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Deconstructing Dinner

Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY

Nelson, B.C. Canada

 

November 13, 2008

 

Title: Kootenay Harvest Revival II (The Local Grain Revolution V)

 

Producer/Host: Jon Steinman

Transcript: Brianna Jade Chan

 

Jon Steinman: And welcome again to Deconstructing Dinner, a weekly one-hour radio show and Podcast heard on radio stations around the world including our newest addition, and one of Canada's newest radio stations, CFAD Salmo, British Columbia. This show is produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY in Nelson, BC. I'm Jon Steinman and today we continue with recordings from the Kootenay Harvest Revival, a two-day event held here in Nelson that celebrated the return of a local grain economy here within the southern interior of the province. The event was hosted by the Nelson-Creston Grain CSA, the All Seasons Café and Deconstructing Dinner.

 

Last week we heard recordings from day one of the event when Nelson's Capitol Theatre hosted a series of speakers who shared the history of food production in the region with the hope that through exploring what was once possible to grow, process and consume locally, the community could then be inspired to envision what might be possible to revive. Certainly the community supported agriculture project for grain that sparked the event is one of those possibilities that is now walking the talk.

 

Today's broadcast will continue with the remainder of those speakers and we'll hear a brief segment of a theatrical performance by Richard Rowberry, we'll hear from author and farmer Luanne Armstrong, grain CSA farmer Keith Huscroft and musicians Bessie Wapp, Earl Hamilton and others performing songs as part of the Kootenay Harvest Revival.

 

increase music and fade out

 

Jon Steinman: First just a quick clarification, I believe last week I did suggest that the Kootenay revival series here on the show would be a two-part series but it will actually extend into next week's broadcast as well, and so you can expect more recordings from the event next week. This harvest revival series of recording is part of our local grain revolution series. And if you missed any of those broadcasts they are as usual archived on our website at deconstructingdinner.ca.

 

Now on last week's episode we heard speakers at the event share the foodways of the areas original human inhabitants - the Sinixt Interior Salish (or Arrow Lakes People). Again, if you heard that segment but did not get a chance to view the excellent slides that accompany that presentation, the slides are linked to from the November 6th 2008 broadcast posted on our website.

 

We also heard from JJ Verigin who shared the history of the region's Doukhobor community that also has a rich history of living off the land, but next on the evening's agenda was Richard Rowberry - a local actor, writer and historian and he played a character of a deceased Nelson farmer who was conjured up following his death in 1927 in order to share the history of some of the area's earliest orchardists. The Kootenay region of the province was once one of the more well known fruit-producing regions in North America and the apples, cherries and strawberries grown here developed quite a solid reputation.

 

Here's a brief segment from that performance.

 

Richard Rowberry: 1901 there were 12,447 on the rails of the West Kootenay ridings of Nelson and Slocan. Nineteen households in nine communities were involved in farming, plus the Chinese of course who were not on the golden rails. That's all it were. All the food was shipped up from Spokane. And so there we were and we toiled, we cleared the land, we planted, we grew clover and veg and that sort of thing in order to improve the soil. And it took 5 or 6 years before we were able to produce a crop. But good apples they were, and they did win prizes and over the years we did prosper of a sort, although the problem was, of course the problem which has plagued farmers from the time immemorial, in a bad year you don't have anything to sell so you don't make any money. In a good year there's so much to sell it drives the prices down and you don't make any money. And we didn't, on either occasion. Some of us of course had private incomes and were able to keep going. We had packing houses at MacDonald's Landing and at Procter. The barges used to come in with CPR box cars on them, and we'd load up box cars and send them off to the Prairies. Trouble was the Washington State just down below had their apples quite as good as ours, but they could reach the market 5 to 6 weeks before we could. And same in the Okanagan 2 to 3 weeks before we could and of course the first apples of spring are the ones that bring the premium dollar.

 

So it's backbreaking work, it was endless. In the winter time you had to protect the trees, keep the branches from breaking off; all through the summer you had to cultivate around the trees, you had to spray them, I think that actually killed me, the spraying. We sprayed them with Paris Green of course, and one of my favourites are Arsenic of Lead. Charming, they were discovered, actually, that it doesn't entirely rub off. When you wash it, it does penetrate somewhat into the apple. They discovered this in 1919. And they worked on a substitute, which they finally did in 1947. The substitute was DDT. Brilliant, these scientists. They finally did ban it in 1988. Another was Nicotine Sulphate. Now Nicotine Sulphate of course is biodegradable. It breaks down so good. Unfortunately it's extremely toxic at the point of application so that the little insects and the birds and the applicator had a rather toxic experience.

