Monthly Archives: January 2012

Our 40 Year History

Leah, Ian and Randi’s daughter, is probably the reason our history began. When she was on her way, her parents wanted her to be raised by an extended family; by a tribe. However, relatives were scattered, and they had other friends who were interested in living communally, so on December 31st, 1971, some of our property was purchased for the unheard of Island sum of $40,000 by five original owners.

In front of barn, August, 1972: David, Dylan (on Dick's shoulder), Dick, Joanna, Alice, Marilyn, Randi in front of Ian and Ross. Photo by Bill

In front of barn, August, 1972: David, Dylan (on Dick’s shoulder), Dick, Joanna, Alice, Marilyn, Randi in front of Ian and Ross. Photo by Bill

A significant amount of work was done to make the house habitable, and by spring, 1972, massive gardens were prepared and planted and mulched with old hay from the barn, and ambitious plans were debated. The original thought of tearing down the barn and using the wood to build a geodesic dome was discouraged by an Islander, disturbed by the proposal of destroying a sturdy, hand built structure. He also just happened to have several heifers to sell. Someone else had a tractor we could buy.

That began the ‘slippery slope’ of farming.

By this time there were a number of members and more visitors, and lots of enthusiastic labour. Thus, the early days of our history.

In the snow, February, 1973: Joanna, Dick, Dylan (upside down) Judy with Shannon, Ian, Kitsy, Bill, Alice and Alan. In front is Randi with Leah, and David. Photo by Patrick

In the snow, February, 1973: Joanna, Dick, Dylan (upside down) Judy with Shannon, Ian, Kitsy, Bill, Alice and Alan. In front is Randi with Leah, and David. Photo by Patrick

Then Christopher arrived, seeking to emigrate from Britain, to a place where he could raise sheep and eat well. For a time the farm had both cattle and sheep then chose to focus on the latter. We started with a flock of 50 head of sheep from Manitoulin Island.

When the commune broke up, reasonably amicably, on June 30, 1975, those who stayed were determined to repay debts as quickly as possible to those who left. The latter were kind enough to wait for repayment, allowing the farm to survive. We are still in touch with many of those who left, and they are still our friends. We are proud of that part of our history.

Over the next 36 years, we have been creative in finding new ways to make mistakes, but we’ve learned from them. Our five shareholders: Ian, Christopher, Don, Dianne and Sally each contribute as we are able, and have found an amicable tolerance for each others’ foibles, and respect for each others’ strengths. We raised another barn and children and now contribute in raising their children. We have 4 gardens and are starting a fifth. We and our children now live in 5 homes on the Island. We started the Wool Shed and this website store to use our wool byproduct more productively and that is growing too. We have sold lamb privately to satisfied customers for over 35 years.

We contribute to our community in a wide variety of ways, especially with the production of the Island Beacon, our monthly newsletter, which just recently passed the 400th edition.

The flock has increased from the original 50 to a breeding flock of 1100 and 1300 lambs in 2011. We were whammied by Scrapie in 2008, having the government ‘harvest’ all but 670 pregnant ewes in order to remove those who were potentially ill. (There is no live animal test.) We are recovering from that, though the financial picture still is difficult.

But we are still proudly here with a good reputation. In farming, that’s a success story.

Photos courtesy of Don Tubb.

Moving through the woods to wintering grounds photo by Don Tubb

Moving through the woods to wintering grounds
photo by Don Tubb

Keeping Warm with Wood Heat

Our two-and-a-half story “Frame House” at Topsy Farms is heated primarily by a wood furnace in the basement.

"Super Skid" on the tractor, carrying a load - note the muddy tires. It is easy to get stuck before the ground freezes.

“Super Skid” on the tractor, carrying a load – note the muddy tires. It is easy to get stuck before the ground freezes.

That’s a huge improvement over the early years, when we had only one wood stove in the living room, where everyone and the laundry hung out. Each time we filled that less-than-airtight stove, it would belch ash and dust into the room. We shared an elderly vacuum between two houses, and getting it meant dressing two toddlers to drive the km each way, so the house was cleaned too seldom. Our boys were active early, so we built a frame around the stove, to pen it rather than our explorers.

Kyle has been the primary wood gatherer for some years, backed up by his dad, Ian. The goal is to have this year’s wood stored in the open-sided shed adjacent to the basement door, and next year’s wood already cut and drying in the back lot. Part of the winter’s work is to begin to cut and gather the wood for the third year. The quantity required varies a lot from one year to the next.

