early next week, if she’s done with the bull.”

“We don’t have a bull,” she said.

“You have a borrowed one there, a Jersey,” I said.

“Oh.  Who is this?”

“This is Jon.”

“Okay, I’ll tell him you called.”

“That’s great – tell him I can get the cow next week.”

“Who do you think you’re talking to?” she asked.

“John’s wife, John up on the Highway 575.”

“Okay, that’s right…  I’m doing my exercises… heh heh heh….”


Well, now Prickle is back, hopefully pregnant.  She now has a friend, Mary Poppins, a Jersey as light coloured as Prickle is dark for the breed, and also much lighter in demeanor.  (Turns out John had this second cow for sale.)  Mary Poppins, and I’m not sure which one of our friends named her, is in milk, and can be milked without fuss pretty much anywhere she is standing, which is the opposite of Prickle, who requires an elaborate setup of ropes and pulleys to get anywhere near a teat.  We have made yogurt, butter, and of course just drank her milk.  It is yummy, and the beaurocrats from Alberta Agriculture would be amazed – we are still alive!!!


Fall is a time for migrating birds.  The big, handsome Rough-legged hawks are here from the arctic now, a sure sign that the seasons are turning.  There are other northern hawks about, too.  The other day I was walking down the paddock and there was a goshawk down and just beginning to eat one of our chickens.  This goshawk was what the falconers call a “passage bird,” a young one from this spring, now full grown of course, on its first fall migration.  Goshawks are a forest hawk, but they come around on the plains in fall and winter.  Fortunately, they mostly do pass.  The odd predated chicken is the price you pay for free range eggs.

the Passage goshawk on chicken


Speaking of chickens, we have a number of young up-and-coming Ameraucanas (blue egg layers) to augment the flock, and new hen-houses are being built.  We endeavor to keep expanding the flock, and the Ameraucanas – a heritage breed – are our favorites – hardy, multi-hued, and dependable.

The CSA season ended with some heavier frosts.  The gardens were dwindling, of course, as once the photoperiod enters its October phase, there isn’t so much growth going on anyway.  The time seems fleeting, looking back.  We had a wonderful season and really enjoyed our members.

So now we’ve just finished the fall plowing with the Clydesdales, doing up some new garden plots as well as attending to the old ones.  It is a challenge in our heavy soils, and even more so when breaking new ground.  The sod on the plains is second to none in toughness, and what might take two or three horses in the east on a two-horse plow takes four to six here.  We do it with a one-horse plow with three horses pulling it.  Spreading manure with two horses on our old red spreader, then plowing with three.  And then in the spring, the compost will go on.  I really love these days working the horses.  There is bound to be some big frustrations here and there, but the rewards outweigh this by far, and the big girls, while relatively young and pretty spirited, behave well, and catch on to their various jobs quickly.  I trust them, and I think they mostly trust me at this point.

Doncaster and Petunia did a good job starting these new garden plots – a scheme we embarked on to help make lighter work of the heavy sod.  They have become large swine, and now are joined by Celesta and Janey, two younger female pigs, or “gilts” as the females are called at this stage.  They will produce litters for us in the future for farm-raised pork.

We have two young German helpers here right now, young fellas.  They may be staying a month or more.  Sven is taller, and more reserved, Manuel is always singing little songs. 

“My life is a musical!” Manuel exclaims.

            “I hate his musical,” Sven confides.

At other times, Manuel pinches his eyes tight, makes little snuffling noises and paddles his hands at the sides of his face, and you wonder what is this? and he says,

“Look at me – I’m a mole!” 

Sven rolls his eyes.  Never a dull moment.

They are both great guys, and we are happy to have them here.  We are very impressed with Germans, overall.  It doesn’t surprise me that they make good stuff, back in their homeland, or when they come here for that matter.  Other than the fact that they make a lot of good stuff, they of all the Europeans remind me of Canadians.  Perhaps that’s why we get along with most of them so seamlessly.  I’m not sure why they remind me of Canadians.  Maybe another person would think they were like some other nationality.  There are other nationalities to choose from, I suppose, when you’re comparing Germans.  At any rate, I have to admit, I suppose, that I have no idea what other people think Germans are comparable to, but to us, they are impressive folks. 

We always feel a bit sad when the season ends, this year being no exception.  We also feel very fortunate indeed to have had such a great CSA membership this year, folks who not only seem to share a sense of what’s important with us, but who are willing to make a commitment through a full season, come what may, to support us in this venture. 

We hope you found the experience to your liking, and it would be great to see you back next year.

Have a great fall and winter!

-Jon and Andrea


When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. 
— Wendell Berry

Newsletter 2010 – 4 August 2010


Whilst watering the garden the other day, a peaceful and protracted process that leaves lots of room for contemplation, I looked down at a kale bed and suddenly felt I was in a light plane over the African Veldt.  The kale were like little acacia trees over the tawny scrub.

Friedrich from that part of Germany bordering Poland, came back to help us again for a couple of weeks, joining Maarten, a great helper from Dutch Belgium who really enjoyed learning to be around big horses.  Friedrich started a year long Canada and Alaska odyssey here on our little patch last October, and he chose to end it here this August.  He is a fine specimen of a young man, in body and soul.  In reflecting on his trip, he related as to how he felt the best he may have ever felt when he found himself amongst the abundance of wild animals in the far north.  I found this reflection especially interesting, as I have experienced versions of this myself.  More, I have long held the suspicion that this is a deep seated survival instinct from our beginnings, a state of being from which anthropologists say we have not yet had time to really deviate in any significant way involving our deepest programming.  And so it yet remains that in some ancestral way, you know without thinking that you are in “good country” (as Hemingway would put it) when surrounded by clean water, healthy soil, and an abundance of game.  I hope Friedrich can find this for himself again.  (Hell, I hope we can all find this again!) We will miss him, and Maarten both. 