 

It wasn't all gloom and doom however, we did have a rather lively social life. Of course we are all English, terribly exciting people. We had our tennis courts and our regattas and our dramatics and church and ah adulterous relationships and things like that. At least some people did, I didn't.

 

When you're waiting for the trees to grow up and produce, you've got nothing to sell, so you put in rows of strawberries between them and in fact that's what we did and our strawberries were amazing. We had a surplus, which we sold to the jam factories and to the Doukhobor factories also. Thank god for them, many a dollar gained that way.

 

To end it all off I suppose I should just say that we struggled on, some of us had as I say private incomes so we could and others had invested all our money in the whole damn enterprise and were stuck. That's about the long and the short of it. And then the depression came along, as of things weren't bad enough, and nobody would buy our fruit, and then the 2nd World War of course. Of course I was dead by then thank god.

 

Jon Steinman: That was a brief segment of actor Richard Rowberry in September 2008 at the Kootenay Harvest Revival in Nelson BC. Richard played the part of a deceased Nelson farmer sharing the area's rich fruit-growing history.

 

In just a moment we'll hear from two more speakers at this celebratory and educational event held to mark the monumental harvest of grain as part of the Nelson-Creston Community Supported Agriculture project. But before we do, here again is musician Bessie Wapp whom we heard from last weeks' broadcast who performed a second song at the event.

 

Bessie Wapp: Welcome back to the 2nd half, I feel I have to admit that I didn't write the first song that I sang. That was written by a woman named Annie Hafer who lives in Cranbrook and plays with a group called "As The Crow Flies." I was so thrilled to find a song about gardening because mostly I sing all sad, all country all the time. Now I'm going to sing one of those songs. This was written by an American singer/songwriter Tom Russell and he wrote a song cycle of songs of each of his ancestors and this one is called Acres Of Corn.

 

Acres Of Corn lyrics:

 

When I was a child

When I spoke as a child

Now I'm a grown woman

But my thoughts are still wild

I thought I'd see London

Maybe Paris

But I'm staring at cornfields

And they're staring at me

Where dreams are just things

That keep in a trunk

Till the manner work in

How you're gonna be drunk

And you're like a dreams

But they're tattered and they're torn

So you stare out the window

At the acres of corn

Every now and again

When I take a small drink

How the blackberry brandy

Kept under the sink

I pull out that steam trunk

Put on my gown

And I dance through the cornfield

Till I fall to the ground

Where dreams are just things

That keep in a trunk

Till the manner work in

How you're gonna be drunk

And you're like a dreams

But they're tattered and they're torn

So you stare out the window

At the acres of corn

When I was a child

When I spoke as a child

Now I'm a grown woman

But my thoughts are still wild

 

Jon Steinman: Musician Bessie Wapp performing at the Kootenay Harvest Revival.

 

Now one topic that has come up on a few occasions here on Deconstructing Dinner is the role of food in creating one's sense of place - that is food's ability to tie oneself to their home or to the land on which they live.

 

Luanne Armstrong is an author and farmer who lives just north of Wynndel, British Columbia in the community of Boswell. One of her most recent books is Blue Valleys - An Ecological Memoir and she is currently working on a series of essays about land, place, and connection to place. Luanne spoke on what the title of farmer means to her.

 

Here's MC Russell Precious introducing Luanne Armstrong.

 

Russell Precious: Twice in my life I went looking for home once in early 70s and a group of us looked all over southern British Columbia, I've always had really good land karma and I suppose that's because I need to seek my sense of self through place, so there was a real pleasure a couple of weeks ago when we were on our grain CSA tour in Creston in the east valley to meet our next presenter Luanne Armstrong.

 

Luanne grew up just north of Creston on the east shore, her father farmed in the days before the Salmo-Creston Pass so that meant there was a little bit more traffic going down the East Shore, so I'm sure in terms of selling fruits and vegetables that were some advantages then. I got a sense being with Luanne of the such a strong sense of place that she had, I at times felt that I was visiting with Wendell Berry, the fusion of her agricultural roots and her deep cultural roots. Luanne is a writer, she's a poet, she's an essayist, she's a publisher and an editor. We're very pleased to have her with us today. She's going to tell us a little bit about what it might mean to be a farmer. Please welcome Luanne Armstrong.

