Three weeks to the day after leaving Nanaimo, BC we pulled our tired, battered truck and trailer up to our new home, in Fosterville, NB. Our community is small, not even a village. Since we are in lake country, during the summer the population swells to three or four times the number of residents that live here year round. In the winter there are about 60 full time residents within about a ten mile radius.
We are 50 miles to the closest town of Woodstock, 30 miles to the closest village of Canterbury and there are no stores between here and there. The nearest hospital is an hour and fifteen minutes from our home and the trip to Woodstock is about 50 minutes in good weather on a rocky, rough, winding, narrow country road. The truck bounces and jumps as we hit unseen bumps and someone always knocks their head on the ceiling of the truck. It’s fun though!
As we pulled into our driveway and looked at our 50 acres of land, the large empty looming house and the waist high grass, we all sighed with relief. The trip had been long and onerous but we survived. The kids couldn’t wait to run into the house and look around and were pleasantly surprised as they told me “Mom! It’s actually nice!” Len and I looked at each other, smiled and felt like we had come home.
The previous owner met us at the house to show us how things worked. He gave us hints on those little tricks one has to learn when they move into a house. We had no running water so we had to go to the ancient rock well that stood out front of our home and use a galvanized bucket and rope to lower it to the water which was low due to summer. We pulled up the bucket of fresh water and wondered if it would be okay. We hadn’t water tested prior to moving because there was no electricity and the pipes weren’t working. Len is brave and has a stronger stomach than I, so he tasted the water with a little apprehension. As I watched him warily, I saw him smile and take a big gulp—it was excellent spring water!
The next few days were a flurry of activity as neighbours arrived to welcome us and help out. Len got to know several men quickly as they struggled to get us a working water pump. It took almost a week but we finally had running water. Another week later, we had hot water. Fortunately, we live across the road and down a path to public beach access at the lake which quickly became known as our personal bathing centre. I didn’t feel too badly since for our new home and farm I was only buying biodegradable non toxic bathing and cleaning products. Let me tell you, after a day of working on the land, unpacking in the house and getting rid of old decrepit junk left from the previous owner, nothing felt better than to walk into the pristine lake and swim to my heart’s content. I have never slept better at night either, the dark sky, quiet street, stars sparkling out my window and listening to the wildlife that surrounded me was peaceful and comforting.
Having moved four times in five years around Nanaimo and not getting to really know many neighbours beyond the odd head-bob of acknowledgment, it was refreshing to have people show up and say hello; ask if they could do anything for us; and offer to bring us furniture until we could get some of our own. The men stayed to give Len advice, help mow the field and offer friendship and support.
Our goal in moving to our “future farm” was to cultivate the land into a garden that could sustain our family and if we had excess, we could sell at a roadside stand. We want to raise our own heritage chickens and eat free range natural eggs, have dairy goats and make our own yogurt and cheese. This will be accomplished as we continue our journey. The friends we have met have helped us in so many ways. We are about to raise a barn in the old fashioned way with neighbours and plenty of food. We have scheduled one day for the event. Len has spent the last few months taking down an old barn and harvesting all of the useable materials to build our “new” barn. He has built our pasture with cedar fence posts and page wire to keep in the goats, Great Pyrenees dog as well as hens: Araucanas, Rhode Island Reds and Black Australorps. Len and the men will work on the barn while the women and I will help somewhat as well as make bread, beans and beer. I almost feel like the women of yore who worked hard providing for their families while working with the community for mutual gain.
I spent the winter learning to sit still, be calm, relax and enjoy the snow. To keep my house warm, I burned our firewood and baked hot fresh breads, rolls and pastries. I created soups and chillies from my home preserved foods of the previous summer. I was thrilled to serve my family food that I had made all from scratch, home baked bread, home made jelly, original soups and my own green tomato pickles. I guess what I am trying to say is that I felt complete pleasure and joy at having the ability to provide for my loved ones. I had an amazing sense of accomplishment with my newly acquired skills and abilities. No longer was my worth measured by how much overtime I put in at work or how well I met with the company rules; but rather, my value was determined by how efficiently I could meet my needs with as little as possible. I truly loved that feeling and got up the courage to sell my baking in the local farmers’ market.
It is now late spring, we have our organic heritage seed, we have carefully prepped the soil, we have researched companion planting, how to organically keep pests out of our garden, saved jars to preserve for next winter and have found ways to use our talents to support ourselves. In conjunction with the farm, I have developed my web building skills to start my own business, Len has begun to make signs again and we opened a coffee shop in our home focusing on fair trade organic products and homemade baked goods. The hard work is not going to stop anytime soon but between the garden, chickens, goats, coffee shop and our technical skills, we are home more, travel less and are learning to be as self-sufficient as possible.
Who knows, maybe next year we will tap those maple trees and get our honey bees. It has been a long hard journey and in reflection I would have changed some things but overall I know I am in the right place!
Sarah Sherman is a mother and wife who, after spending 41 years of her life in BC, sold everything she owns and drove 6,000 km across the country to homestead an organic farm in rural New Brunswick.
Photos by Len Sherman.