This autumn, before leaf fall, Kyle marked the dead trees. Unfortunately, there seems to be a bottomless supply. Many of the dead elms have been taken down, but with the ash borer threatening, the somewhat overcrowded conditions in our bush, the limbs that threaten our perimeter fence, there is no lack of dead wood to be trimmed.

Some of the pathways through the bush were established years ago, when the sugar shack was in active use. An early wonderful gift from Ian was the clearing and extension of those for Sally and friends to cross country ski, and to give us access to this lovely wooded area. Since we have shallow soil, many of the trees are Eastern Red Cedar, but deeper pockets of soil also support oaks, Beech, maples, Ironwood, Shagbark Hickories, White Pine and spruce. There is also a disturbing amount of Prickly Ash and Garlic Mustard. Sadly, the deer have grazed most of the trilliums and young saplings.

Kyle in the wood shed, handing a manageable log to Mike, younger grandson, who helps fill the wheelbarrow destined for the basement.

Kyle in the wood shed, handing a manageable log to Mike, younger grandson, who helps fill the wheelbarrow destined for the basement.

Ian organized a chainsaw safety training session in our home for the extended family a few years ago, so they have certificates of safety. Patience with sharpening the chains, with recalcitrant motors on cold days, and just dealing with the perversity of inanimate objects is required.

Most days the men take an armload of wood into the basement storage area as they come in from work to shed their duds. Fortunately Don is up early and Kyle stays up late, so the fire in the furnace rarely goes out.

Our home smells and feels good too. We’re even less grubby.

Christmas tree outing – Topsy Farms style

 

Red cedar will make fence posts, with the top a scruffy Christmas tree

Red cedar will make fence posts, with the top a scruffy Christmas tree

Our son Jake wrote this song last year.

These pictures show his dad Ian, and his sons, Nathan and Michael, on this year’s Christmas tree outing down our laneway. This lovely tree gave us two sturdy six foot fenceposts, a few pieces of firewood that may also be used for our aeromatic red cedar squares for storing woolens, and a floor to ceiling tree, perfuming our livingroom.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to all from the Topsy Farms folk.

pleased grandsons

pleased grandsons

SCRUFFY RED CEDAR

G Em D C

DECEMBER, MY FAMILY, TROMPING THROUGH THE SNOW

MY DAD HAS THE CHAINSAW, MOMMA HAS MY BROTHER AND ME IN TOW

I’M 9 YEARS OLD, AND I’M COLD, BUT IT DOES NOT BOTHER ME (hang on G)

D C G

THIS IS MY SPECIAL MEMORY, FINDING THE PERFECT CHRISTMAS TREE

D C G

THAT SCRUFFY RED CEDAR, MY FAMILY CHRISTMAS TREE

WE FINALLY PICK ONE OUT AND DRAG IT HOME, BUT IT’S MUCH TOO TALL

THIS OLD FARM HOUSE, MY HOME, HAS ONLY 8-FOOT WALLS

THE EXTRA, DAD LOPS OFF, IT’LL BE A FENCE POST IN THE SPRING (hang on G)

THAT SCRUFFY RED CEDAR, MY FAMILY CHRISTMAS TREE

OUR TREE DOES NOT LOOK LIKE ONE YOU MIGHT BUY IN A STORE

SURE IT’S A LITTLE ‘CHARLIE BROWN’, THE CEDAR SMELL I ADORE

WE GET OUT THE OLD STAR, THAT GRAM AND GRANDPA PASSED TO ME (hang G)

D C G

TONIGHT WE PUT THAT GOLD STAR UP ON TOP, OF A SCRUFFY CEDAR TREE

THAT SCRUFFY RED CEDAR, MY FAMILY CHRISTMAS TREE

A GOOD TWENTY YEARS HAS PASSED BY, NOW I’M A GROWN UP MAN

THIS TIME OF YEAR IS CRAZY, MY WIFE AND I DO THE BEST WE CAN

THIS YEAR FOR DECORATING, NO SPRUCE OF PINE WILL OUR 2 BOYS SEE (hang G)

D C G

WE’LL TAKE A SAW AND THE TOBOGGAN, FIND A SCRUFFY CEDAR TREE

THAT SCRUFFY RED CEDAR, MY FAMILY CHRISTMAS TREE X 2

(OUTRO) G D C

TROMPING THROUGH THE SNOW, LOW, LOW, LOW, LOW x 4

© Jacob Murray 2009

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14775 Front Road, Stella, ON K0H 2S0

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