I (Terry) have been fascinated for a very long time with the ways in which we, as humans, have worked with plants to create what we need from the land where we live. How people developed ways of making and creating the very basic items needed for daily living, health, and healing, all from what was available to them locally. We were in deep relationship with the land and the gifts that each plant and being, humans included, had to offer. We communicated with all of life and it was through these intricately woven conversations that we came to learn the many uses of plants. It wasn’t some fluke or just trial and error. There was, and still is, a deep seeded ability within all of us to perceive and understand the language of plants. The language of life.
Moving to Nova Scotia and starting our farm has been such an immense gift, continually teaching me about living for the land, being in direct connection to my food and the difficult choices that come with those relationships, and the many ways that we can provide for our simple needs, all from this place. I have wanted to delve into working with plants in a more intentional way for a very long time, yet doubted my own internal ability to do so. And ever since we brought our first two dairy goats, Sophie and Sadie, to the farm four years ago, I have wanted to make goat milk soap. And then there are our heritage breed pigs, who have the most incredible fat for rendering into lard, which can be used as oil for a variety of things, like soap and salves…well, you get my point. So over this past winter, I began immersing myself fully in these long seeded dreams. Hair of the Hog Botanicals was born out of a love of simplicity, a passion for healthy, local creations, and the ancient teachings of folk herbalism and how Great Grandma used to do it!
One of my greatest passions is delving into all things local to create offerings that come directly from this place. What this means to me is that not only is the item made locally, but the majority, if not all of the ingredients or materials used in the creation of that item are also sourced locally. The global supply chain that so many of us have come to rely on is not only detrimental to the health of the earth, it also creates a fragile system by which the vitality of a community is completely reliant on external imports. And as we are seeing more and more, it doesn’t take much for this system to crash. This outsourcing causes a lack of interdependence on one another and fails to build resilient communities. There is so much to be said about dieting the land that you live with. You will care more about tending to your community if you can see what you are eating, how it is being grown, and where your basic needs come from. It isn’t some far off place that you have no connection to, a disconnect which makes it easier to turn a blind eye to sketchy business practices and the horrific treatment of local communities, plant, animal, and human, who live in these far away countries. The beauty of living in place is the intricate relationships that are possible with all beings who reside there. It is a beautiful thing to live in such deep love with your home.
Hair of the Hog Botanicals creates handcrafted, small batch, artisan offerings, such as soap, candles, salves, and balms along with many other items coming available as the season progresses. All of the oils used in our offerings are animal based fats sourced from our own farm or from other small local farms here in Nova Scotia. This includes fat from pigs, known as lard, fat from cows, called tallow, and could also include fat from ducks, goats, sheep, and wild game as available. We render all fat by hand, in small batches, either on our wood cookstove or in a slow cooker on sunny days as we are on a small off-grid solar system. Much care is taken in the sourcing of these fats if they come from off farm to ensure ethical practices are being used for a care of life and a high quality ingredient.
We then infuse the rendered oil with herbs and other plants, either locally wildcrafted or grown here on our farm, or use the oil as is without any additions for our bare-naked offerings. We also use ingredients such as oatmeal, honey, and beeswax that we source from other local growers and producers here in Nova Scotia. The decision to use only locally sourced ingredients was an extremely important choice for us. Traceability is key – we want you to know where all of our ingredients come from and to honor the many beings responsible for their creation. This year, we will be increasing our herb and flower gardens to be able to supply even more variety in our offerings – and the bees will love it too! There is something so completely magical and intrinsically powerful being in such an intimate relationship with the growing, harvesting, making, and sharing of these beautiful creations. Putting all of our love and attention into each single step.
As goes with all of our vegetables and animals raised here at the farm, you can be assured that all Hair of the Hog offerings are free of any chemicals and other toxic ingredients. We do not use preservatives, chemical dyes, or perfumes. What you put on and in your body is extremely important and we want it to be of the highest quality. We have also chosen not to use essential oils, which can be a quick way to create scent in any offering. Instead, we have decided to infuse the plants into the oils to fully impart their healing properties. As a culture, we are so inundated with scents and perfumes and other toxins that it was very important for us to provide alternatives that do not add to that sensory overload. It is also very dear to my own heart as I find, especially having lived in the forest for these past five years, that my body reacts very strongly to any chemical scents, even certain essential oils in too high of a concentration. Therefore, you will find that our offerings will have a more subtle scent, yet are packed with the full magic of each plant.
Hair of the Hog Botanicals will soon be available for purchase either directly from the farm or from our up and coming Etsy shop! We want to thank everyone for your ongoing support of our farm and look forward to sharing these and many more exciting offerings with you this coming season!
Spring has arrived, and winter has given us his last and final breaths, a reminder of his power, a time of bringing in the light, preparing the soil so spring may take her place in the realm of seasonality with the promise of summer sitting firmly in her belly. That is the gift of the seasonal transitions, one must die so the other can live.
My apprenticeship with birth and death is something that farming and being part of my food has brought into my life in a very visceral, very real way. I grew up hunting and fishing with my father and grandfather, something I am so incredibly grateful for. I understood at a young age the interactions with food, what it felt like to take the life of another creature and that this creature’s flesh provided nourishment and life. I did not however grow up on a farm as my grandparents had. The taking of a life that you have raised, watched be born, and built a relationship with has a different feeling than that of an animal without those intimate details and feelings. I suspect that in more hunter gathering times, our relationship with the wilder non domesticated community would have been much more intimate and this feeling of kinship with that which feeds us much more real. Although I had that experience growing up, there was still a disconnect between me and the food on my plate.
We eat and sell meat from the farm and therefore being directly involved in the killing is something we are in deep gratitude for. It is also one of the hardest things we do. When a harvest day is approaching there is much preparation both on the ground and emotionally. We kill all animals we raise here on site, this is our agreement with the lives that we have asked to be here. Harvest days never feel good and I hope they never will.
The first day of spring started our pig harvest season. We have been raising pigs here on the farm for a couple of years now and the breeds that have been our teachers are slow growing heritage breeds; Mangalitsa, Berkshire and Guinea Hogs. They have been amazing land clearers and uprooters making way for future pastures. They have helped establish garden areas, and their gifts will pave the way for our market garden that will be supporting the farm for years to come. Their time with us is also coming to an end. They have completed what we asked of them and the land is unable to support their talents, at least for now until forage areas can be established for them. It is transition time and we must let the land heal and rebound before we employ their services again.
We will be taking the lives of these wonderful creatures over the coming months, and their flesh will nourish us and continue to support the farm. Our agreement is that they die here. I want to be in this relationship with my food, I want to know how it lived, I want to know how it died. I am also trying to extend this feeling to all life, plant and animal alike. It feels much easier to take the life of a plant, however, what makes one life superior over another? We need the animals as much as we need the plants to build good soil, to provide us with nutrition and to grow truly localized food. It is a philosophical thinking that I am trying to embrace. Martin Prechtel speaks of this in his amazing story of the parallel lives of people as plants in The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic. I try to read this book every winter in my continued apprenticeship with farming and understanding my ancestral relationship with farming. I have much to learn and even more to embody, but these are some of the words that resonate with what we are trying to practice here on the farm.
“And when you garden or farm, then you have to remember that when you harvest, there is no difference between pulling off a ripe ear of corn from the stalk and cutting the throat of a lamb to eat the meat. Living things on this earth live only because of the death and generosity of other living things. No one is more “evolved” because they eat only vegetables. There is nothing in the world wrong about eating only the children of plants, eating only vegetables, as long as you don’t feel superior to someone else who is omnivorous, who eats the children of animals, for both of you eat what has been killed.
And don’t fool yourself into thinking that by only eating plants you are lessening the suffering of living beings because you think plants are non sentient.