 

Luanne Armstrong: I'm so glad to be here. I'm glad to be here for a very specific reason because every year and I just finished doing this. I picked the last of the peaches of my farm. One of the things we grow is peaches, and I love growing peaches primarily just because they're so beautiful, they're wonderful to eat but they're also just aesthetic the most amazingly beautiful fruit and so every year and I go take the dogs and we pick the last two peach trees that are late and everyone's sick of peaches, I'm sick of peaches but I fill up the buckets and the baskets of peaches. I always have this feeling of odd loneliness, there should be people here, we should be singing, we should be celebrating, where is everybody? But there's me and there's Wass and the dogs and the horse and whoever's around. We have our own little mini celebration, so it's so wonderful for me to be here having been a farmer in the Kootenays for sixty years now, to be able to celebrate with all of you so thank you thank you thank you for this wonderful Harvest Festival Revival, I hope we do it every year.

 

I'd also really really like to dedicate my talk this evening to my wonderful amazing parents who for our whole lives fed themselves, fed their four children, especially during the Back To The Land movement it was just amazing everybody came to our farm and everybody who came to the farm went away with something, like a box of apples, a bottle of home-made wine, my father had this amazing system where everything on the farm fed everything else and so we did most of my life grow almost most of your own food, and we were pretty food self sufficient. He had this four little children that he considered slaves, and so we did learn to work but we also learnt to play because we had this enormous wonderful place with the lake and the beach and the mountains and animals and it really was a paradise to grow up in. I could not leave that place, without it I would just be some sort of empty shell, I have scuttled away a few times in my life and gotten a job or a university degree and one of those things and then scuttled back to the farm which is where I actually live. When I'm in the city I sort of camp out for a bit and then go back to the city.

 

But I have been thinking about this word "farmer" because it's in the news and it's interesting to me that the whole sort of grow your own food is back and I'm really pleased to see that but I did write a book about the farm, it's up there, it's called, "The Blue Valley" and it's for sale, and so now I'm writing a series of essays about land, place, connection to place because I really do think we need very much in this day and age to think about where we live, not only where we live and how we connect to it but how we look after it, so that it looks after us. I'm writing a whole book of essays. I'm going to talk to you a little bit about what the word "farmer" means to me because I think it's a very important word but one that has some odd things attached to it, and my parents were farmers, my grandfather was a farmer, when I look back at my family tree, really as far back as I can trace it, my family have been farmers, so it's very rooted in me that way too. I have always thought of myself as a farmer, but this is a self-chosen identity, and it doesn't have that much to do with my real life, or how I actually make a living. Labels about things to do with land are various. My landscape architect daughter, she is a gardener, and my neighbourhood friend Linda calls herself a peasant but really it's all vaguely about mucking about in the dirt and playing with plants. I just call myself a farmer and I'm content but my son laughs at me for thinking I actually have a farm and he's right it's not much of a farm, it really is just a clear cut beside a lake, no big business or no big machines, no agribusiness connections. Just fruit trees, animals and me.

 

But this place fed our whole family for over 50 years, my father, my mother, three siblings and myself, and then it fed my children and my brother and my sisters' children as well. And in fact at one point we realized that there was 15 or 16 of us that actually got most of our food off the farm. And yes, it was and always is a lot of work, and I did much of that work when I was a child, and then when I was a single parent with four kids to feed, so I feel I have somewhat earned the label. But farmers are word with kind of odd implications, it's one of those words like Indian with romantic stereotypes attached to it, a kind of duality of stereotypes, on the one hand the farmer is someone sometimes perceived as close to nature, wise in the ways of animals and plants, someone who can fix anything, and can encapsulate a mystical view of the universe, and just a few well chosen words. But on the other hand the word dumb always seems to be silently appended to farmer, redneck, slow, prejudiced, the butt of jokes and always male. The odd thing about farming and gardening, is as long as you do it as a hobby, you don't really get labelled with that pejorative dumb farmer, you can be a gentleman farmer that's different from being a real farmer because you actually have money, as opposed to real farmers who don't have any. Or you can be a hobby farmer and you can have your place in the country where you garden obsessively and even have happy cows. But a real farmer is forever, no matter how wealthy, and the lowest class you can be in. Manure on your boots and in your brain as well. These days for some reason, people don't seem to want to be farmers anymore, and a lot of western civilization has in fact been crawling out of that class and into the urban condo, something far more respectable. Becoming a farmer seems to be going down a long notch in the class war and taking on a complex and contradictory image. So despite the romance and the beauty and the great food and all those other benefits, being a farmer has an old and rather venerable image problem. Somehow shit on the boots translates to shit in the brain.

