Brother-in-law’s (BIL’s) quest for a farm had an inauspicious beginning. I came home one Friday to a note from my husband tacked to the front door. “BIL picked me up. We’re off to buy a case of beer.” Since the Friday in question was Good Friday, I assumed they’d soon return, empty-handed of course. It was hours later, though, that my husband came home. “We drove all over,” he said, “before we realized which day it was. We kept passing farms for sale. BIL thought it was a shame. ‘A farm’s a beautiful thing,’ he said. Then he asked if I’d like to look at farms for sale with him.” My surprise must have been obvious. “I wondered where that came from, too,” my husband said.
BIL seemed well established in his career, climbing the corporate ladder toward executive chef. He and my sister had lived in their modest bungalow since they’d married. Unknown to us, BIL had spent every summer of his teen years working on a neighbour’s farm. Obviously a love of farming had been instilled and lay dormant until now, a seed waiting for fertile ground.
On several occasions we accompanied BIL and my sister as they considered farms for sale or attended farm auctions. It was often a depressing business, sometimes even scary.
Many of the farmhouses needed more than a little renovation. Roofs leaked, floors and ceilings sagged, in a few cases precipitously. We worried for my sister and her husband. What were they getting into?
In a year’s time they found the farm they wanted, made an offer and were quite delighted when it was accepted. We helped them move that summer, my sister both excited and nervous about the twist her life had suddenly taken. It was a typical older farmhouse with eat-in kitchen, summer kitchen, parlour, a wide staircase leading to three bedrooms and bathroom upstairs. The dirt-floored cellar was more than a little damp, a home to frogs and the odd snake.
Unfortunately, both house and barn proved to need major repairs — new support beams for the barn, new chimney, roof and septic system for the house. These repairs were only the beginning.
BIL’s first experiment with farming involved a small flock of sheep. The ram became so aggressive, though, my sister feared for her safety every time she ventured into the farmyard. The egg-laying hens BIL next acquired benefited us all, but a fox soon found a way into the barn and one by one the hens disappeared. Piglets quickly outgrew their pen and proved to be labour intensive. Beef cattle seemed to work best until BIL’s career involved so much travel, my sister was left too often to cope alone.
Yet, even with these bumps in the road and despite my worries, the farm flourishes. The house is a work in progress with expansion and renovation ongoing. The freezer in the summer kitchen is well stocked with meat, the pantry with jams, relishes, pickles and canned tomatoes. Cats are raising kittens in the hay-filled barn. The warmest family Christmas’s have been celebrated in BIL and sister’s farmhouse, and their summer farm party, where they host a wealth of good neighbours and friends, has become a popular annual event.
Last summer an expanded vegetable garden yielded an overwhelming harvest. BIL has markets in mind for future organic produce and has set plans in motion to teach students from local schools how to grow and prepare their own food. It’s an ideal plan, I think, allowing BIL to combine his talents as a chef with his enduring love of life on a farm.
As BIL said and continues to say, “A farm is a beautiful thing.”
Sandra Beswetherick writes from Seeley’s Bay, Ontario