To indigenous people worldwide, plants are the most sentient beings of all and should be respected as much as any animal should. They just have a larger, more temporally spread-out nervous system than most humans can sense, which can be measured geologically in eons instead of minutes, millennia instead of days, by snaptic wave patterns like the rippled growth of stalactites in a cave.“
To view life on this planet without a non hierarchical framework is a practice, especially in the shadow of western culture. Our food systems and distribution networks span the globe, and therefore our connection to and relationship with food is removed in our day to day lives. Food has become processed and must be convenient to power our industrialized way of living, and it is killing many species on this planet in ways that we do not even realize because of our removal from the systems that sustain us. One ship stuck in a canal, a virus, an extreme weather event or other disruptions highlight the fragility of our global networks. It is not sustainable and will not last as human populations grow and our rates of consumption continue to increase. If we are not in relationship with our land base, how do we know if it is polluted, if it will grow food, if it will support life? How far have the various food items travelled that are on your plate tonight? Who grew these things? It might say organic or natural, but what does that mean really mean?.
Our journey with growing food has opened up many of these questions with some answers and realizations. I have struggled for many years with the overwhelming environmental issues facing life on this planet from human led destruction of natural communities. It all seems insane to me at times and for what purpose are we driven to such pathological behaviour. Is technology really making our lives better? Or is all this lust for gadgetry only lining the pockets of those who already have far too much wealth and use more planetary resources to continue this hoarding. We talk about living in a democracy, however we elect officials based on popularity or party politics and our leaders use terms like “my cabinet” “my government” like they are the one and only ones making decisions for us the people.
There is much reflected here in what started from the notion of growing food, however it is all connected. The connection in all this from my experience in this food adventure is that if we are not able to localize our communities, governance and economies then things will only continue to get worse for life on this planet and our destructive ways will only expedite inevitable collapse. We have been given such great gifts as humans, and the irony is that in this day of information, we know better than to act in the ways that we have and are if we want to see future generations live in abundance and health. I feel such an urgency in our time, and I feel it even more with the younger generation that is inheriting my generation X mess of things. I have seen a continued rise in anxiety in youth from my years in social work, and all the young people who volunteer and apprentice with this project here at the farm. There is much confusion and even more hopelessness. Our only offering is to create a space of realness, of connection and dialogue where we can explore what is happening and look to a different way of being in relationship to the things that sustain our lives.
The last four years of life here on this land has taught us many things, it was and continues to be the great reset that was asked for. I wouldn’t say that our lives are simpler as a result of living off grid and creating a farm from scratch, and as we muddle our way through there are lessons that continue to teach us about resilience, determination, consumption, energy, waste, seasonality and dieting with the land. Being in such intimate relationships with the elements that support life fosters the gratitude for the precious life giving resources the land freely offers us in exchange for our delicate tending to something much larger than ourselves. We have been given the privilege through our good health and access to resources to live and experience this life which is why we have felt such a responsibility to share this with others. We know that most cannot live as we do, and it is simply not realistic to expect this from our culture, although we may be forced to live this way in the shadow of ecological collapse, however we are not there yet. What can be gained from this experiential learning ground is that simple connection to our food, to our water, to our shelter, to our waste can incubate ideas that are possible in other communities. Following the path of food from start to finish is such a teaching. We harvest the food, we eat the food, we eliminate the food and we create compost which is returned to the land. Most westerners buy food from a grocery store, consume it, and then magically flush away the waste. There is much in each step that is required, much we take for granted. Experiencing an animal or plant transition from living entity back to compost and then to feed life in another form is one of the greatest teachings I have ever had the privilege of experiencing.
Food is central to community, and each community will have to find ways to localize and be in relationship to food. More people will have to return to growing food once again, and our economies will have to revolve around how this is done. Each community will have it’s own way of doing things, and this must be supported by local governance and not a centralized power elite that tries to implement a cookie cutter approach to all. We will not destroy the land that feeds us when we understand and realize that it is supporting our lives. This is all possible, even though it feels impossible in the current societal structure.
And so, as we step into the birdsong of spring I take these words into my heart, and honor those whose lives will have mine continue and be nourished. Growing food and being in relationship with our food is a difficult journey at times. There is death, there is birth, there are hardships, and there are great gifts.
How do you want to spend this one precious life that you have been so blessed to live? Do you long to live in community, to be truly indebted to one another and surrounded by people who care about you and are invested in cultivating healthy, reciprocal relationships? Are you tired of not knowing where your food comes from, and instead, long to merge your hands with the earth as you tend to the food that sustains you? Would you love to be surrounded by a forest who calls you by your one true name as you meander alongside a life-giving brook, feeling truly at home within yourself, perhaps, for the first time ever?
If any of these questions resonate with you, we are offering something that feels unique and absolutely critical during these times of extreme disconnect and individualism within our industrialized culture. For some time now, we have felt called to share our home with others who want to grow healthy food and raise animals in a conscious and sacred way. We are looking for people who want to connect deeply with the wildness of their own souls, to tend to the land and all of her future inhabitants, and hold space for one another in a way that honors our differences and celebrates our shared love of life.
We are looking to form an intentional community whose main heartbeat is a worker-owned farming and forestry cooperative. A space where we come together to grow food for ourselves and our local community. Where new ideas are explored, skills are shared, creativity is expressed, and there is always a seat at the table. We envision the farm to be the fertile ground for exploring innovative ideas and demonstrating the many possibilities available when we come together to share our ideas and dreams.
At Twisted Roots Farm, we live simply and seasonally, striving to live as locally as possible; therefore, we feel that it is critical for interested individuals/couples to come here for at least a six month period to really delve into this way of life. We all tend to romanticize things sometimes, so it is necessary to fully immerse yourself in this place before you can make the decision if it’s a long-term fit for you. Farming can be extremely challenging; we work outside every day in any and all weather conditions. Raising a being from birth and then taking their life is no easy task. Living closely with other people can expose our most hidden shadows, forcing us to truly take personal responsibility and adult up! A focus on living locally and seasonally means sacrificing things we’ve become accustomed to and requires us to change our cultural norms of global consumption and having whatever we want whenever we want it. Yet at the end of the day, living in such deep relationship with the land, with our food, and with one another, makes for a life truly worth living.
As a way of providing an opportunity to feel into some of these ways of being here at the farm, we have created an experiential, year-long immersion opportunity, the School of Wyld Roots. Within this school, we have put together specific offerings that we feel are integral to fully and courageously step into our true selves so that we may once again breathe magic into the world. Offerings such as Permaculture Design, Regenerative Farming and Forestry, Off-Grid Systems, Community Living, Localized Economy, and Nature-Based Dialogue, to name just a few. We have designed the year in such a way as to create commitment from each one of us, and it is our dream that at the end of the first six months of the program, students will choose to continue the unfolding of this unique opportunity together as we aim to form a profit-sharing model and cooperative.
Coming from western culture, the idea of living together with others, outside of your nuclear family unit, can seem very intimidating to many people. Most of us have not been taught nor given the experience to live within such a tightly woven collective of people, yet if there is some part of you that longs to explore this way of living in community, something that resides deep within all of our ancestral bones, we welcome your inquiry and curiosity. We cherish clear, open-hearted communication and constantly strive to re-member ourselves into human beings who are worth descending from and with whom future generations will be inspired by. This process will not be easy. We will all be pushed and tested and transformed, yet at the end of each day as we sit down together to share a meal and express our gratitude, looking around the table at one another with our shared love of life and true commitment to something greater than ourselves, we will know without a doubt that whatever life brings our way, we are in it together. May this table of loved ones continue to be set long beyond all of our lifetimes and may it always be a place of safe refuge for the weary soul.
If you would like to know more about the farm and the School of Wyld Roots, please check out our website and our detailed information package for more information. We are happy to answer any questions or discuss any and all possibilities of creating beauty together here on this land. It is our goal to raise funds for scholarship through our GoFundMecampaign as well as in-house financial assistance as we do not want the financial commitment of the school offering to be a barrier for anyone truly resonating with this vision. We look forward to hearing from you and thank you for having the courage to dream into something unknown and mysterious, yet completely possible.