 

These days when I walk to the barn to do the chores, I find that I walk like my father, I walk in his footsteps and of course I'm walking in his life, I walk on his land. There is a farmers' walk, it's slow, it's bend but steady. Farming is all walking, working, stooping, lifting, it's all physical, and there's no point in rushing it. The trick in farm work is just to keep going. And as I get older I have become more like my father and probably much like his father and his father and his father because gender doesn't really enter into it. Superficially in every way I'm completely unlike them. I'm a female, I'm a writer, I'm an academic, I'm an environmentalist, I'm a feminist, all of those things they would have hated, and yet none of this really matters on the way to the barn, the ritual and the rule read into my bones as old as human beings, you take care of animals before you feed yourself, you check on everything, you put the farm to bed before you come in at night. It always amuses me that prostitution gets labelled the oldest profession, the obvious oldest profession is farming.

 

Farming is only about food and survival, it's really not about anything else, any romance about it is just that, frivolous and frills. Farming is fundamental, it's about food and thus it is also about dirt, hard work, being outside in every kind of weather, and of course it's also about birth, and death. It's relentless. Farming never stops, although it does kind of slow down in the winter. There's nothing that can be put on hold, fruit can be green one day ripe the next and rot on the day after, animals always have to be cared for first; plus, keeping animals means you get to love and care for them, and then you have to kill them. My father loved his animals, although he never let us sees that. We only knew it accidentally by coming on him crying when a calf had died or when he had to shoot an old dog. But he was very fast and skilled at butchering. Last year my brother with whom I now share the farm, and I had to come to terms with this ourselves because our father had died, and now there is only us to do the killing and butchering. My brother had raised a bunch of pigs, we always liked pigs, they're smart and they're funny and we get very attached to them, we take them for walks down to the beach, we scratch their ears and we give them names, they're easy to feed and delicious to eat.

 

The day my brother decided to butcher last year was pouring rain, it was late November, he'd been putting it off and now it was getting very late in the season, so he decided to try something someone he'd heard, he fed the first pig a mixture of grain and beer, thinking this would calm the pig down and make it sleepy and then he would shoot it in its sleep. Somehow that would make it easy. But the beer just made the pig really really happy, I went over to the barn to see how things were progressing, and there was my tall, silent brother ankle deep in the mud, head bear to the pissing rain, while the pig galloped clumsily and happily from one end of the pig pen to the other, kicking up its feet and then falling over. There wasn't much I could do to help, so I left and went back to the house, and after I left I heard the shot, I went back out but there wasn't much to be done, my father skinned out the pig, and threw the pig's legs to the dogs and put the carcass in his truck and then he came in the house to get warm. And he sat at the table that was our parents and our grandparents and our great-grandparents and finally he said, "Dad was really fast" and then he said "I'd like to be alone to do this," all of which I understood, all the subtext was there, missing our father and the sense of being alone and grown up and responsible adults finally at fifty and the harshness, the duty and the beauty of killing the pig, good meat for winter, safe, healthy meat, and work we felt good about, we exchanged some small talk about the butcher and when the meat would be ready, and then he left.

 

I contend that there really two kinds of people in the world, the people who grow food, and the people who cook it, I just grow it. What I like about growing food is texture, colour, shape, the sense of abundance, the sensualness of it all for example the way the late August light glimpses off a basket of pink and purple eggplants, red and green peppers and yellow and orange tomatoes and those big orange turban squash. I revel in the satisfaction of picking things but then I have to find someone else to help turn it into something to do all that canning, pickling, drying, baking, juicing and freezing. I love this process as well, but I really love to do it with other people, and I like that sense of community and shared effort when there's a bunch of us around the table, peeling peaches for example, and slicing them onto trays for the dryer. But because small-scale agriculture is mostly tedious physical work, the more people there are, the more food could be produced. A small farm can actually feed a lot of people quite easily, but the work is intense and so that old adage of "many hands make light work" is exactly right. But this means a small subsistence farm is about community, whether you want it to be or not, it's about geographical community, and it's about family. You don't choose who you're related to, and you don't choose who moves in next door as your neighbour. If you all live there, and you have to get along, and you have to do the work to feed yourselves, you have no choice, you get along or you leave. Small farming is about depending on your family and neighbours, and so it's once both oddly dependant and yet it's an amazing source of independence from systems, corporations, governments, and those loathsome grocery stores.