We have had our eye on a certain Clydesdale stallion – Jason – as a potential father to future horses here.  We are very impressed with this stallion.  Not only is he very well put together, he is the first roan stallion we’ve seen.  Clydesdale breeders rarely keep roan stallions (although roan mares are common.)  The trend, as with most everything in our culture these days it seems, has been toward uniformity – black or brown horses with four white feet.  But the Clyde is a colourful horse, and this is the true expression of the breed.  In fact, most of the best Clydesdales are roans.  Jason’s current owner, a longtime “Clyde man” who inherited a working love for this breed from his father, believes that the genes that express all the best Clydesdale traits are actually linked to the roan patterns.  Hence, it is not easy to find a really good bay coloured Clydesdale (think Budweiser), and even more difficult to find a really good black one.  There are lots of both colours in Alberta, and many of them are decidedly not great Clydesdales.  But for many here, if the colour is right, the horse is right.  

Well, it turns out we’re not the only ones with eyes for Jason.  He has been sold to a new owner in South Africa, and scheduled to depart towards the end of September.  This got us motivated to hustle two of our mares out there for breeding this month.  Not the best time of year to breed, but probably our last chance at this stallion. 

I loaded Emma, our blue roan working broodmare, and Gwyneth, our beautiful bay, into the trailer and set out.  Did the trip to eastern Saskatchewan where Jason currently lives in two days.  One forgets how huge a country this is…

I was listening to CBC Calgary on the way there.  A show came on detailing the latest efforts to save the Brazilian rainforest – this time apparently not just from the usual slash-and-burn culprits, but now also from housing subdivisions(!)  They went on detailing the damage going on in the other guy’s backyard, as we are wont to do (a time-honoured tact for  distracting the proles from the hijinx in their own backyards.)  Well, in this case, at least in the cab of my truck, our own backyard could not be ignored.  Because ironically, I was taking this in just as I happened to be driving through what must be one of the most utterly ruined landscapes on the planet.  I’m talking about the environs of Zealandia, Saskatchewan.  It’s not that the place is flat.  There are flat plains elsewhere in Canada that are awe-inspiring in their austerity.  It was the utter domination by industrial agriculture that has triumphed here, the fact that from Highway 15, there wasn’t the remotest vestige of what this place once was to be seen anywhere, despite the fact that this landscape is nonetheless what most people would still term “countryside.”  “Anywhere” is a huge space out Zealandia way, not to find something natural in it.  It was grainfields with occasional farmyards of the sort of sterility I’ve only seen achieved in the grain belt, horizon to vast horizon, ditchline to ditchline.  Not a native tree, not a shrub, not a creek, not a sprig of native grass – nothing natural, in any direction.  I found it absolutely hellish, without detailing the oceans of chemicals this vista had been forced to absorb.  If we left the place tomorrow, I wondered – vanished from its strange face as completely as we have subjugated it – how far would a native grass seed have to blow to take root there?  Would it ever be what it had once been?  Then I remembered hearing that a square metre of native prairie sod, taking into account all levels of life, has as much or more biodiversity than a square kilometre of rainforest.  If so, and even if it’s an exaggeration, then so what, I thought, if there’s devastation still happening in the forests of Brazil?   It can’t possibly be any worse than Zealandia, Saskatchewan, and my bet is that it’s still a lot better down there.  At least there is something left to try and save.  Then I thought two more things:

i)                          Do the farmers here ever look out their windows and think, “My God, how totally appalling!” and if not, (taking into account Friedrich’s reflections,) why not, and…

ii)                        if we can do this with impunity, why shouldn’t the Brazilians?  Someone should ask that of the CBC.  After-all, maybe the CBC has never been to the environs of Zealandia, Saskatchewan.  Not with open eyes, anyway.

Ah well, it’s all good, as they say.  A lot.  Where’s my sandwich?

The mares were dropped off in the paddock with Jason, whom they proceeded to kick the hell out of.  “Being a stud is not all it’s cracked up to be,” quipped his owner.  “They always do this first, and then it’s okay.”

Back here on Small Farm earth, one of the great things about having domestic ducks is that the wild ones that are on the ponds are tamer.  They seem to take some cue from the farm fowl, and get used to us doing our rounds.  We currently have a flock of young Gadwalls – a subtly marked, yet very handsome duck – that zoom off the pond right over our heads to do a circuit of the property and zoom back in for a landing again, dipping and weaving with great competence.  And young teal, blue-wings that do the same – fast and cunning little ducks the size of pigeons.  The bad thing about having domestic ducks is trying to find their eggs.  They don’t care that we want them, or maybe they do, and that’s why we can rarely seem to find them before the varmints get to them.

Maybe next year we’ll outwit ducks.  Good to set lofty goals.

We’ve had some frosts already.  Seems early, even for here.  Nipped the tops of the squashes and the potatoes, and certainly slowed down growth.  But we’re still hopeful that more summer is in store!  Thanks for sharing this one with us…

Newsletter 2010-2 June 2010

I am writing this newsletter ahead of time as I am sure you are wondering what is going on.  Take heart.  I am always wondering what is going on.  Just when I think I have a pretty good idea, something else seems to be taking place.