Wild Blessings, Terry and Will Twisted Roots Farm Nova Scotia, Canada
This time of year on a farm is filled with many different experiences. There are vegetables to harvest, winter prep to focus on, animals to kill, and cooler weather to greet. Among all of the death that comes with this time of year, we have also been blessed with a lot of birth. We have had a variety of baby chicks born on the farm this past summer, along with some surprise ducklings! Seeing a Momma hen with her clutch of fuzzy little chicks running around her is such a sweet sight. And ducklings, oh my goodness, are they ever cute!
It was not our intention to have our ducks produce offspring as they are siblings, yet this one female duck, after being intent on hatching out a clutch of eggs in the farthest corner beneath our cabin, found success on her second attempt. I awoke one morning to the very sweet peeping of baby ducklings right under our bedroom floor…I was excited! Upon further exploration of looking under the cabin, I could in fact see at least two teeny ducklings fumbling for their footings beside their momma. Such darlings.
The nest of fuzzy babies!
Watching eggs hatch is an experience that requires a great deal of patience as it can take a long time for all of the ducklings or chicks to hatch. So over the period of the next day or so, more and more ducklings emerged from their shells until there was quite the symphony of newborn sounds bubbling from beneath the floorboards. In the wee hours of the morning, a few days after they began hatching, Momma duck decided it was time to bring them out from under the house for the first time. I of course, in my ‘I will be a child forever’ curiosity, had to go outside to witness the excitement…all of this occurring at around 5:00 am. And there they were, five yellow baby fuzz balls all fumbling their way along behind her, out into the light of day for the very first time.
Baby ducklings exploring the world beyond the dark recesses beneath the cabin for the very first time!
When I looked back underneath the cabin though, there was still an unhatched egg, one duckling that looked like it had just been born and was still soaking wet, one upside down duckling that couldn’t right itself, along with another fuzz ball that just wasn’t following mom. Knowing that if she left the nest now with the remaining ducklings and the last hatching egg in their current state, they would very likely all die without her precious body heat. So off I went to do what I could, which entailed moving a deep freeze away from the wall on the opposite side of the cabin and unscrewing a few boards of siding as the corner that her nest was in was not reachable from the backside of the house. Great spot to keep a nest safe. Shitty spot to have to get to said safe nest.
After gaining access to the nest, I was also very fashionably dressed at this point in my prettiest duckling saving dressing gown by the way – obviously a great outfit for such events, I was able to reach the one upside down duckling as well as the remaining egg and the newly hatched baby, which looked extremely lethargic and weak and I was unsure if he/she would even survive. One of the newly hatched duckling’s eyes wouldn’t open and I wondered if that was because they had been left out to dry too quickly without the protection of Momma’s body. So I brought the two hatched ducklings into the house and set them up in a tote on a hot water bottle covered in a towel.
I then set off to figure out what to do with the unhatched but pipping egg and to try and reunite the last remaining duckling under the cabin with Momma. I may have also changed my clothes at this point into something more suitable, but far less catching. Now luckily, at that time, we had a whole bunch of broody hens who wanted nothing more than to be Mommas themselves and would have cared less if their eggs contained ducklings or chicks. So I placed the egg under a broody hen and went to retrieve the duckling still under the cabin as well as give the Momma duck some food and water as brooding Mommas do not come off the nest very often and she would have been hungry and thirsty.
By this point in time, I needed some backup to get the duckling out from under the cabin. Will was already curious about what I was doing unscrewing the side of the cabin and rummaging around at such an early hour, so he was awake and I asked him for some help. He loves my rescue/nurse/Momma adventures! It took Will and I a few attempts to get the straggler duckling out, but we did, and then we put Momma and her ducklings into a coop so they would all be safe and wouldn’t go back under the cabin.
The ducklings in the tote in the house were beginning to look a little better with the extra warmth and one another to cuddle. The newly hatched one was drying off and starting to come around. Very exciting! A while later I went to check on the status of the peeping egg and it was still in a similar state. Like I said earlier, it can be a long process from the time that a chick/duckling makes the first hole in the egg shell to actually hatching, but I was beginning to worry about the time frame when all of the other ducklings had already hatched and this one was taking her time.
So I made that hard decision to help her out a little, which can go wrong, meaning death, if the duckling isn’t ready to come out yet and you pull off too much of the shell. I gingerly removed a tiny piece of shell and then another tiny piece…and then I saw blood. That’s not a good sign. That can mean that the process by which they break out of the membrane that surrounds them in order to slowly absorb the yolk and blood could have happened too fast and the blood and membrane could dry out, therefore killing them. So I immediately stopped, put the egg back under the hen, and spent the next long while worrying that I had killed this sweet little duckling that I was so wanting to help. So that was a fun time.
After what seemed like forever, I came back to check on the egg again. This waiting thing when you are a 5 year old trapped in a 43 year old’s body can be very challenging! The excitement and anticipation and desire to help is strong. However, when I went back to check, the duckling was actually beginning to make her own way out of the shell. Yay! The duckling ended up hatching, happily nuzzled under the fluffy and warm hen. I didn’t kill her…woot woot!
Later that day I went out to milk the goats and was going to check on the duckling, for only the millionth time because I am that kid, and as I was walking by the chicken coop something bright yellow caught the corner of my eye. The duckling! By some miraculous means she made her way out from under the Momma hen (who obviously didn’t give a shit about her newborn baby since she was nowhere to be seen and was still acting all broody in her nest box – so much for that plan), over the three inch board in the nest box, dropping down to the floor of the coop, which would have been about a four inch drop, scrambling through the whole length of the coop, over the lip at the door, and out around the corner into the chicken run! Do not ask me how she did it. The chickens were all just standing around looking at her like what the heck is this thing?! And can I eat it?!
So I quickly scooped her up and brought her into the house with the other two fuzz balls to warm up. Once they all seemed sturdy and strong enough, I reunited them with their Momma. They seemed to be doing well. The next day I went to check on them, of course, and the miracle hatch duckling was just laying on the floor of the coop breathing very slowly. Shit! I scooped her up, put her down my shirt to warm her up, and hurried to the house. I set up the little hot box again with the hot water bottle and kept a very close eye on her. This was one precious little duckling!
And you might be thinking, how out of 10 little yellow ducklings who all look alike could I possibly know that this was the same one?! Well, the power of observation, in life and especially on a farm, is an amazing skill to develop. Taking notice of the most subtle changes and patterns can mean the difference between life and death, health and illness, success and failure (although what is failure anyways but just another successful lesson.) So in my earlier observations I noticed that this little duckling had a red mark on her right leg, and sure enough, so did this little sick duckling.
The sweet little duckling enjoying the warmth of the hot water bottle. (Notice the little red spot on her right leg.)
Once in the house with some warmth and attention, the duckling began to get better. She wasn’t able to go back in with her family though as she had something wrong with her left leg, a dislocated hip we figured, so she couldn’t stand very well but would instead run at mock-a-million in this wild dervish sort of way, bobbing quickly back and forth, and then plop right down on her belly. I felt that she wouldn’t be strong enough to be in with the other ducklings and that she’d have a better chance of getting stronger on her own. All seemed good with her. And then I learned a hard lesson.
Back in the main duckling coop I had put a small dish of water in for the momma duck so she could wash her beak, as ducks require a deep amount of water to rinse out their nostrils. Thinking I was being cautious, I had placed the water dish up on a 2×6 board so the ducklings wouldn’t be able to climb into it. This turned out to not be the case. At some point when I went out for my usual duckling check, one of them had somehow made his/her way into the dish of water and drowned. I felt horrible. These lessons can be very hard to take. We also had one of the apprentices notice that another one of the ducklings wasn’t looking good, so I brought the duckling in the house in a separate tote with a hot water bottle right beside the other little miracle duckling, who by this point was eating and drinking up a storm and looked really healthy. This newly found sick duckling didn’t; she proceeded to continue declining that evening and later died in my hands.