 

So why do I call myself a farmer? And why have I stuck to this label so intensely? I actually really like at academic conferences to introduce myself as a farmer because it's quite funny to watch peoples faces, because they see me and I'm there I'm a doctor and I'm an academic and I'm calling myself a farmer and they just don't get it. Why have I stuck to this label? I've asked myself this question for many years with no real answer but I've asked myself this not only walking to the barn in the winter to feed the animals but standing in the muddy freshly turned garden soil in early April planting the first seeds, or in early June, stuffing my mouth full of new spinach. Or in the summer wandering around peach trees, bucket in one hand, looking for that first, that earliest, that just finally gotten ready peach. Or in the late fall putting the garden away, pulling the last onions, cutting cornstalks, with the chill October breeze rattling the leaves. I've never made any money farming and I never expect to. Mostly I give a lot of food away these days. Plus, I eat really really well. My complicity here is that I don't identify as just a farmer, of course have all those other labels to fall back on, depending on where I am and who I'm talking to, but farmer is always the word that always tugs at my heart, or perhaps at my feet. It's there among the fundamentals, digging shit out of the pig pen for example, that I find my own particular and peculiar sense of freedom. Within those boundaries a belonging, a connection, and a work that is fundamental, because it is just that, it is work that feeds me, feeds my family, feeds my community. I'm very well aware that right now this is kind of intellectual luxury that even though I don't have much money, I can buy package food if I need to, and at night when I'm feeling really lazy, I can go to the local pub for a pizza. And I'm also very aware that for several thousand years farming wasn't a luxury, it was a way generation after generation of us survived, and that small farmers are an independent and really hard-headed lot, and as long as they cling to the land, separate from politics, armies and the changing fortunes of whatever kind of nation state they happen to be in, they would survive.

 

So perhaps that's the connection, that's why as a writer I cling to this word, this label, this old-fashioned, out-moted roots and antiquity lifestyle, it's that sense of independence of being outside, of not ever having to care about the latest, whatever that might be. Being outside even of history, outside of time itself. It's the ultimate in arrogance, in fact. It enables to think what I want, and to live how I want, and my feet coming down on the earth, in tune with some ancient rhythm, that even I am only dimly conscious of. But it's one that lets me live, and breathe inside my own empire of time and beauty, abundance and space. Thank you so much.

 

Jon Steinman: Luanne Armstrong speaking in September 2008 in Nelson, British Columbia.

 

soundbite

 

Jon Steinman: And this is Deconstructing Dinner, a weekly one-hour radio show and podcast produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY in Nelson, British Columbia. You're listening to recordings from the Kootenay Harvest Revival - a celebratory event held to honour the monumental harvest of grain from Canada's first community supported agriculture project for grain. In the fall of this year, 180 residents of Nelson and Creston along with one business will receive their share of five grains grown locally as part of an innovative project to revive a local grain economy. Deconstructing Dinner has been documenting the evolution of this project as part of our Local Grain Revolution series and in September we teamed up with the CSA project and a local restaurant to host the Kootenay Harvest Revival - a two day event held to both celebrate and inspire. Part I of the event's recordings along with the previous three broadcasts on the CSA are available on our website at deconstructingdinner.ca

 

You were just listening to author and farmer Luanne Armstrong. Luanne's most recent book is Blue Valleys: An Ecological Memoir. Luanne farms and lives in Boswell just north of the Creston Valley.

 

Speaking next at the event was a now-familiar voice on the show - farmer Keith Huscroft - one of the three farmers who this year grew grain for the Creston grain CSA. And here again is MC Russell Precious.

 

Russell Precious: There are a couple of reasons why we call this event a revival, and one of them is the revival of local agriculture in a generic sense, but we're also motivated by very specific revival of the grain growing in the Creston area. That is grain that was grown and consumed locally. In the early days market boards were set up to support the farmers and the consolidating of their crops. The BC Tree Fruit Marketing Board was such an entity as was the Canadian Wheat Board, but in the case of Creston until 1998 it required, as I understand, that all grain be shipped to the prairies. So the Nelson-Creston grain CSA was a revival of grain being grown locally, and consumed locally.

 

For the last number of years I've been driving regularly between Boulder Colorado and Nelson here in my home and, you know when you drive a thousand miles through Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, when you come in through Cranbrook, there's a moment when you come in through the mountains and there is the Kootenay Valley and Creston, and that body of water after a thousand miles of dry land and you feel like you've reached heaven. And when we were visiting several weeks ago, again it was very heavenly and particularly the part of Creston I've always liked is the part that nestles up against the mountains in the southeast corner, the area called Lister, and our next speaker, Keith Huscroft is a fourth generation farmer in Lister. He's logged with horses, he's farmed with horses, he's one of our three grain growers this year. And I would like to have a very warm welcome for Keith Huscroft.

 

Keith Huscroft: Well, I'm glad that Luanne came up with that wonderful prose because now is going to change. While researching agriculture in the Creston Valley I came to understand that I'm not going to be able to tell you everything that went on there in 15 minutes and I was really glad to see the display there because I'm not going to talk about agriculture in the Creston Valley I'm going to talk about my family, how they came and their contribution to agriculture.