Now that we finally have some heat, it is likely deliveries will start in couple of weeks.  I expect things will really get growing now.  The sodden areas of the fields are becoming accessible again.  The season seems at least three weeks behind.  As for natural indicators, I was checking out some places where the bullsnakes, for instance, come to lay their eggs.  Places I’ve been aware of for a dozen years or more.  Every year around June 8 or so, the two-metre long shed skins of the females, many of them, appear on a certain bluff near certain holes preparatory to the deposition of eggs in self-dug burrows.  On Sunday (the 20th) I checked this site out.  For the first time in a dozen years of monitoring, there were no shed-skins to be seen, and only one snake found on the bluff, and this was already nearly two weeks late.

I went to see a man about a cow.  An old Mennonite fellow.  Actually, I went to see him about a side-delivery rake, and mentioned I was looking for a cow.  Ideally a Jersey.  He said,

“I have a cow for sale.”

“What kind.”

“A Brown Swiss.  Not a Jersey.”

We went to look at the cow.  She was out back.  On the way to her paddock our path was crossed by a lactating bloodhound.  A good sign.  The old man appeared not to notice the bloodhound, but I still took it as a good sign.  Maybe it wasn’t even his bloodhound.

There was the cow, standing there in front of us now.  It was a Jersey, small as cows go, with dark face and legs.  Very beautiful, very  Jersey.  An unequivocal Jersey.  The a-priori Jersey, in fact. 

“It’s not a Jersey” the old man said.  “Brown Swiss.”

            “What’s her name,” I asked.


The cow had a ring through her nose, which I did not take as a good sign.  I had never seen a cow with a nose ring.  Only bulls.  She was not handled much, the old man said.  Skittish.  But still giving milk almost a year since giving birth and only five years old and only two calves so far, one of which was still in her.  All good signs.  I managed to get a look at her milk veins and feel her bag.  Big veins.  A good sign.  Soft bag –good.

We bought the cow for nine hundred dollars and renamed her “Brown Swiss.”  (Just kidding.)  Most Jerseys go for twelve to fifteen hundred.  She has settled in and we’ve milked her and she’s tried to kick me over the moon – the saved dollars.  Now her hind leg is tied back when milking and she no longer tries to kick.

We have made our first batch of yogurt from “Prickle’s” milk.  It is very good – rich with blobs of butterfat in it.  The life, for sure, when you’re eating that.  Granting, of course, that according to our fearless leaders in government you are ingesting a “hazardous substance.”   We plan on raising more milk cows.  We need lots more milk like that, all of us.  Prickle’s in calf to a Holstein, after which we will be breeding her to Jersey bulls. 

Her calf will probably be black.

Hopefully the season will be drawn-out this fall.  It will be a good one, regardless, once it starts.    

“A whole world exists out there about which the average farmer doesn’t have a clue.”

-Joel Salatin

Newsletter #2010-1… April and May 2010


Now it’s late April.  The wind turns like the second hand on a clock marking the days.  When it hits twelve o’clock, look out.

I type this as yet another blast rages out of the north.  The old timers say that while Alberta was always unpredictable, it has of late become something unknown.  North winds seem almost to prevail anymore, and they are becoming truly frightening.  Another symptom of a climate in unrest, I suppose.  It is the same in Manitoba, suddenly, I am told by a friend there.  And apparently this is to be expected anymore.  I may be off, but it seems we get this hammering pretty much bi-weekly now.  

Nonetheless, we’re ahead of the game so far this year.  The warmest winter yet on Alberta – and global – record is mostly over, and we’re right on schedule and beyond with our seedlings and our bedmaking out in the big garden plots.  The Clydesdales have turned a soil that seems in significantly better tilth than last year, in a condition I wasn’t expecting for a couple seasons yet.  And the beds in the yard around the house are almost all filled with greens and cabbage and kale and scallions.

Most of our yaks are gone now, sold to help save a pasture that was looking sorely worse for the wear following last year’s dry.  We lost three dogs to the road this past year and our water buffalo team – Brock and King – are also gone, victims we guess of their own metabolisms.  Seems a water buffalo that is in very good condition, as ours were, can actually become toxic to itself if it then goes into hyper metabolism of fat, as ours must have done during this last arctic December that collided hard on the heels of a Oklahoman November that saw garter snakes still active into the third week.  We brought them through three winters in good health.  Then, out of the blue, they dropped.  As our neighbor said, “Where there’s livestock, there’s deadstock.” 

We’ll miss the yaks.  We still think they are the ideal bovine meat and fibre animal for Alberta.  Not for Big Ag, but for Alberta, an animal that fits the conditions and makes sense.  If we’d have had the space, I am convinced this is an animal that you could turn out and ignore for ten years and come back and see them thriving and multiplied.  A mini-bison without the inherent danger and expense of bison.  But we simply don’t have enough space here in a dry year, and certainly can’t afford more in a speculator’s market.  So they had to go.  Sustainability is, after-all, non-negotiable, something we mostly don’t understand in our culture.  Contrary to popular belief, it is not dictated by our convenience, but rather by what the land and the creatures are telling us.  Getting the equation wrong is not an option the sane would ponder.

The pigs – Petunia and Doncaster – fared well over the winter, are fat as… are fat, and now engaged in turning the kitchen garden – a space too small for a team to work.  Once they feel they are done there, they will be employed preparing other smaller plots.  They do a good job, and delight us all at the same time with the strangeness that is a pig. 



Okay, so now it’s early June.  Just like that!  The year is now shaping up more like two years ago – somewhat behind after-all, due to plenty of cold and wet spells.  But the fields are well-planted, and with the moisture we’ve had, heat should bring them on well.  Last night we sat out watching the muskrat couple (Brent and Jocelyn we found out their names are) swimming in the pond and it was cool out, but today it is pretty hot.  Good veggie weather at last!  We’re just about to transplant the started squash in the kitchen garden prepared this year, as mentioned already, by the swine couple.