The excitement of new birth can be so closely caressed by the heartbreak of death. They are so little these babies, so excited about this new adventure called life, and yet their time seems so short. Yet how could their life be anything less than what it was meant to be? That is another topic for another time. This writing is really supposed to be about the little duckling in the tote in the house who was almost left for dead trying to emerge from her shell to then almost be killed by my helping hands to then take a wild journey through a chicken coop to be healthy and reunited with mom and siblings then to almost die again to come full circle and just rock life. This little duckling’s name became Molly, and from the time I brought her into the house to revive her, she hasn’t left.
We are now mom and dad. She has been around us so much from the beginning that she has imprinted on us as her kin. And some of you smart cookies might be wondering, how do you know that she’s a she? Well, we didn’t. It was just a guess, as all of the ducklings are until they get old enough to tell. Yet it somehow feels so very demeaning to me to call any being an “it”. Should Molly have turned out to be male, we still loved the name Molly, or maybe Mr. Molls, or just Molls, or whatever!
So we have a house duck. Many people might think that’s ridiculous. Many people might think that we should have just let her die, let nature take its course. All the while, we are also part of nature and we will always have an impact on life, no matter how little we try not to intervene. It isn’t possible. She is the happiest little duck I have ever seen. She loves being around us. When she was little, she slept in a tote with a hot water bottle beside our bed. Before going to sleep she would cry out, as she was meant to be snuggled up with her Momma and siblings, so I would wrap her up in a towel and snuggle with her. Usually I would be drifting off to sleep to have Will remind me that I had Molly in my arms and to put her back before squishing her to death in my sleep. Molly would just snuggle right in under my chin, happy as could be. This ritual would repeat itself each night and each morning, until she got so big that she outgrew her little tote and moved into a bigger tote in the kitchen. I would still sneak in a cuddle here and there though 😉
Once Molly was more comfortable with being outside, she started following us around the farm and just like Howard, our sweet old poochie who died last April used to do, she would often be found sitting at the front door just waiting to get inside instead of being out in the glory of the day. Silly little duck. She still loves her cuddles though and can be found in many different cuddle positions….
As we are her kin, Molly is not sure what to make of her duck mom and siblings, although they are very curious about her. Thankfully though, as Molly got bigger and more courageous, she, and we know now that she is a she, began wandering further from the safety of our presence and even started wandering all by herself out to the pond for a swim! The first time that happened I had one of those Momma moments of being so proud of her courage to go that far on her own combined with the sadness that she’s getting older and won’t need me in the same way anymore. She is becoming more and more interested in her own duck family, as they are about her, and can be found standing near them, preening herself alongside them after a nice dip in the pond. It is so lovely to see. She is such a brave little duck!
So this is my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I wouldn’t rather kill a being because it doesn’t fit into some prefabricated expectation of life on the farm. We have many special birds who as far as I am concerned, can continue to live out their days here. We have a hen named YoYo who came to us a sickly looking laying hen who we didn’t think would make it through the night. Yet with some love from an apprentice and some special care, she is thriving. She has this funky hop-walk thing that she’s in the process of trademarking and she can never quite make it into her coop at night, yet she often gets so very close. But that’s okay, I don’t mind picking her up every night and tucking her into bed. Then there is YaYa, another laying hen that arrived with YoYo looking just as sickly. She too, with some extra love, has flourished and went on to hatch out her own clutch of eggs this summer and has proven to be just the most loving of mothers. Her boyfriend, Chip Chip, is also a very special character here on the farm and for them, it was love at first sight. Chip Chip is a nova ranger meat bird that we got as a chick last year. When he was young he got sick and we thought he was going to die. So into a tote in the house he went to be lovingly cared for. Miraculously he recovered, and although his legs are a little funky (he too has his own particular style of walking), he has gone on to do great things…like becoming a father! As well as famous.
When Chip Chip was little and began to get better, I started putting him on my shoulder and taking him around the farm with me. He loved it. He would just sit on my shoulder, happily bobbing along with me wherever I went! I would even bring him in with me to milk the goats and he would zestfully scratch away at the goat nuggets, picking out every last grain seed that had passed through their systems. He was adorable and won the heart of every volunteer here on the farm. He could often be found sitting on the lap of one of our volunteers, enjoying the sunshine and love. He is so famous in fact, that he has made his way into the facebook profile picture of a past volunteer. Thankfully, this has not gone to his head.
I absolutely adore this montage of photos of me and Chip Chip when he was little. But now…back to Molly the sweet house duck. Once the weather started getting cooler and she started getting bigger, we moved her from the tote in the kitchen into a large dog kennel in the glass room in front of our kitchen. This was to acclimate her body to being outside so she can eventually move into her own coop. Will actually suggested at one point that we could build her a duck house near the house with a duck door that she could come inside! I was not excited about that prospect at all 😉 I would literally have all of the beings in the house with me if I could. If we could only house train all of them! Molly is very smart though and if she is sitting out on the front step and you open the door, she will hop right in the house and wander around quite comfortably. This is her home after all. Every day she is becoming more and more comfortable with her siblings and seems to be fully embracing her own duck-ness. She is doing so well that she actually began flying awhile ago, as all muscovy ducks can, and in the morning when I let her out of her kennel she will walk over to the door and once I open it she just hops on out and will eventually fly over to the pond all on her own. It’s incredible to see her doing so well. And lucky for me, whenever I pick her up, she is still quite happy to cuddle up under my chin or nuzzle into my neck. I am in love.
Molly in her comfort zone, either on my lap or in my arms. I love that she looks GINORMOUS in this photo.
It is wonderful to know that Molly is doing well, happily becoming more duck than human, bringing a smile to my face every day. She has won the heart of everyone who’s met her and is a true testament to the fact that love knows no bounds and that you do not need to speak the same language to be in deep relationship with another being.
The forest has eyes that look back at you In the dawn of morning light Heart open Flow in Flow out
Winter has been trying on some new wears here on the farm, a light coating of wet snow, making everything you touch a cold dampness that seeps into your bones. The Blue Jays are storing up their seeds from the pumpkins that have been arriving from neighbours to help feed goats, chickens and pigs, and the chickadees are singing their winter songs welcoming the hopeful return of light when winter takes their place on the throne of seasonality. Life carries on as it always has and always will.
Our connection to place is one that deepens with each season that we have the grace to experience here in Cape Breton, our fourth winter in this off-grid way of life. Our immersion into the woods has been a journey of exploration of self, of hardship, determination, success and failure. Notions of a small cabin in the woods, smoke columns churning out of a warming fire, reading by candlelight with hours of long sleep, yes maybe some elements of that, however, we are still caught in the process of dream building, of designing, of creating. Our small cabin still requires much work, it has not been sealed well with drafts of cold air that remind you of such jobs that require attention, and yet there are other tasks that need tending to. Every action requires work to insure our comfort and our continuance in this place, and the animals depend on us, as much as we depend on them. We must be out there every day no matter what winter blows our way. We have been working at what has felt like an impossible pace, our bones tired with fatigue, our minds filled with the to-do lists to keep such an operation afloat. The long nights give us rest, and they give us dreams to work into for the coming season.
Yes, the dream building, the listening to the brook, the soft sway of trees in the wind, the brown leaf littered paths and the great pines with their early morning droplets of heavy water dripping onto the green moss taking in this water fed nourishment, all speak if we dare to listen to their language. The forest of this place is now empty of other humans for the season, as those who found their way to this little piece of Acadian forest have left with baskets full of gifts, of stories and of images that may take them a lifetime to unravel. They have also left us with a bundle of treasures that we are taking out one by one, creating a narrative of what the future of this place holds. We are indebted to their service to this forest that many called home for a period of time. She continues to hold and digest all of their stories from time spent in her mossy embrace.
