I believe there is a place for each of us where our skills can meet our passions.
Some of us may find this place in our hobbies or volunteering, while a fortunate few may enjoy a career that we believe in. For myself, this connection happens where my passion for the science of health and nutrition meets the skills of growing and nurturing life.
My roots are grounded in farming. I was raised on a family farm in rural Southwestern Ontario and I am the eldest of six children. A flock of dorset-cross sheep comprised the largest component of the livestock on our farm, but that wasn’t all we shared our space with. We had ducks, peacocks, chickens, a milk cow, goats, occasional pigs or beef cattle, and 2 acres of market garden. All of this not only provided an income, but also fed our large family year round by supplying all the dairy products, meat, eggs, and vegetables we needed. My mom did plenty of home baking and spent a lot of time canning and preserving what was grown through the season. Even a generation ago this style of small scale sustainable farming was behind the modern agricultural practices. My parents had high ideals and understood the value that a small, mixed farm had on the land and the animals raised there. It was also the most practical and cost effective way to provide quality food for a large family.
What we saved in dollars we spent in labour, everyone had to work hard to keep the farm running. It wasn’t a carefree childhood, but my siblings and I each left home with a deep appreciation for where our food came from. We also came to understand the health benefits that come with good food and hard work. Working on the farm meant we had to know the proper ways to grow food, then how to save and prepare that food. I am grateful for those skills now as I have watched friends who want to learn to cook or garden as adults. These are hands on skills, much easier to learn from someone else.
As child I loved reading and I spent most of my hard earned money buying books. Many of these were science books that detailed on how to do basic experiments at home. Somehow my parents found the time and patience to support this hobby. It wasn’t unusual to visit our home and find cricket and worm farms in the front porch, plant breeding in the living room or even a methane collector in the sun room.
Throughout my high school career, I continued to enjoy science, but at that point I was no closer to determining how to translate my interest into a career. After graduating, I studied biology at the University of Waterloo and discovered that this was the missing piece of the puzzle. The more I learned about how all living things worked on a micro scale, the clearer the larger connections became. All of the lessons of my childhood, including my mother’s teaching on healthy eating for improved personal health and my father’s passion about nurturing the soil to grow the healthiest plants and animals, were making sense. The study of science brought these things together in greater detail.
Since then my own family has grown and so has my ability to produce and prepare food. I have progressed from plants in pots to borrowed garden space from my mother in law. Now we have a garden large enough to feed my family and other families of budding gardeners. I enjoy the opportunity this has given me to work with people of all ages. Watching them learn a new skill is amazing. That first moment, when someone tastes something they have grown themselves, I can see the satisfaction they feel as they realize they had a hand in producing something so delicious.
Today I am a mother of four kids. I love watching them grow more independent everyday. For the time being I am their primary cook, taxi and referee. When I’m not doing that I tend a small farm which includes heritage chickens, turkeys, and some spring lambs or pigs as well as our cooperative vegetable garden. I can often be found with my hands in the dirt, growing vegetables, heritage garlic, managing the fruit trees and berry bushes and, of course, every year I swear, this will be the summer I will get through all the flower beds. Much of our hard work from the summer is preserved to feed my family during the winter. I am also a member of the Ecological Farmers and Seed of Diversity. Both of these not for profit organizations have given me the opportunity to learn so much, through books, online information, and training days where I learn from others who are out working in their field, quite literally. I admire the effort and knowledge that is takes to make a living in any type of farming today, I understand the dedication and time required.
My lifestyle sits somewhere between the backyard gardener and a full farm. We are well equipped to grow food for ourselves, but I know large scale food production is not feasible for us. There is so much still to be learned in this field, and I find myself constantly reading, learning and exploring what others are doing. The more I learn the more I want to share with others.
Being surrounded by growing things; house plants, garden vegetables, trees, livestock and of course my children, is what makes me feel at home. Life and growth is a truly incredible process, being a small part of that keeps me balanced and healthy.