Vincent and Lyra, our two French wwoofers who were here for some time (Lyra since December) built a gypsy caravan in our barn, from ground-up.  Then they bought a horse and learned to drive her, and now they’re off on tour across Alberta.   How good is that!   We had lots of fun having them here.  Lyra especially has a grasp of the English language that was well appreciated here, for instance, a cougar we learned in proper English is actually a “gouage” and a hammer, she taught us in context, is correctly termed a “moof.”  “Pass me the moof!”  We are glad she has corrected us.  Yet Vincent blames us that she has made no improvement in her foreign language skills since being with us, but hey, we hear people speaking regular English every day, and it’s gotten pretty dull and consider her very much an improvement.  We wish them the best and hope the drivers are kind and share the road with this more sensible form of transport.  I’m sure the Gulf of Mexico is on their side.

Ever wondered why frying bacon smells so good?  I always thought it was in our prep of the stuff, but lo and behold when we’re spending quality sty-time, nose-to-nose with the hogs, Petunia and Doncaster, I’ll be a durned possum if they don’t have the aura about them of a Canadian morning fry-up!  I thought perhaps this was imagination, but no, our new wwoofers from Ontario, Jen and J.L., smell it too.  The hogs smell like bacon. I wonder what they think we smell like?  Apparently not truffles.

We expect to start deliveries in late June or early July.  We’d like to be earlier, but not enough produce will be ready til then for a “proper” delivery.  That’s the way she goes up here on the high northern plains.  We’re just happy for those who think local produce is important enough in any clime to support us!

Thank-you all…

Andrea and Jon

Newsletter #11 – September 2009

Hello All!

So the season is over, just like that.  First things put first, we will apologize for the hoped-for sixteen weeks being twelve not insofar as this was under our control and we failed, but rather for being so optimistic at the beginning that we could get sixteen weeks out of the season.  It would have been far more realistic, we now realize, under the circumstances of method, geography, climate etc. to have simply offered, “The season will be what the season will be.  It may be sixteen weeks, it may be twelve, it may be six, it may be none.  We will grow what we can grow.  We will do our best.”  Which would be the truth, and not only that, the essence really of CSA.  And life, if you think about it.   

It’s what we’ll say next year.

We had a great season here, and hope you had a great season, too.  We were extremely gratified with the qualities of our membership – there sure are some fine folks in this province if you dig.  We’re not entirely sure at this stage if, as a tiny demographic, we’re the future, or relics like what’s dug up elsewhere in this province, but we do know one thing – our little group of CSA folks this season is right about how we want our food produced.

Our wwoofers were a tremendous bunch as well, this year, and brought many great qualities, vital help, and not a little knowledge.  We could not have provided what we did without them.

Manu our right-hand-man has gone back to France to deal with some beaurocrats, so who knows when he’ll be back, but he does intend to come back.  Before he left, he gave us some interesting outside-party insights into human living arrangements in the civilized world.

Gesticulating at the tap shortly before his departure for instance, he informed that “Der Fuehrer is in da water!”  This was news to us, as we thought the guy died in a bunker decades ago.  (But that’s the value of international travel – you learn things people don’t know at home.) Also, apparently, he is “in da freet…  da freet!”  Only now we’re not sure if he’s in the freet and the water at the same time(?)  We regret not having thought to ask this important question.  Maybe there are intervals during which he’s in the water that it’s safe to eat the freet, and vice-versa(?)

Apparently, to make matters even worse, also in the toothpaste.

Then, pointing one night at an appliance, he wanted to know if we were interested in knowing “how the microwave was invited.”  Wiser now to the possibility of too much alarming knowledge, we declined, as in this case at any rate we already knew the answer.  The microwave was not invited, it came with the house.  We wouldn’t invite it, either.  But who knows how long it’s been here?  We haven’t the heart to tell it to leave.

We hope you were happy with the deliveries.  We are quite satisfied with the way the season turned out, given how it started as well as the other variables.  We would have like to have had more root crops for you, especially potatoes – we certainly planted enough this year, but as with other things, only about half “worked.”  Maybe next year will be a great potato year.  Think of the chard, the chard!  Will you ever look at it the same?

This Saturday the 10th October we are hoping some of you can make it out, noonish or a little before.  If not, just about any other time, any other week or month.  End of season needn’t mean end of contact for the winter, if you’d like it not to.

We will be providing draft-horse familiarity, training and driving lessons more or less on demand, as mentioned already.  Also, we are eager to teach just about anything else you may feel you’d like to learn from this environment, not just to diversify small farm income, but because we believe in the way we do things and would like interested others to learn some of these things, too.  Rural skills.  Would you like to learn about working horses, or just have some lessons about “getting easy” around them?  Would you like to know you can kill and prepare your own meat if necessary?  We have surplus roosters here who have had a good life.  Tan a hide?  Know animals tracks?  These things we can teach.  If you have any other ideas, run them by us.

We are also debating being the focus of a local food co-op, and a bulk-food outlet for things that can’t be had in bulk in Canada.  Let us know if you be interested in buying local and hard to get items from us, and if the interest is there, we will delve further into it.  Also, we will be butchering some yaks.  If interested in the meat (lots will likely be in sausage form), let us know.  They were raised here on nothing but prairie grass, good hay, and the odd treat of grain, treated well with the run of a pretty nice space.  The meat of yaks is high in nutrients and low in fat, and we have found it very fresh tasting.  We may mix the sausages with some heritage breed pork, also raised right on a small farm.   There may be mutton and chicken meat available, too.  Let us know what you think!