And like the wild roots that they all are, these wandering souls have planted a seed of hope here at Twisted Roots Farm, the vision of a school, a school of wyld roots, to welcome others who may carry on this work beyond our lifetimes. It is ambitious, maybe a little crazy, but something worth the effort, worth the wait. And as the sacred holders of this story, we are putting out a call to those who feel a draw, a pull, a curiosity to such a place where our grandest longing is that others will come to learn, to experience and to grow. A year is a long time, for some it may even feel like a lifetime, however to really feel into what farming is, a year of following the seasons is what is required in this school of permaculture farm and forest.
A human being is a part of a whole, called by us “universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest … a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
What we are inviting, what we are envisioning, what we are dreaming is to combine the practical hands-on skills of permaculture and farming, with that of nature-based dialogue. And what is this nature-based dialogue thing that we speak of? Well, it is hard to put words to, but it is something that we as humans have been engaged in since we were imagined into this world.
Spending time removed from manufactured landscapes, we feel, is a required necessity for healthy human development. We have evolved with nature, with the wild, with the earth for 99% of our existence, and it is only recently that we have taken this turn towards a separation from that which sustains us in every way. She gives us life, however there is a separation between us and “it,” because that is how our language (western language) objectifies our relationship to the natural world, it is an “it” and therefore is something I can use, something I can exploit, I am above it, I have power over it. This however is not sustainable, this is not reciprocity with the beings that give us life. They have names, they have lives and they are related to us. Resources are not inexhaustible, and as human populations grow and rates of consumption increase, we are in some serious trouble as are many of the beings and species that are disappearing each day (species loss is estimated at 200 species / day). As her life systems respond, there will be significant consequences for us. We are seeing some of this now with a virus that is shutting us down, restricting our movements and decreasing our populations. An immune response to our collective actions. We are trying to fight a life system that has been 5 billion years in the making, it is a battle we will lose. Our war-like mentality and language is setting our species up for failure.
I am now in my early fifties, and although I will see more crisis moments, I will not be the one who will have to deal with the consequences of the privileged life I have been so graciously gifted as a child of the seventies. No, these next generations will have to deal with my lust for consumption. They are the future earth poets, writers, designers, builders, architects and visionaries. We call on all them to hear what is being spoken in this forest.
What this farm in the forest is offering, is hoping, is for others to come here, to experience the four seasons in all their wonder and hardship, to feel what it is like to provide for your needs. Connection with water, connection with waste, with heat, with energy, with food, while also nourishing ourselves with this nature-based dialogue where we can have those parts of ourselves reflected in an environment that humans need. We cannot do this on our own, and we must have others with dreams, wonderings, and longings to a life that puts us in direct relationship with the natural community.
And so, the School of Wyld Roots will start its first year of existence on the first day of spring 2021 from the seeds of the previous year. Shoots will bust from the ground reaching for new life, sending wild roots into the soil, creating a new foundation. As we follow the seasons, students will be on a steep learning curve of exploration, growing food, tending to farm life, living off-grid and sinking into the depths of this wild community. Students will build small cabins to provide shelter, learn from others in the larger community and come to understand all the workings of running a farm and a business. As our time matures with the seasons, more responsibility is required, and understanding how to manifest gifts into true forms of artistry will chart the course for students as they design, build and bring to life ways to create economy.
The more time I spend here, the more I realize just how little I know. We are no experts, only ones who are trying to follow a narrative that at times feels mysterious, unknown and maybe even impossible. That however is part of the adventure, part of the journey, a story that we do not and will never know the ending to. We can only dream it into being.
With gratitude I wander I am with the trees the forest green My story, its story our story created with love The disconnect from culture acknowledging parts of me Changing how I be Sinking with the stones into rivers of emotion And following the raven with great gifts to give The red pearl of love Led by the wind not knowing it was there Confirmation by ancient voices A song left to sing To find my way home To the sacred fires To sing in the fields of those yet to come With grief I may not see them I can only dream them into being
Winter is starting to settle in here at the farm, and life, as it should, starts to slow. There are still the daily routines that need tending to, and we still have many projects on the go. I find myself more on the computer these days, and as much as I would like to take more down time, the reality of starting a new farm is that now is the time to start planning and thinking about next year. Farming these days is not only about how you work with the land, it is also how we connect ourselves to the larger community, and as much as I have my opinions about social media, this is how we are reaching out to those who can find this little farm set in the woods.
And find us they did this season. We had no idea what an Apprenticeship Program would bring here to Twisted Roots Farm. The pandemic made things even more, well, interesting. However, as life settled in with the arrival of the apprentices, we were so incredibly fortunate to be in a family like bubble, living, working and creating relationships to the farm and all the wildness that surrounds this incredible place.
And now as we approach the Winter Solstice, all the volunteers and apprentices have left for the season, leaving us with much to feel into, to think about and to miss. It has inspired us beyond words, and all those that found themselves here have left behind the foundation of a dream that knowingly or unknowingly has created all the inner workings of a school, a School of Wyld Roots where others can continue to come here and be immersed over a year into the magic of this place, this farm, this wild community. We are forever indebted to their energy and the way that they have served something beyond themselves, being truly in service to something larger than oneself.
The skills, talents and gifts that we have witnessed in all those who took a chance on us and this farm has been amazing. We have heard incredible earth poets and writers, had future designers and builders discover their creativity, and listened to future community leaders express their ideas for change. These are the future visionaries, future leaders, future artists who have a huge challenge in front of them.
Murray is one of those future writers. His way with words takes you into the narrative, opening up our imagination where you can touch and feel what is being said by the poetic rhythm of his words. Following his apprenticeship this fall, he left us with this beautiful writing of his time and experience here on the farm. Thank you Murray for sharing this with the world!
~ William Kosloski, Twisted Roots Farm
“I meander down Robie Street late at night, between glittering condominiums on one side, and the perfectly trimmed grass of the Halifax commons on the other. Streetlamps burn spotlights over the impossibly green turf. A monoculture of grass; no weeds, thickets or trees anywhere other than where the gardener has designated. These fields are far too green for early November, and the trees, too, they’re barely starting to show spots of yellow or red. It all seems so artificial, so contrived, like the white picket fences and smiling faces off the Truman Show, or the visions of a 1950’s utopia. Have I found myself enclosed in some planetarium, separated from the coming and going of the seasons? Am I on the same planet anymore, or trapped in some alien bubble, a city frozen in time for future scientists to study?
I remember back to the last few days on the farm. Where the green grass gave way to sullen brown, and the last clumps of leaves clung to the trees with all their strength. Our kale and chard would soon be things of the past, as the earth turned more frozen with each passing day. The water lines will soon freeze shut, and water must be hauled from the brook, or broken from the ice that comes to encase it. The chimneys will puff a constant stream of white smoke into the air, and the crackle of the fire will become an ever-present aspect of the farmers’ lives. Their diets will change; fresh fruit, vegetables, and salads will give way to meat and potatoes. Darkness will linger into mid-morning and come again just after chores are done. Sleep will come easier, and longer for humans and animals alike. The pigs will hunker down in their sty, piled one atop another for warmth, snoring happily into the night. The chickens will roost close together and lay fewer eggs than once before.
The picture may sound dismal, but its authentic, it’s the real deal. Seasons change, things die, and the daily rhythm of life slows to a grind. There’s so many things I learned over the course of my three month apprenticeship, it would be impossible to list them all in one blog piece. But the most valuable part of this experience was undoubtedly my “tuning out” of the city, and my “tuning in” to nature. Without electronic distractions, internet, or even consistent cell reception, I was forced to slow down and reestablish my relationship with the living world around me. My brain usually runs with fifty tabs open; I’m thinking about some embarrassing thing I did yesterday, while dreading going back to work tomorrow, and in the back on my mind wondering where I’ll be one year from now. When do I even take time to sit down and enjoy the present moment?
