Monday, February 1, 2010

My Friday AM columns

Farming in the City
My name is Rob Fensom and I am a resident of Salmon Arm. I have been here for the last four years living and working in this fair city. This is something I never dreamed of saying, as a country boy like me would never live in a village let alone a city. On our old ranch in Manitoba it was a thirty mile trip to get the mail and a lot further to find a city. I am a farmer you see, living in the city but thankfully this city is bigger than Vancouver in area. So although I am five miles from down town in the middle of a lovely valley filled with farms, I am a ‘city slicker’.
The title Farming in the City got me thinking of Sex in the City, though frankly the only time its hot and steamy around here is when I am working under a blazing sun moving irrigation hand lines. As for beautiful women, I am regularly surrounded by 100 ewes and their lambs along with a slim young thing called ‘Rosa’ who is their guardian dog keeping stray dogs and coyotes at bay.
Now with all this talk of eating locally and one hundred mile diets I hope to take this opportunity to bridge the ever widening gap between Urban and Rural folks. You need us for the milk, meat, eggs, fruit, and veggies we produce. We need you for gas bars, liquor stores, fishing tackle and gun shops, oh and of course ‘Tims’. All the usual stuff Hollywood depicts us local yokels coming to town for, along with curling rinks, ice arena’s, libraries, doctors clinics etc.
The farm we live on has the Salmon River flowing through the middle of it. This makes for a beautiful setting but with that comes responsibilities for Riparian areas and the plants and animals that call these areas their home. We have to farm wisely and profitably to be able to meet our responsibilities and stay on the farm. This day and age that is a major task with every one watching you over the fence to see its done right and you comply with the mountain of Provincial, National and City laws and regulations. It also seems to me that every one is an expert on the environment and has a point to make. With this in mind last Fall we completed an Environmental Farm Plan whose sign we now proudly display along with our farm sign. We also at the same time did a Biodiversity Farm Plan which catalogues the animal and plant life on our farm along with wild life corridors to and from the river. This gives us a snap shot of the farm and a starting point to monitor future improvements.
We have always farmed organically though at this time we are not certified. We produce lamb and wool from our flock of sheep along with breed stock. This year we opened to the public for the lambing season so folks could pet the lambs and watch and learn about a working sheep farm. This was very popular as one can rarely walk through a field of 260 lambs and ewes, stopping to pet sleepy lambs and friendly ewes. The big hit was watching them at feeding time, as once all the ewes have their noses in the trough the lambs form a large group and run up and down the field.
With our market close at hand and interest in local food production I have had to step back and take a long hard look in the mirror. No longer am I a rancher producing animals for feed lots and packing plants two provinces away. I am your neighbour producing food for you in your back yard. This has meant a paradigm shift in thinking and doing around our place. Not only do consumers need to connect to farmers but also farmers to consumers, something many of my kind are slow to do as we are naturally a shy bunch.
One way of doing this is keeping you the consumer up to date on happenings on the farms in your area to give you a better understanding of what all us guys are doing out there.
The year so far has been dry; no doubt your lawns are telling you this. Along with the cool spring it meant for a slow start for any new seeded crops and poor yields for the first cut of hay. In my vegetable garden I could not get carrots or parsnips to grow if my life depended on it. Our first cut of hay was half the usual size and pastures were slow growing and poor yielding. We irrigate from the river but can not pump water until June as the river is high and full of sand which can wreck the brass impellers on the pump. I switched the pump on the 4th June and could have sworn I heard a large Ahhh sound from the fields, not unlike me after a hot day and drinking a cold one. With steady watering our second cut of hay looks much better and we hope to make up for lost bales. The story is the same from many area farmers, those with newer ‘stands’ ( fields of two or tree years old) did better than the older thinner ‘stands’, much like my hair. Market gardeners that I spoke to had similar concerns, though mainly about the colder weather slowing up crop development.
Our lamb crop is doing well, with some lambs approaching 50-60 lbs this is putting pressure on the grass as the growing lambs eat almost as much as their mums. Instead of 100 ewes and 160 lambs, we have 260 ewes and the grass is disappearing fast. We move our sheep to fresh pasture every two days and use electric mesh fencing to keep them in. As the whole system is portable we move the sheep around in a box, building a new one for them to enter as the old one comes down. This gives them fresh tasty grass, and allows the pasture time to recover for the next grazing. Most pastures are grazed every 21-35 days, so I am busy taking down and erecting fence, moving sheep and irrigation pipe most of the summer. Keeps me out of trouble and you in lamb chops!

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