Our gratitude to you is enormous.  We are depressed we will not get to see regularly now, depressed more than relieved about a break in the work.  Looking forward to next year… 

Many, many thanks to all of you!    Hope to see you next year – or sooner.

-Thompson Small Farm

If a country is governed wisely,
its inhabitants will be content.
They enjoy the labour of their hands
and don’t waste time inventing
labour-saving machines.
Since they dearly love their homes,

Newsletter #10 – August 2009

Hello All!

We went off a mile or two up the road (pic above, taken by French wwoofer Nellie) to mow verges this month as you may recall the saga going, out of the bailiwick of Mighty Joe Young, our SuperSize Meself neighbor who dwells in his fabulous new faux mountain-range. With the help of others, including wwoofer Sebastian from New Brunswick, Manu the Frenchman who’s lodged somewhere in our basement, as well as members Eric, Candice and Libbe with his daughter Sointu, we got a sizable stack of loose, dry hay into the Quonset barn.  Maybe half what we’ll need for the winter and still plenty of time for more.  Thanks everyone!

By the way, Mighty Joe’s men actually finally did bale up the now months old grass they cut adjacent out place.  Much of it remained in the thatch of new growth now grasping it, and Manu and I will rake some of this stuff now to spread into the fields to add natural tilth.  It can’t be much as feed at this point, but perhaps he’s only trying to make sure the food quality of what his cows get doesn’t eclipse that of the rest of his industrial crop.

We cut some second growth verge hay too, later in the month, and have yet to rake this – it isn’t quite dry.  In the interim, Eric and Candice alerted us that Raven had shown up with a tremendous gash low on her right rump, it was enormous, at least as wide as Lyle Lovett’s mouth – easily fifteen centimeters – and deep into the flesh.  Emma sported a nasty open puncture, too, right about at the same height on own rear quarter.  A perusal of the paddock area revealed some big nails at matching level where a fence had been recently compromised.  I flattened the nails, gave the girls tetanus shots, a series of penicillin injections, and along with regular rinsing with iodine I figured “that’s that.”  Despite the apparent nastiness of the wounds, they didn’t seem to much bother the horses.  They could still work, and I am told the working actually helps such things drain corruption. 

A few days later Raven appeared with a very nasty scratch below the first wound, on her undersurface.  Okay, I thought, she may have kicked at a gad-fly with a sharp hoof.  I checked the reciprocating foot, and sure enough, there was a sharp tang on the thing that I took off with the nippers.  “That’s that!”  I thought.  We continued working the girls.

We were all set to finish cutting a stretch of grass we’d started a few days later and in comes Raven, limping this time, a very nasty puncture on her left ham this time, blood trickling down.  (At this point I was thinking if she were a steer meant for the deep-freeze, you could simply leave her at pasture and she’d complete her own butchering just in time for fall.)  There would be no working her with this new wound. We searched the whole property this time, and came up with one significant change in the place that might pose a hazard that would result in such carnage.  Our yak bull, Sam, had a newly sharpened horn tip.  We watched him closely, and sure enough, he was clearly focusing some bullish grudge on the horses.  It made sense that Raven was receiving the wounds with this prognosis – she’s herd boss.  We roped Sam and trussed him up and sawed the tips off his horns, a procedure that didn’t seem to ire him much.  Seems he reserves that for the equine contingent.  The horses are now separated from the yaks, and we are going to keep Sam separate until he goes elsewhere or is retired (as a nice bed-cover, perhaps.)   His breeding duties are pretty much finished here, and it’s no secret that bulls continue to change temperament as they mature.  Many farms rarely keep bulls beyond three years for this reason.

Hope you’re enjoying the chard and the turnips.  I am trying to dry the chard into little flakes so I can have it for breakfast, too.  We still have plenty of it in the field, and should still have lots of carrots and potatoes coming.  Right now the broccoli is looking better and better – we just hope there’s enough.  Ditto tomatoes and peppers, some varieties of which are also coming along, although others have produced utterly nothing for the space and considerable supplementary passive heat and rainwater they take. We realize there have been a lot of greens this year, but that’s the year here.  Drought in spring lasts all season even when the rains come back.  We lost a lot of produce of the sort that takes most of the season to mature, but in so doing, gained a lot of knowledge towards hopefully not loosing it under such conditions in future years.  Thanks for receiving us and our offerings so well.  It has been a great year for us thanks in a big way to our members and your continuing generosity.  We here at the farm feel we are working towards something good together with you.  Please refer to the blog for more turnip and chard ideas just now posted by Andrea!  Go to our (Spartan) website at and there’s a link to the blog there.

Oh, and if you ever feel tired of greens, perhaps keep in mind that our mesclun mix that we bring you because it works so well here, for instance, contains five times more calcium, four times more iron, twelve times more vitamin A and six times more vitamin C than a salad of head lettuce from the grocery store!  This according to USDA.

If you had any green worms in your produce lately, I hope you enjoyed the colour but avoided the taste.  Cabbage butterfly worms.  They are the bane of the farmer of any cabbage family produce.  Our place has lately been a significant magnet for these pests, one of the few we have problems with.  However, not to fret – Manu and I have been spraying all the cabbages and cousins (including especially broccoli and cauliflower) with a kitchen-made pesticide consisting of fresh crushed garlic juice and hot pepper in water (as well as the sprinkling of a little dry food-grade diatomaceous earth on the plants), and since then I can honestly say that although the butterflies still abound, the worms are nowhere to be seen.  This is dramatic.  They have had plenty of time since first appearance to really trash the brassica crop.