After a few weeks at the farm, free of the distractions of technology and the capitalistic workweek, my brain began to adapt. I was bored at times, sure. I spent many nights reading or feeding the wood stove, staring into the flames. Many of the chores on the farm were monotonous – the same old stuff everyday; feed the goats, feed the pigs, feed the chickens. Haul water from the brook. Make oatmeal. Clean dishes. Clean more dishes. Muck out the goat stall. The cycle repeats. But as the weeks progressed, the various tabs in my brain began to close, and I found myself taking time to just stop and listen to birdsong, or sit down and watch the trickling waters of the brook. The “brain fog” had lifted, and my mind was clearer than before. I began to live mindfully, savoring each minute that I could indulge in a new experience. I chewed my food delicately at dinner, careful to embrace each note of savory and sweet. I listened to music for a few minutes before bed, humming gently with a smile on my face. And I took a lot of walks, diligently observing the crispness of the air, the greenness of the grass, the movement of squirrels, toads and snakes just behind the tree line. I lived in the moment, for the first time in my life without trying to do so.
And here I am, back in the city, a world apart from the last three months of my life. And it’s tempting to get caught up in the multitude of worries that plague the city – rising coronavirus numbers, a housing crisis that threatens to throw many of my friends out on the street, all while I try to navigate the anxieties of a new job. It’s tempting to look back to the farm as a sort of oasis, a retreat from the disorders of modern society. But I remember all the work that I did on those long walks, and the mindful appreciation I gained for my surroundings. I remember the way I sat amongst the trees, and felt my anxieties melt around me. How the trickle of the brook never ceased, no matter how many hardships I encountered through the day.
And now I realize: all of those lessons, I have brought with me. I can go for a walk in the park, and I can call myself back to that trickling brook whenever I want. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not the same, not by a long shot. I still have to go back to work on Monday. I still experience stress, sleepless nights, and feelings of being overwhelmed. But every once in a while, I can take a breath of clean, crisp air, and return to that place where I sat amongst the trees. And just like those long days on the farm, all those tabs in my brain begin to close, one by one.”
Fall has arrived, and with it comes all the preparation for winter and colder temperatures. The golden hues of fractured light illuminate the beautiful array of colours that mark the occasion, and although the weather has been unseasonably warm, we try our best not to be lulled into that feeling of long lazy days where it feels like these warm winds will never end. The farm is growing as things continue to develop and the project is busier than ever, leaving us some days exhausted and overwhelmed. It hasn’t been easy, leaving our home, family and friends to follow something that was calling to us, something that we had no experience in, something that was asking for everything we had to give. There are days when we wake up and wonder what we are doing here, those days where everything is going wrong, where there are too many things to accomplish and you know that it will be a 16 hour day and it will feel like nothing on the list was even completed. Yet there are also those days where everything is perfect, it all falls into place and you are reminded of why you said yes to such an impossible dream.
I have been reminded of this recently in an interview by Neal Collins in his Regenerative Realestate Podcast who so eloquently asked some very heartfelt questions as to what motivated us to sell all of our possessions, jump in our truck RV in tow and travel across the continent landing on piece of land in the middle of the woods to start from scratch, clearing land, building a small cabin and carving a farm literally out of a forest. It wasn’t a plan, it wasn’t something that we even logically thought through. Yes, we had the leverage from selling our house, however there was something happening on a deeper level that we had been dreaming into. What I heard myself speaking to Neal about was the inner work that really drove the process, and reflecting back on that conversation, I started to become even more curious about what got us here, what and why did I say yes to this, what inside of me was pushing towards this dream.
I have also been inspired by the work that is being so beautifully stepped into by the apprentices that have found themselves here on the farm. One component of the apprenticeship program is to spend meaningful time on the land with intent. What we help guide is solo time which may consist of one to three nights alone on the property in the woods. It is a time for reflection, for asking questions or to confirm a direction or discover new ones. Five years ago this fall, I myself was engaged in this same process, a guided vision fast in the red rock canyons of the American Southwest. It was my third guided fast, however this was the longest and most intense one fasting alone for four days without food and minimal shelter, perched on a small rock ledge, overlooking a canyon carved through red rock for thousands and thousands of years. It is a landscape that I had been drawn to for many years, and I spent the better part of my forties exploring the American Southwest, a place that has shown me many things. My curiosity with hearing the stories that were coming from the land here by the apprentices and those wonderful questions from Neal had me thinking about my fast and diving back into my journal entries. What I found, what I rediscovered, were words that have truly guided me to where I am today, messages and clues about what my Soul was longing for in a process where the logical and often critical mind becomes much quieter.
“I am the farmer of seeds for the future generations”
“The farm will have to be the seed to move the vision forward”
“You may not see the seeds grow, but you can dream them into being”
“Death is a seed for the next life, facilitate death to ensure the success of the next generation.”
“Having a farm and selling food is how you create a community”
“You will have to risk failure if you are to follow this path”
What has been resonating for myself in all this is how much my previous guided solo time on the land has defined where I am today. These journal entries were clues to what was being asked of me by deeper parts of self. These writings may have been pointing to something direct, speaking to the “farmer” however that is only a delivery system of something much harder to grasp. What was being spoken was more about seeds and apprenticeships, specifically an apprenticeship to death. Farming is more of the vehicle for the teachings.
All this culmination of interest and subsequent confirmation comes at a welcomed time, especially here on the farm where we are just at the very beginning pieces of starting this endeavour, building a holistic apprenticeship program and charting the course of a project that is leading us in such beauty and grace. Confirmation of what is happening helps in light of the challenges, hardships and exhaustion as we try to understand all the pieces that must be woven together for this to work, for it to be what we are dreaming and understanding the realities of manifesting such things. The days are long as we celebrate our successes, learn from our failures and continue to set up for the future seeds that are being planted.
Fall on the farm is also one of death, and the tending to this sacred act is not lost on us in the experience and life of farmer. I grew up hunting and fishing, and was taught from an early age about the responsibilities and honouring of taking the life of another. In order for us to live, another must give up its life for us, whether it be plant or animal flesh. The stark reality of this situation is what connects us to our food. For me, it is an apprenticeship with death. Cruising down grocery store isles with bad elevator music in the background, with pictures of farms and caricatures of animals that we are to consume is the visual of our food systems these days. Missing is what goes into the killing of animals and vegetables for our continued existence. We are disconnected from our food. I have such a new appreciation for the farmer, it takes an incredible amount of work to grow food, more than I ever imagined.
Much gratitude for the support that we have been receiving, much gratitude for the interest in our project and much gratitude for all those that have been finding their way here, learning about themselves and teaching us so much. I truly believe that our connections with wildness, with the wild community, are inroads to learning more about ourselves, and if we listen, if we start that dialogue with these places, our true gifts will be reflected to us. If you would like to hear the interview with Neal and learn more about the story of how all this unfolded, tune into Regenerative Real Estate Podcast. Neal is a gifted interviewer, and his podcast series offers a different perspective in a world that needs new voices and new ideas.
I will leave with a poem, a poem for all the farmers who are busily harvesting, preparing for winter and facilitating death so that we may be nourished, so that our lives may continue.
