A recent visit to an organic farm in the Valley revived some old memories for me.
I worked as a farm hand almost every day after school for a farmer who lived across the road from my family’s house when I was just a kid.
It was a dairy farm and my main job, simply put, was to take a wheelbarrow and spade to shovel up the cow dung that built up in the long concrete trench behind the shackled bovines in the barn during the day.
It was smelly, messy work and I once suffered the indignity of having a cow poop directly on my back as I cleaned up the mess behind her.
I was only 11 years old and thought it was all good fun, but my mother had a different view when I showed up for supper.
I once also slipped when depositing a wheelbarrow full of dung into the holding area behind the barn and nearly suffocated in the quicksand-like excrement before the old farmer I worked for saw my plight at the last second and pulled me out.
But, despite the unpleasantness of my daily task at the dairy farm, I don’t think I really appreciated all the hard work that the farmer did every day.
It wasn’t just feeding, milking and looking after all the cows, which is a full-time job all in itself, he also had large fields of hay that he would maintain and harvest once a year to fill his barn with food for his cows for the winter, and a number of surrounding farms as well.
He did all this work mainly by himself, with the occasional help from me and some of his grandsons who never took to farming and stayed away as much as they could.
I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but the farmer spent his life working hard day and night without complaint to make a living and put food on his family’s table.
My family eventually moved from the area and it was the last time I set foot on a farm until I visited Niki Strutynski and Nick Neisingh at Tatlo Road Farm last week for a story I was working on for the Citizen’s annual agriculture and food edition which comes out next week.
The young couple run an organic vegetable farm, as opposed to a dairy farm, but the work ethic that I remember so well from the farmer I worked for was easy to see.
Strutynski and Neisingh bought the seven-acre Tatlo Road Farm in 2012 when it was just a series of hay fields and have been working hard since then, mainly by hand, to cultivate their fields for the production of organic vegetables.
So far, they have converted two acres of their property into productive organic farmland that is currently growing approximately 40 different varieties of vegetables, and they intend to clear and farm more of their land every year.
It should also be said that Strutynski has worked 12 hours or more a day for much of this year while pregnant; her baby is due in November.
They work hard, but you’d never know it by the smiles on their faces.
In my short visit with them, I was given some insights into the old farmer who I worked for, but was too young at the time to appreciate.
I often wondered why he worked so hard and not just get a nine-to-five job, with weekends off, like almost everybody else.
Now I realize that he would never be happy working behind a desk every day making money for other people.
For him, nothing could be sweeter than getting up at the break of dawn every morning and working until well after dark on his farm, where he was his own boss and set his own rules.
It was that same determined independence that I saw in Strutynski and Neisingh in my visit with them, and it’s enviable for a guy like me who taps away at a computer in a windowless room all day and has so many bosses I can’t even count them.
There’s a lot to be said for farmers and their indomitable spirit, and I feel fortunate to have met at least some of them so far in my ongoing exploration of the Cowichan Valley.
Robert Barron is a reporter with the Cowichan Valley Citizen. He can be reached at Robert.Barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com.