The worms are not nearly as annoying, however, as the county and their latest scheme.  Our road is again swarming with vehicles and choked in their dust, only this time it is not just the industrial producers of things you can get away with eating for awhile and their machines.  The county of Kneehill, a massive piece of earth, has decided to bring piped-in water to each and every household in this notably sparsely settled district.  The cost?  Like most developments these days, they can readily give you the numbers, but the real cost will remain elusive and cumulative – one more stupid niggling bite out of something precious we can’t retrofit.  So, whether we like it or not (and neither myself nor any of my neighbors like it), we will get piped-in water that we will of course pay for in tax hikes.  And if we actually want it hooked up, we will pay for it again – $6,000 additional dollars.  The water is to come from a river – the Red Deer – that now averages 80% below historic flows.  At a time when many, including my nice and very reasonable young neighbor and their young family in their modest new house a few miles up the road are out of work with no great prospects looming.  In a once insufferably smug province that overnight has posted a near $7 billion deficit.  My Reeve, when I called her and pointed all this out, basically told me, “The province gave us the money so we better spend it.  Plus if we don’t follow through the contractors will sue us.”  I can only hope our motivations become more relevant and thoroughly examined in the future.  I expect the days when the excesses of our culture can act to absorb such fantastic stupidity are now numbered.  Soon, like our ancestors, we may all actually once again be required to pay the real price for our mistakes.  And so finally be required to grow back up, as a culture.  If I could spray the county seat and make it go away like those green worms, I would.  With something from Monsanto. 

Manu has been here for a few months now.  We get along very well, on the whole, except for when we don’t.  We disagree often on approaches to things, and sulk quite a lot in one another’s presence as a result, a sullen and unimpressive pair of brutes at times if ever there was one, but his ideas are usually almost as good as mine.  Actually, they’re often better, usually because they’re about twice as time-consuming.  Which is a common dilemma here – do you have time to do a given job really well, or just enough time to get it done however you can?  I tend to view the time as limited, Manu as generous.  Our relationship can best be summed up by the following story from the other week.  Involving a badger.  Or not.

I love badgers, even if they turn our pastures into moonscapes with their craters – I feel it a privilege to be sharing space with these charismatic prairie wolverines.  Manu and I were coming back from checking hay, when up and over an earth berm along the road (county water line work!) one goes. 

“Looks!” I said, pointing and speaking my best version of Manu’s English dialect for ease of communication, “Dat, deres – Bastard!  Wonderfuls and very famous!  A badger.” 

“What?” he said.

“Didn’t you see you blindness?” I pointed, “Dat bastard wents over the ham just now, the dirt-ham – a badger!”

“Yes, dat – I see dat, yes,” he said indignantly.  “I sees dat animals on the ham.  I sees a cat.”

“It was grey, a badger!”  I corrected.

“What is wrong, you looks,” he went on gesturing up the road, “Orange cat – jus dat!”

Which pretty much sums things up between us.  I see the grey badger, he sees the orange cat.  The future lies in us all working together anyway.

Jus dat.

Thank-you again for your support!

–          Andrea and Jon and Manu.



“He who cannot draw on 3000 years is living from hand to mouth.”

 – Goethe


“All I can say is we are mistaken to gouge

 such a deep rift in history that the things old men and old women know have become so useless as to be not worth passing on to grandchildren.”

– Charles Frazier, “Thirteen Moons”

Newsletter #9 – July 2009

05/08/2009 9:24:33 AM
manu in garden.docx

~ Thompson Small Farm ~

Newsletter #9 – July 2009


Hello All!


I (Jon) think we had a baby yak born this month.  Andrea would know.  But I can’t remember.  Not whether it was born or not, but whether or not it was this month.  If so, this was then the month of our open-house!  Thanks to all who attended, we had a lovely time having you here, and we will do it again before the end of the season.  We all watched the baby yak (Morgan) being born.  We’ll send some pictures along with additional ones from the farm.  This is the first calf born to Brie, her mother.  It has her curly hair, and she is a good, calm mom.  It plays a lot with Wild Bill and Francois, the other calves.


This month, as you know, our delivery truck broke down.  This raised a lot of conflicting emotions, as the vehicles here always do.  (We are of the belief that if we as a society going down a tube into a pit of unsustainability, we are doing it in our cars. And they are most certainly driving us, not vice-versa.)  So many ironies, here.  First, there is the fact that alternative farmers cannot farm close to the centres they serve because cannot afford one that close.  Then, there is the fact that when you farm, you have to have a vehicle – the days when there was a town on the railway lines every nine miles so you could get there sustainably by horse and wagon are long over.  And then, you need a BIG vehicle, because you will be hauling heavy stuff.  Our farm truck is a diesel Ford, 1994 (again, doing this, you don’t buy a new $50 k rig), with a massive 7.3 litre engine – a vehicle that can go a million miles – with repairs of course.  A trailer full of heavy horses alone demands this.  So the cart is now pulling the horse – a once efficient system turned on its head.  Well, at least the thing is good on fuel, on the highway anyway, but this is a relative statement.  Fact is, using the term “efficiency” in reference to any motor vehicle – be it our truck, or a Smart Car or Prius – will always be more than less oxymoronic by definition, unless perhaps it is in speaking of the freight train.