 

167 years ago, my great-grandfather was recruited out of an orphanage in England by the Mormons, he took a ship to New Orleans, spent a winter and then pushed the cart from there to Utah, which I think was a fairly long trip, spent 20 years getting a trade, married and that time Brigham Young was in control, and had an eye on his wife or my great-grandmother and their first three children. Deciding it was a good time to leave, he left with the US military after they came in and did some clean up whatever, and went back and took a wagon back to Missouri, which was a long trip back. 20 years later he returned to Utah after Brigham Young was dead, stayed a couple more years and then with his family that was now up to seven, loaded up three heavy wagons with 65 horses and 20 head of cattle and headed back for English territory which happened to be the Creston Valley because he'd heard wonderful things about the Creston flats and how it was as fertile as the Nile Valley. So it took him two years to get from Provo, Utah to the Creston Valley he got here in September 1st, 1891.

 

And settled on the Creston Valley, started milking cows, became the first milk or the first dairy farmer, I guess. Selling milk to a paddle-wheeler, a stern-wheeler, that went between Bonners and Kaslo, digging ore or whatever. And that went pretty well until the next spring. When after a giant snow, they had a melt and a huge storm, and it overdid the dikes, and chased him right off the flats and up into the high ground and his house decided to follow because after the great big storm they went back down. And the house wasn't where they left it, it was on the bank of the river on the opposite side of the river where they left so tried to follow him up. It too wasn't happy with the flood waters down there. So they let go the deed that they had on the flatland and they too it up to the high ground which is Lister, and together deeded about a section of land, about six hundred acres and proceeded to carve a farm and living out of that. My great-grandfather he learned quite a bit in Utah with irrigation and with horses and shovels, dug himself a ditch two miles long to bring a creek at the right height to his farmland, which included a two hundred foot tressle over a thirty foot ravine or coolly or whatever which I find a lot of work. They worked their asses off; compared to now they were really something.

 

I horse logged a little bit, I didn't do it for the money because we never made any, I think I did it primarily for the endorphin rush, after you're injured you get the endorphins kind of come over and give you that nice feeling. After a day of being rolled, swatted, kicked, nicked and whacked I'd come back and I'd sit down and I'd feel better than a crackhead on a cookie binge. I often though back to my ancestors who actually did this everyday and day out because I only did it for a couple of months a year and now actually for the second year I decided I've learned quite a bit about horse logging and was never going to do it again. Considering that they had to do all this without power, without any kind of motor, except horses at all was just an amazing feat like, I mean it wasn't all work. My grandfather, who was nine years old, this is another thing, trying to find a little history about my family on my side is a little difficult, I mean my brother or my grandfathers' brother's and wife kept meticulous records, so we know a lot what would happen with the family but not necessarily with our side. So I came across an old tape that was made in 1966 on the 75th anniversary of the Huscroft's being in Creston, and there's a certain radio personality and as radio personality go they tend to take control of the program because after all it is theirs. And he then told my grandfather and proceeded to say everything that my grandfather might have answered him with, like what way it like being nine years old and coming through all this and past all that and dealing with all this stuff and went on for a couple of minutes. He really didn't leave grandpa much to say. So there was a pause, and it was radio, of course and he says, "it was a long walk?" and then you heard the chairs scrape and he got up and left.

 

So they say that history is a small thread of truth over a sea of what is forgotten so just about everything is forgotten there so it's all second-hand what I'm telling you now. It couldn't have been all work because of the little bit of record that we have. There's a blip in the paper in Kaslo in about 1906 or something about a hockey game or a hockey team and my grandpa's name, which was Charles, they said, "Charlie has breakfast heads above the rest" and because he was a tall bloke I guess and really played as hard out and by far was the best hockey player there. So he must have had some fun there and he worked in the mines, he was a blacksmith and at that time he was 19 or 20. What came to be a surprise was about six years later when they were checking the signatures on a certain hotel. Charlie's name came up quite a bit. It made sense Charlie was a blacksmith there, he worked there, but my brother or my grandpa also had a brother that lived there so there was no reason that he should stay at this hotel, except maybe the fact that it was a brothel. So apparently it wasn't all work for old gramps, and luckily he didn't get married till about five years later so that saves him from gram's wrath, if she should hear me now.

