By Gord Stewart
“Ninety percent of people who shift to a lifestyle block do it because they don’t want any neighbours.”
Such was the frank observation of a real estate agent in the audience of a Fieldays presentation looking at the loss of productive land to small rural blocks.
His comment struck a chord with me. After close encounters in the city, my wife, Sandy, and I longed for more space and bit of peace and quiet. We found it, and at the time of the Fieldays talk were several years into our sojourn in the country.
The session confirmed that our property was blessed with elite soils – the best of the best in our region. We were already striving to look after – and make the best use of – our land, but this only strengthened our resolve.
When we made our move to that old farmhouse on four acres, our younger son, Charlie, said, “Is this one of those back-to-the-land things?”
I guess it was. It was an attempt to slow down a little, to “live more lightly on the land” as the saying goes, to be more self-sufficient.
Rural living brings many small and simple pleasures. Why, for example, would you yearn for an exotic overseas holiday when you could stay home and tackle an infestation of onion weed and fight back the privet and ivy? And who needs a flash wardrobe when the budget could more sensibly be spent keeping your ride-on and chainsaw in good working order?
It was love at first sight when we moved to our place in the country. I said they’d carry me out in a box. We had nearly a decade there – years I wouldn’t trade for anything – but we left voluntarily, and under our own steam.
Circumstances change and we’re townies now, but I’m left with wonderful memories from our time in the country.
I experienced first-hand the generosity of the farming community. Early on when sorting water for a flock of sheep on the way to us, our next-door neighbor, John, took charge. Bless his heart, skills and tools – I was definitely the helper on this one.
Soon another John, and his wife Thora, moved in next door – neighbours from heaven, for sure! A retired dairy farmer, John always had a friendly smile and time for a yarn. He’d do anything for you.
If the sheep needed attention, he’d pop over the fence. Once I asked if I could borrow his trailer to haul home the remains of some tree felling nearby ready to be cut into firewood. He offered, instead, the trailer, his SUV to tow it, and himself as sidekick and helper.
Through the kindness of Gordon and Robin, owners of the dairy farm siding on our place, my Labrador retriever, Eben, and I enjoyed many hours out on their property. I rambled and pondered; Eben trotted along, sniffed, and ate the occasional cow pat.
Once a truck delivering mulch got stuck in the mud and I rang Gordon to see if he had a big tractor or something that could pull it out. Thinking out loud, he pondered, “Now, what are we going to do?” It was the way he said it I so appreciated. It was a country-farmer-neighbour thing. My problem was now his problem too.
Our flock of seven sheep – headed by Woodrow and Lilly – grew at one stage to 10. They enjoyed their days, while serving as friendly, low-impact lawn mowers in three small paddocks around the edge of the property.
Our vege garden, on a sunny, gentle slope, was an explosion of growth. A late afternoon trip to the garden in summer gave us almost everything we needed for tea.
From leeks, strawberries and tomatoes to eggplant, kohlrabi and yacon, we turned garden-to-plate “food miles” into food metres. Neighbours shared in the bounty and we contributed to the local food bank as well. Our fruit trees – apple, pear, peach and plum, among them – made for a busy autumn.
Beyond the garden, it was the woodlands that were a joy and a wonder to me. Hundred-year-old English oaks and a towering Tulip tree formed the canopy. Other trees and plants in the understory made for dappled sunlight. I did all my firewood “work” there. It was cool even on hot, sunny days. And the birds always talked up a storm.
We’re busy now preparing our home vege garden in town, even resorting to some raised beds. Our produce will be delicious, I’m sure. Still, I doubt I’ll ever taste tomatoes as good as those we grew steps from our farm kitchen door.
Gord Stewart is an environmental sustainability consultant. He does project work for government, industry, and non-profits.