The tenderness of life and death, the misunderstood life of farming Our food comes to us, all neatly prepared Down isles of white flickering lights We listen to the drones of music that keeps our carts moving with delight We do not see the death the farmer holds as roosters die in the night The sacrifice of the hens eggs for our nourishing tasty sensations The hours spent praying to seeds that they may see the light Coaxing our ancient agreement to bring food and life The cities are a veil to such luminous life Hiding from the death that gives them life Our introspections on death and life Taking the life energy that we hold for you the consumer in our way of life We are the holders of death to continue life We hold baby chick, goats and rabbits alike Consume, waste in this dirty cycle of consumeristic life Hiding from the realities of the food of life It grows for our convenience at the stores for you and me The elevator music we deplore yet like Our hands drip with the blood we farmers hold in special life Yet our value is not supported where the veils of city life Protect and hide in the capitalistic race To an end that if we look is close in sight What virtues do we hold in this world of technological fright Who do you employ for your food tonight The factory machines remove much from sight Lines at the slaughter day and night As I sit with the visions and thoughts of the I killing I must employ on the eve of the animals last night Singing their praise into the other world of unknown mysterious love and light What prayers I must offer for my soul to remain right What gifts do I give for the lives I take In light of the moon, the sun and all that is right We give and we take in our agreements tonight We are not the owners the rooster crows in the early morning light Our ancient agreements have been lost in the world of fastness Speed of light Moving to places unknown in our consumeristic delight What offerings, what gratitude do we give in our daily bread What hand created for our taste pleasures as we watch TV tonight What sources, what resources conspired to give you life In the drone of moving toward the realm of dark city life Community divided in the polarity of time Ask, where and who gave me this food tonight
Summer is in full bloom here on the farm with the warm nights, fireflies and the continued explosion of life in the short season of heat, warming our hearts and being grateful for the seasonality of this place. Our first cohort of apprentices arrived in the middle of spring, with sub zero temperatures, no greenery and then experienced the bursting of life with hoards of blackflies, mosquitoes and other biting friends to let us now that warmer weather and longer days were on the horizon, the price we pay for exiting the cold embrace of spring here in Cape Breton.
It has been three months since these brave souls arrived on our doorstep welcomed with our open hearts and very rustic and uncompleted accommodations. The pandemic had put us terribly behind as we were unable to hire or have any volunteer help as we had planned in our business concept that we had worked so hard on over the winter. We had one volunteer who found us just before things had really spun out of control with fear, and we managed to build accommodations to house four people the day before folks arrived. Heating was still a major issue, and some almost left after the first night, however they stayed on and saw it through, an experience that lets us know what we are made of, discovering hidden gifts through challenge. A true marker of holistic learning.
And now their time is coming to a close after being here for three months. This is the first year we offered the apprenticeship, and with this cohort we have been evolving the program from their experiences here on the farm. What is unraveling is nothing more than perfect, and the foundation being built from this young tough crew is a creation of beauty never seen before in this place. We didn’t exactly know how combining nature based mentorship with farming would work out, and of course it is a work in progress, however the stories that are bubbling from the inner work that these young souls have so eloquently stepped into is an offering to the world in such magnificence and beauty that if the farm were to fold tomorrow, the gifts that they will carry into their lives and for their communities is enough.
A farm in the forest is an interesting way to engage in this work, this work of inner discovery, of truly finding that authenticity of self in a world of fragmented and wounded psyches. Young people have limited ways to step into true adulthood, and our culture often gets stuck in patho adolescent behaviour that is driven by immature ego’s. Hard physical work, interpersonal community relationships, conflict communication and nature based reflection and dialogue are all ways that apprentices have been engaged with another, the farm and the wild community. Last week, apprentices stepped into solo time on the land, to further dive into their inner selves and acknowledge some of the gifts that will help guide them for the rest of their lives. Here is one story from an apprentice here at Twisted Roots Farm.
“I decided to come to the farm after losing my summer job due to Covid-19. Living self sufficiently has been an interest of mine for a while and I figured it would be a good learning opportunity. Not only did I learn an incredible amount of practical skills, but I learned a ton about myself and grew in ways I did not anticipate. Here are some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about my life during my time here.
Sitting with discomfort. When I arrived at the farm, winter weather was still in full swing despite it being the end of April. After the first super cold night in the unheated and uninsulated accommodations, I asked myself why I even came here. My fingers and toes were numb for like two weeks straight. We started sleeping with mason jars filled with boiling water to stay warm. Then blackflies and mosquitoes came. Then the heat and humidity. All while doing manual labour 7 hours a day, which was quite a change in pace from my desk job. With each discomfort I wasn’t sure if I could make it through, but I survived every one of them with minimal breakdowns. Another apprentice told me that the more discomfort I endure, the wider my range of comfort becomes. This became my mantra. By the end of my time here, I managed to fast in the woods with no more than a bug net, a tarp, a sleeping bag and some water for 42 hours straight. My range of comfort is definitely wider and now I know I have the strength to endure so much more than I ever thought I could.
Listening to my body. Before I came here, I thought about food more than I’d like to admit. I thought that if I could control my eating habits, that would make me feel in control of my life. This control came in many forms, picky eating, severe calorie restriction, veganism. None of these forms of restriction, hope as I may, actually made me feel fulfilled. During my 42 hour fast, I became aware that my tendency to undereat was causing me to feel depressed, exhausted and emotionally drained for months. During that time, I thought that depression was an inevitable part of my life one I would just have to deal with. I know that that’s not the case. Giving my body proper nourishment (not just food-wise, but also emotional and spiritual) gives me the energy to do the things that are meaningful to me and allows my creativity and loving kindness to flourish.
Recognizing my relationship with control. My unhealthy relationship with control goes beyond food. There are many aspects of my life that I realize I have an obsessive desire to control, including my schedule, my space and others around me. I now have the ability to recognize when I am being unreasonably controlling, and I am better equipped to handle situations that are out of my control. I also recognize the gifts in this and how it helps me in leadership positions.
Living in community and communicating openly. I have always found communicating open with others to be a challenge. Speaking with others in the community about issues that I am facing lifted a huge weight off my chest. Until coming here, I tended to bottle emotions up and attempt to hold myself together through them all by myself. Now I know that this took a lot of energy that could be better used elsewhere. There is no shame in asking for help when you need it.
I have also practiced speaking directly to others when conflict in the community arose, even though I find this to be deeply terrifying. The art of non violent communication is one that I will use throughout my life and career.
Learning to be grateful for what I have and knowing enough is enough. “One who knows “enough is enough” always has enough. Tao Te Ching. Whether it be food I usually wouldn’t eat, “rustic” living conditions or limited personal space, it may not be ideal, but it is enough. In my time here I have practiced being grateful for what I have, rather than dwelling on wanting more. I have definitely learned to appreciate the simple things.
Social media detox. When I’m at home, I normally spend a lot of time on my phone. Not only does this suck my time away, but I also feel like I lost part of myself in that addiction. I was constantly striving to achieve the level of perfection I saw on my screen, even though I know how curated all of the content is. Here there have been week long periods where my phone has been dead due to clouds (we run on solar). I am rediscovering who I am rather than what Instagram says I should be. I am also discovering all that I can create and accomplish if I put my damn phone down and actually do the things that I want to do.
Self improvement is a practice. I tend to beat myself up when I set out to make a self improvement and then fall back into old patterns. A setback is just a setback, It doesn’t mean I have to start from scratch. I’m allowed to make mistakes and I’m allowed to make them more than once. Overall, as long as I am genuinely trying to improve, I am heading in the right direction.
Do I have all the answers after this experience? Of course not, and I hope I never do. This experience just allowed me time and space to look inward and to get to know myself a bit better. I’m sure I have grown in ways here that have not yet revealed themselves too. To conclude, I will share some words written by Rainer Marie Rilke that have been resonating with me lately.”
“I want to beg you, as much as I can dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
“Hold to your own truth at the center of the image you were born with”
In April of 2017, we arrived in Cape Breton after traveling across Canada from Vancouver Island in search of an affordable place in which to homestead. It was the start of a new adventure and a closure on our previous lives back on the West Coast. Hard to imagine that we are approaching three years in this journey and we find ourselves, yet again, at another crossroads in 2020. The past three years has been a time of integrating with this new place that we now call home, a time of isolation, reflection, and rewilding. We are now crossing another threshold as we transition from calling this place Rewylding Woods to her new name of Twisted Roots Farm. This change in name represents the new and unique way that we are being called to offer this place to others.
For the past three months, we have been working and planning this transition with the support of the Nova Scotia Self Employment Program, the Department of Agriculture, Occupational Health and Safety Nova Scotia, The Federation of Agriculture Nova Scotia and theCommunity Business Development Corporation InRich. All of these services have supported us in creating an economic and operational plan for Twisted Roots Farm. We have also had the continued support of family and friends, which has allowed us to take this much needed time to create a valuable and in depth business plan. We are setting up the farm and forest site to create many offerings, from food to local forest products, as well as opening this land to others for learning.