 

Our family made their money mostly selling horses to the miners for about the first 15 years that they were here. After they moved to the high country the cows were sold or given away and horses seemed to be where the money was. In fact, there was such good money in it that my great uncle bought a stud from France for two thousand dollars in 1909. So two thousand dollars in 1909 adds up to quite a bit of money now and it was well worth it because it made it here in the fall and lived till March and then it died. Of course horses don't breed till May so they didn't do too well on that one which is why after that he went and became a mining engineer and didn't have too much to do with the horses after that. Of course World War I was right at that time or shortly after that, and both the horse and the cattle market kind of crashed at that time.

 

What was very interesting to me is how frugal they lived. I mean my grandma and grandpa never even owned a car until the 1940s. And they hardly spent any money, they didn't go anywhere, but they were always very happy. My Dad and all the siblings had all the fun they had on the farm even though they worked hard. They built them a tennis court and they actually had a lot of fun and I think that sense of family were it's not just a peon or an extra worker, it's your family. And they really enjoyed growing up on that farm. And the farm is still there. I mean I'm still doing it and I raise my kids on it. I don't think they quite enjoyed it as much as my Dad might have enjoyed it because I work them pretty hard.

 

Jon Steinman: And this is Deconstructing Dinner. You're listening to farmer Keith Huscroft speaking in September 2008 at the Kootenay Harvest Revival in Nelson, British Columbia.

 

Keith Huscroft: Here's some facts obscured. We deal in grain and grain is dealt in bushels. Now I'm not really sure if anybody here knows the size of a bushel because neither do I. It's a sack of grain is about a bushel. And I have a manure spreader that is three hundred bushel so that would be like three hundred sacks of grain, still really doesn't make any difference. But the one thing I do know for sure is that if you fill that manure spreader fill of liquid manure, and accidentally leave the hydraulic paddle, or not the paddle but drive for the bottom on, and go down the highway, it will unload itself and exactly 1.3 kilometres, exactly 6 feet wide and 3/4 of an inch thick. And I did that this summer that "man I'm going to make paper again this is going to be great." I got to visit with a lot of old neighbours that haven't called me in a long time, pretty happy with me. Part of that what Luanne was saying about dumb farmers are maybe we got a little shit for brains or something like that. That day I think I did.

 

I guess the greatest education I got was from my maternal grandparents. They arrived here in the 30s, they kind of came a different route. My grandmother came as a nanny and she actually worked for the Lakes family in Nelson in 1930. And my grandpa came here and he was promised a job in Halifax, when he got there the man couldn't help him, there was a depression. Gave him four dollars and told him to hop a freight and head out to the Prairies. So my grandpa did, he rode in the boxcar for free, just like most a lot of other people did at that time, but he didn't get off in the Prairies he got off in the Slocan Valley. And he worked for a month or two as a labourer on a track gang but he wasn't really built for that, he was a smaller guy. So he came to Nelson and by luck he ended up getting a job for Blaylock Estates or whatever, and he's actually responsible for a lot of the rock work and quite a few of the trees that were planted in two or three years that he was there. So he left his mark where they left their mark here. But it's from them that I learnt the most about farming. They were very very frugal farmers too, but I grew up with them whereas the other grandparents were fairly old by the time I got there, these ones gave me a lesson.

 

And Luanne was talking about butchering. My grandma she was there with the bucket, collected the blood, and that girl she went right up form tongue to testicles to tail and disappeared with it in the house a little bit later you'd come out with something like cracklings or something where she cooked the blood with flour and salt and it was really good. After I got a like bit older I learned that it was the testicles that she locked onto I wasn't going to eat the soup for a couple of days but besides that I was not too bad. Another thing about Luanne which I should have said is I think I told Bill about that thing because my grandma used to give the pigs a gallon of dandelion wine and they would sit there and sing for a while and then they go to sleep and she'd cut the throat and the blood would have a very interesting taste to it. I think it worked better for grandma. I never tried it, I wasn't going to waste good wine on a pig.

 