The repair bill for our truck could be in the neighborhood of $4,000.00, which sounds like a lot (it is), but is pretty standard maintenance on such a conveyance.  (I could buy a very good team of horses for the cost of this one repair, by the way, that would serve me for 20 years.)  This bill will need to be paid for out of a business venture, which, this year, will gross less than $20,000. When you look at these sorts of numbers, you can understand the conundrum we are in not just here on our little patch, but as a society.  We must find sustainable systems.  By definition, this is not optional.  This means, usually, de-industrialization.  But to attempt to be de-industrial when surrounded by an overwhelmingly industrial world (and the word overwhelming is nowhere more apt), not only makes one intensely vulnerable, it may well prove impossible.  Once you drive a motor vehicle, that single act alone invests you heavily in the industrial economy.  And the industrial economy, it seems, demands an industrial wage.


So once again, we are trying to imagine a way to cut the motor vehicles completely out of the farm system.  We are not yet sure this can be done at this point.  We are open to your suggestions. What we are contemplating, however, is making more of our errand trips to the local towns with the horses and wagon.  This will not alter an extremely precarious small farm economy as long as we are doing distant deliveries, but it will help bring back to our towns an imagery that we believe needs to be back in peoples’ faces.  We will be stuck in a purgatory of mere gestures towards sustainability until we hit some critical mass.  One of more trains, more horses, more CSA and other alternative farms, far less personal motor vehicle use.  Each of us must contemplate if we can be leader here.  And try not to do it quietly!


Otherwise, it has mostly been a very good month here.  The gardens are really coming along, although the variety is not what we had envisioned for this year.  Lost to vagaries of Alberta climate this year are: corn, beans, cucumbers, radishes (so far), red-fife wheat, about half the potatoes, broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage we planted (other half doing okay), etc.   Doing well are the oriental and other greens, turnips, kohlrabi… that sort of fundamental marginal-climate stuff.  Reminds me of my great-grandparents, who homesteaded outside Lethbridge beginning around 1905.  Lost all their cattle, frozen solid, in 1906-’07 in the big historic blow that killed the last of the cattle barons.  But they had a garden.  All that grew that year was turnips.  But at least they had turnips.  That’s not to say that there aren’t those managing to grow a much broader range of produce in Alberta, today.  But look under the skin and you will find some way in which they are forcing the natural conditions to a degree that cannot be considered in keeping with sustainable goals.  Usually, they are pouring the water on every day in volumes that pool on the ground, or they keep heated greenhouses.   Neither of these practices are good for us, in the long run.  The way to do it right in our minds in this place is to use the rain and runoff water, get it to the fields economically and sparingly, (hope that the Great Mystery will help you with this!) mulch like crazy to hold it in, and be philosophical about just what it is you’ll be eating if you’re an Albertan. This is something we need to incorporate in our psyches as growers as much as anyone else.  


We continue to be blessed by a great crew of helpers.  Amongst them, a young Israeli woman who taught us much about native edibles, as well as young French woman who was not impressed when the mice took over her car.  I loaned her a live-trap.  The mice went in and died, lying there spread out on their bellies as though they expired while launching off little diving boards.  “Don’t feed these mice to any of the animals,” the woman told me.  “They got into my medication.  I think that’s why they died.” 


Some people advise you should avoid doctors at all costs.


We began cutting some hay from the road verges this month, as it looks far better than much of the field hay this year.  Normally, only a few of us small fry do this, as the big boys mostly have hayland on a scale larger than most eastern farms.  But lo-and-behold, this year most of the good verge-hay around our place got cut just before we were able to claim it.  Our new neighbor – (Mighty Joe Young we’ll call him) – whose self-built mountain range masquerading as a house now dominates our eastern horizon so he can overlook his newly purchased 20 square milesclaimed the grass.  He made a few bales of it, and is now letting 90% of it sit and spoil.  I gave him a call.  The wife, who is friendly enough, asked me what they should do with it.  Use it, I more or less told her.  “I’ll need to tell my husband,” she answered, “We know nothing!”  Another irony of our times, I thought.  The largest new farmers – some of who promise to be the largest farmers yet, in a world already dominated by giants – have utterly no idea how to farm – even less than the drive-and-spray sons and daughters who’ve inherited most of the land out here. (Hell, even less than us – HA! )  Well, of course they don’t – you don’t buy 20 square miles with farm money.  Anyway, if they don’t rake that hay soon, we will.  There’s no way we will let it rot when we could use it so badly.  Or to do so on principle.  The question remains why someone who lays claim to such an instant empire needs to cut verge hay.    But here is something again that is ominous for us on our little patch.  This man intends to purchase every farm he can.  Word on the street is that 20 square miles is not nearly enough for him.  If he gets a hold of the adjoining land we are renting, and he intends to, the odds of him honoring old agreements are nearly nil.  “Might as well sell it to me now,” he apparently told the owner.  “I’ll get it anyway.”  We would loose most of our grazing land if she craters, and men like this are emphatically not about sharing.  Theirs is the Walmart approach to survival – life is a competition, not a collaboration, best won by owning everything. We tell ourselves there is lots of verge-hay, but now Mighty Joe wants that, too.  So here’s another hurdle.  What effect will such newbie empire builders have on sustainability efforts?  Now that the global economy is collapsing, their advisors are all telling them, “Buy farms!”  And they are.  Oh well, cross that bridge we tell ourselves. 