We are deeply indebted for the help that we have received from volunteers over the last two years in continuing to set up the farm, and we are now expanding our volunteer and educational programming to include a three month and six month stay Apprenticeship program expanding the unique learning opportunities here on the farm. We need this help in order for the project to succeed, as it requires many hands for this vision to come to life; creating a farm among the forest, using low impact, regenerative practices. In this realization of requiring a community of support, our long term vision for Twisted Roots Farm is to create a working cooperative, as we know we cannot do this on our own and want to create a system of employment that is worker owned and operated. We also want this place to continue beyond our time and our invitation of learning is about creating a network of people committed to the project, while generating a supportive economic framework that supports all members.
Our experience of this place has been life changing, especially when either one of us comes from a farming background. There have been times that we have been challenged beyond what we thought was even possible, from harvesting animals to braving the elements in the care of those beings. We have both had to find strength within ourselves and together as a couple to forge ahead when all seemed impossible. We have maintained our health and sanity through it all (or maybe not – perhaps we never had our sanity in the first place!) and feel the winds of change on the horizon as we venture into this new and uncharted territory.
Our intention is to share this journey in a deep and intimate way. We have dabbled with blog posts and instagram, but we also recognize the value of this narrative in a fast changing world under environmental pressures. We know some of the threads that have led us to this place, while others continue to be revealed in their own mysterious ways. We have spent hours and hours researching farming, homesteading, forestry, permaculture, and all things related to living off-grid in the forest. Many others have followed a similar path, and from those folks and their generosity of knowledge sharing, we have been able to figure things out (for the most part) and find new ways of farming that we value and hold dear to our hearts.
Our blog represents all of the things that we have succeeded at, all of the things that we are experimenting with, and all of the things that we have failed at (relatively speaking). Holistic learning includes all of this; to call forth from people an intrinsic reverence for life and a passionate love of learning. We do not see ourselves as separate from our surroundings. We are not observers simply looking in. We are a part of everything and one of our greatest gifts is that we are able to bare witness to the incredible unfolding of life.
And so, the journey continues. Thank you to all those who have supported us and thank you to all those who believe in us; it has motivated us and kept us going. Stay tuned for more from Twisted Roots Farm!!
I sit in the awe and beauty of this place, its hard work, its community, its hardship. I had never imagined that I would be in service to something that feels so important, to be in service to the young folks who are finding their way here. I have spent the majority of my life traversing the realms of wild spaces, listening to the stories and doing my best to understand what is being transmitted in those spaces. I have also witnessed the stories of addiction, depression, anger, anxiety, longing, beauty, and dreams from all those young ones who have so graciously entrusted me with their stories, and to hear the hope in their confident voices for a better future. I am in gratitude for their gifts, for their strength, for their courage, for their dedication and most of all, for their hope; the hope of entering into such turbulent times with a new plan. They hold the future of what I can only dream of.
Days here at the farm can be long, exhausting and stressful. There are moments filled with mud, humidity, blackflies and physically demanding work. Tending to the growing of food is a process of supporting life and death and for most of us, this connection is lost at the modern grocery store. Farming does not fit the 9 to 5 schedule, it is a way of life, a meditation of the present moment. Working and living together in this environment can be hard, challenging and emotionally draining, which is why we have to find ways to communicate and find solutions to issues that are supportive. We have to understand emotions, feel and claim projections and acknowledge the shadow parts of self. It is heart warrior work and these brave ones who have found themselves here have embraced such a delicate language in deep connection with nature-based dialogue. I am in deep gratitude for their willingness and dedication to such an impossible dream.
The farm is evolving with the apprenticeship program and all of the teachings we are learning from each other as we continue to create this unique project. The stories held here are sacred. I am feeling the gratitude for my mentors and teachers who so beautifully guided me to be in this place and time, and reflect and honour their work as we pass on their teachings and inspiration here at the farm. I send out praise for my time as a youth worker, where I learned how to communicate with parents and youth while navigating a governmental system in fiscal restraints that tried to support those vulnerable ones with perceived impossible challenges. I reflect and honor my time with CanAdventure Education where I went through one of the most transitional periods of my life with all of the amazing and dedicated staff that embraced a vision for young ones and their families in a therapeutic wilderness setting. I am also in deep admiration and praise for those vision fast guides and mentors, who so beautifully helped guide me through the mosaic of puzzle pieces and golden threads that have helped to weave a container that holds the power and beauty of soul, helping me fumble in the dark, uncovering the hidden indigenosity that resides in all of our colonized hearts and minds, waiting for that moment of discovery to live fully again in the wild world. Without their guidance, I would not be here in this time and place to now guide others down this path of nature-based mentoring. I am also in deep gratitude for Annie and Niles who continue to guide in their elder way, inspiring and holding this space for us as we do what we can through blood sweat and tears, hoping beyond hope that this can be a place of cultural re-membering.
We are building community, building systems, and trying to understand how to be in relationship with the natural world while connecting with those deeper parts of self that hold such beautiful gifts to be lived into the world, to be of service to something much larger than ourselves. The projects that are stepped into each day require problem solving, innovation, initiative and dedication, and it is amazing to see how those who said “yes” to this crazy venture are thriving, are living, and are breathing life into something that they are leaving for others to continue.
And this is how the farm is growing, adapting and finding its way into something that has never been seen before on this little piece of land. We found ourselves here through a series of moments that saw us follow a dream and said “yes” to something that felt impossible. There are days that I wake up with feelings of impossibility, and yet one conversation or story or realization from those diving into the depths of self through hard farm work and nature connection feed the “yes” of the vision that brought us here. Learning to grow food, learning about community and holding sacred space for such opportunities are what make this project so beautiful. I am truly blessed to be of service to these young souls and the farm is indebted to their energy, youthfulness, ideas, inspiration, creativeness, tears, laughter and joy, for without them there is no future worth living.
Life on the farm over the last few months has been one of many challenges as we continue to grow into this new farm, and way of life. We have, for lack of a better term, been laying low with respect to our social media presence, in part because we have been busy and also because of the situation regarding COVID. Our entire business model is based on the help we receive on the farm through apprenticeships and volunteers, and having folks arrive here in the midst of a pandemic has required working through an entirely new set of logistics and stepping into the unknown. Starting a new business has it’s challenges and pitfalls in the best of times, navigating such a venture during a pandemic in times of uncertainty, mis-information and fear can at times feel like trying to fit a small jacket on a wild cat while taking a bath.
Our apprentices have arrived, and we have passed our time of isolation, which is not required of essential services such as farms, but is something we chose to do regardless. We are now playing a game of “catch up” as our production plan is almost three months behind with all of the infrastructure that is required to move this project forward. Crops are being planted, our egg layers are producing more and more eggs every day, our meat birds are growing and the piglets continue to thrive. With the arrival of new energy, projects are being completed and we are moving closer to the much needed revenue that the farm requires to stay afloat. We have eggs and select cuts of pork available for sale, orders for meat birds are being taken, and we have a variety of unique heritage breed piglets and breeding boars for sale.
We have and continue to be in such gratitude for the response we have had to our apprenticeship program. Our spring cohort is full with the August intake filling quickly. This has made such a difference in daily life here on the farm, and with our first cohort, we continue to learn and experience how to weave nature-based learning with farming. These young folks are exploring the inner workings of how to set up and manage such a unique project while diving into a meaningful reflection of nature-based soul work. The stories that are bubbling up are inspiring, and we feel honored to hold such a space for this beautiful work.
The days are getting longer, the leaves are in full bloom, the blackfiles have arrived and we continue to sink ever deeper into a way of life that feeds us in so many ways. Our hope is to continue sharing this evolving story as we settle into the summer season. Wild Blessings to all.