I wasn't going to bring this up but why not it's my fifteen minutes. I was quite willing to let my kids and teach them young on how to kill and how to clean it, it's a skill they need to know, something they need to get over. My Dad was just the opposite. Only once, first there was a good reason for that. But only once when I was 22 years old before he actually let me shoot a cow, and this day happened to be, I had a new gun, there was this mini series on TV where black powder rifles were in fashion. And I bought me a 50 calibre Hawkin's gun in Lethbridge the week before I was going to show my Dad just how butchering was done. So you're supposed to put 125 grains of powder in this, I figured "you know little's good but a lot's better" so I put about 250 grains of powder in this, jammed that bullet in there, lined up on the cow, it was looking through the fence, my Dad and my brothers beside me, and let fly. Now I'm not sure what went through that cow's head first watching this but it wasn't the bullet because it bounced off. And we didn't see this because with the roar again I mean that thing didn't have nothing. It was a flamethrower, it had a shot of flame 5 feet out the end of that gun, there was black smoke everywhere and the roar. First of all we were all in shock about 4 or 5 seconds. And then we couldn't see the cow because of all the smoke, like "where is it?" And I'm not lying, this is the absolute truth. So we all ran to the side about 15 feet before we could see the cow. Now it was a red white faced cow. But at this time it was a black faced cow with all the unburnt powder because there was the physics thing in that but I didn't pay attention in school because I had a girlfriend. So there we are a black faced cow with its little red dot. Now about the time we got to the side the cow's mind cleared, and it went out this ungodly beller, kind of mournful at first, a little sickly, and then it jumped the fence and no word of a lie. We didn't see it for about ten days because it just kept going. And that's the last time my Dad let me butcher a cow.

 

If your grandparents were farmers that made a living on the farm, not doing anything else, just strictly farmers, remain standing. If your parents were farmers, stay standing. Less than 10. How many farmers are here, stand up again if you've sat down.

 

During the last depression, it was funny that this one of the speakers was talking about the financial markets and really now they're worse now than they were during the great depression, or they have braver implications. But I was reading that during the last depression half of everybody that was in North America had a relative who lived on a farm. And of those of the half that lived on the farm 80 or 90% of them made their living farming. If we have a great depression now, just in our area, and this is a rural thing, this wasn't an urban thing it was rural. If we have a great depression now who's going to produce the food? I mean, really in my area there isn't anybody who makes a living except the dairy farmers strictly from farming, even myself I have a little portable sawmill and I don't feed myself completely out of the garden or with the cows. I used to when I had kids, maybe half or 60% or something but not at all now. Now if there's a depression I really doubt if I can feed my own family and I'm one of the few farmers that are in here.

 

So it's very important that we pay attention, not just to be as farmers but even as yourself, now's the perfect time to become a farmer. I mean, there's support, we've been ignored as farmers for 70 years and we've been downtrodden, no, we've be ignored enough that we're non-existent, or just about non-existent. What I was getting at before is in my area there were 14 bachelor farmers who own maybe two or three thousand acres, that means they don't have any family to pass it on to and the average age is about 70. So I really don't know. What happens as a horse farmer the only reason I get away with it is because I have a neighbour who's probably the only surviving horse farmer in the province, maybe in the country. And his name is Stewart Fodder and he was a famous horse logger farmer from Parksville and he moved here. And if it wasn't for him I wouldn't have a clue on how to do half the stuff I know how to do. So anyway, it's food for thought. And I have something here I wrote down, a little plagiarised but it really fits in to what we're about and what we're here for tonight.

 

The small farm does bring the family back to the table

Both the farm family and the farm community

In food directly from the farm prepared with artistry and local pride

And served in celebration to those who do the work becomes a bonus payment to us, the farmer of the highest order

People are looking for clear evidence of values they may connect with

They are interested in how to grow their food and why

To this end the stories of our choices and concerns become important

In my case heritage, true horsepower organics and family involvement

What we do is important

We're farmers, we feed people

How we do it is more important

True, sustainable organic farming

Why we do it is the most important of all

Why is like an explosion of connected spiritual, economic and physical reasons with a little magic sprinkled in and when woven together create community

 

I recently read if, "Someone dreams a dream alone it's only a dream. However, if we all dream the same dream together, it's the beginning of a new reality," so here's to a new reality.

 

Jon Steinman: Keith Huscroft speaking in September 2008 in Nelson, British Columbia. Keith is a fourth-generation farmer who farms in the Creston Valley in the area known as Lister. Keith is one of three farmers who grew grain for the community supported grain project that we've been covering here for quite some time now on Deconstructing Dinner. To help celebrate the harvest and the success of the project, Deconstructing Dinner teamed up with the CSA to host the Kootenay Harvest Revival which we've been listening to recordings from both on last week's show and today. You can expect more recordings from the two-day event on next week's show and if you miss any of these episodes, they are as usual, archived on our website at deconstructingdinner.ca

 

ending theme

 

Jon Steinman: And that was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded at Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op Radio. I've been your host Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant John Ryan.

 

The theme music for Deconstructing Dinner is courtesy of Nelson-area resident Adham Shaikh.

 

This radio program is provided free of charge to campus/community radio stations across the country, and relies on the financial support from you the listener. Support for the program can be donated through our website at deconstructingdinner.ca or by dialing 250-352-9600.


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