Our old #9 MacCormack-Deering haymower, circa 1948 and rebuilt last year with help from, among others, CSA member Mat Schaeffer, is doing a skookum job when hitched to the girls, Raven and Gwyneth, or alternatively, Raven and Emma.  This model was the pinnacle of horse-powered technology, an elegant machine that was the last of its line before being replaced by unsophisticated tractor implements that substituted brute force for excellence of design.  Up and down the road we go, laying down the green grass, the “high-gear” scissor-action blade whirring gently, the gearing positioned mostly behind the axle (unlike other models) so that in tandem with my bodyweight in the seat, much weight is counterbalanced off the neck of the horse.  The horse machine spreads the grass thinner over a larger swath than the tractor machines, and it dries in one hot day because of this, ready to rake.  The verge hay cures a nice bluish colour – blue hay. Two calories back for every one expended, we’re told, in contrast to one back for at least ten expended when a tractor is your power source.  (Who said the latter was efficient?!)  We’ve got a nice pile of loose hay started, and we’re hoping to claim more.  Last winter our herd lived on it, and came through well.  Ted Andrew of Dunphy sold me 12’ wide dump rake that we hitch behind the cart.  Sebastian the wwoofer from New Brunswick who falls asleep so suddenly in the truck that he drops anything he may be holding (don’t ask him to drive!), rides on the cart beside me and gives a mighty heave of his strong arms when the rake fills as the horses continue plunging forward, dumping windrow after windrow for later forking.  The Clydesdale horse has a longer, more fluid stride than any of the other heavy breeds, and the resulting smart clip can get things done in short order.  We are honored to be working in partnership with them. 


And we’re reveling in the comraderie that working on a human scale with others brings to life.  Many hands not only make light work, they bring on a whole new dimension of meaning. Community is life. 


Thank-you again for your support!


          Andrea and Jon and our many wonderful helpers.

Newsletter #8 – July 2009

Newsletter #8 – June 2009


Hello all!


Apparently this June broke records in Alberta for frosts.  We had more killing frosts this June in southern Alberta than before in recorded history.  This according to my farming associate, if you can believe him, who many claim you can’t, but in this case we do.  At any rate, we’ve lately felt this venture to be an act of desperation more often than not.  We’ve really turned ourselves inside-out trying to get things to grow at a rate faster than Alberta cares to grow them herself, and at the end of the month all we can report after going to extreme lengths involving a lot of extra infrastructure, water, soil-stirring and relentless labor from many hands is that things are progressing.  And that we are not yet sure when deliveries will start, which seems absolutely ridiculous – it is nearly July after-all.  We can honestly say we are doing all we can.  We expect a bounty, if a rather late one.  This said, we are doing better than some producers I have heard of just today, who are going to plow everything back under in a week if things don’t improve.


We have had a great month for Wwoofers – “willing workers on organic farms.”  This is a room and board and experience for farm labor program.  Without this program, we’d be dead in the water.  We’ve had some outstanding people here this spring.  Rob, for instance, was a young man from Korea with a Philippine girlfriend.  He was hard to get out of the field, putting in much longer days than expected.  “There are a lot of beautiful women in the Philippines,” he said one day over a broccoli bed.  “My girlfriend isn’t one of them,” he noted, adding, “I never think of her.”  It shortly emerged that he had fallen in love with the young German woman with whom he was traveling, who had already left for home.  “I think I love her,” he told me, “which is strange, as I’ve always found white women highly arrogant.”  “Are you going to Germany then?” I asked.  He pondered this briefly.  “No,” he said. 


Now we have as farm-mates Boris and Manu, followed by Valantin and Berengere.  They are all from the Leone region.  It’s a full and lively house.  “Where is the cheese?” they proclaim indignantly.  “We are French!”  They can eat all the cheese they want – it is difficult to get them stop working.  Of the flat of started broccoli, Boris asks – “Where should I plant these bastard?”


We have had another young yak born, this one to Rachel – her second.  He is a boy.  Boris and Manu, whom we call “Francois” and “Francois”, have christened the new baby “Francois.”  Rachel is doing well, and young Francois hangs around with Wild Bill, who is living up to his name by repeatedly trying to mount the poor thing.  “Wild Bill has a problem,” Manu said.  “He is trying to marry Francois.”  Rachel doesn’t seem to care.  She is a good yak, mind-you, well put together in classic yak fashion if a bit of a runt.  She trusts us enough to be near her babies right after birth.  That is really something with a yak.  


The animals otherwise are all doing well, with horses and buffalo really looking shiny and fit after a month on pasture.   Sarah lay down one day next to a board-fence and couldn’t get up again as it was in the way of her feet, so Andrea dismantled the fence, let her up, thwarted a stampede by the rest of the animals for the new opening, then re-built the fence. The yaks are looking dreadful as they do in June with their winter coats hanging in wooly threadbare garlands about them.  The tyranny of the gardens in a year like this one has kept us from collecting as much fibre as we’d like to, although Andrea had found a little time to round up the herd and add some to the sack.  We expect Juniper and Brie to give birth soon, by their looks and behavior.


Wild critters on the farm these days include myriad ground-squirrels, nests of both Eastern and Western kingbirds, a clutch of Pintail ducklings on the new pond, a deer-mouse that dug out one-by-one most of the newly planted squash seeds from the “three sisters” garden, badgers after the “gophers” and a chicken-stealing coyote I think we have managed to scare off for the time being.  He doesn’t give them back.


We are thinking of having a farm open-house on the weekend of the 11th.  A pot-luck, perhaps, combined with a work-bee, which will inevitably involve (among other things), weeding and watering. We’d really like everyone to see what’s going on here first-hand!  More on this to follow before the date.  Drop us a line in the meantime if you think you might like to come.


Thank you again, for your support and your patience!


–          Andrea and Jon



“There are no national, state or county problems and no national, state, or county solutions…

the large scale solution to the large scale problem which is so dear to

governments, universities and corporations, serves mostly to distract people from the small, private problems, that they may in fact have the power to solve.”   


 – Wendell Berry