Update June 2018

It is always interesting where life takes you. This has been a challenging season so far for farmers in our region of the Canadian Maritimes with the very late frosts, one actually being a freeze since the temperatures dipped so low.  This is the new ‘normal’ thanks to us humans causing climate change where the consequences are accelerating at worse case scenario levels. It is already too late to turn back the changes.  I continue to be dumbfounded as so many in the developed nations go about life as if there is nothing happening as a result of their wasteful lifestyles.  You are part of the problem if you are not attempting to significantly reduce your impact on the planet (and recycling doesn’t cut it if you don’t know by now).

Like many farmers & gardeners we suffered losses. About 60 tomato plants was the immediate damage, not sure about our fruit bush & tree production. Fortunately I did hold back from planting in the outdoor garden beds 1 tray of tomato seedlings so in the greenhouse they went.  We had never had any difficulties growing an abundance of delicious tomatoes outside but this won’t be the case from now on  most likely. Our onions & strawberries did fine, the latter being protected on one side. The potatoes had started to grow and the greens were killed but I have seen new growth since the freeze.

I am most worried about my newly planted arctic/hardy kiwi plants having spent hundreds of dollars on this. The foliage certainly died but hopefully the roots are fine having had sufficient time to establish themselves after being planted in early May. Alas I won’t know until several weeks have passed although I did see some new leaves sprouting on some of them. 

The large temperature differences from night to day have been hard on some of my greenhouse pepper plants with some seemingly being in ‘hibernation’, appearing as if dormant not knowing whether to grow or die. Our greenhouses are not heated so some hold their daytime heat better than others. As for other outdoor planted vegetables, like beans, it has taken so long for stuff to come up but finally my corn & beans are visible. Phew! I was worried about them. So here’s hoping that come late summer and beyond, I will have sufficient peppers and tomatoes to create my various pepper based products, e.g. hot pepper jelly, salsas, sauces, chutneys & similar. At a certain point you just have to accept one has little control and mother nature will do her thing, so some things grow, some don’t.

We are lucky since we are super small scale and our farming endeavours are not meant to be the sole source of our livelihood. Despite this I had still expected to partake in farmers markets but my asparagus just didn’t happen (see my previous post ‘Lament for my asparagus…‘ so no raw to sell (only enough for ourselves) and then certainly none to pickle.

In light of the fact that no income would be garnered from my asparagus this season, finding a job offsite became paramount (I had been continuing my job search since I had returned to Canada in March after our 3 month volunteer posting in Barbados). With almost non-existent opportunities for employment in the area with my skill set, it was not looking good. Fortunately the universe has delivered. I started working at Appleton Chocolates Company (AC) in Tatamagouche mid June. And I will be teaching one course each in the Fall & Winter semesters at St.Francis Xavier University.

Appleton Chocolates has been around for more than 21 years, but recently opened their own store after having shared a space with a local coffee shop for more than 2 years, and previously having been in a cabin in the woods for 19 years where it all started. My title is sales associate so I am mainly responsible for the front of the shop dealing with customers. I am their newest staff person they have hired, one being an intern/summer student so we are a team of 5. It will be full-time and part-time depending on the seasonality of the business which suits me fine since ideally I don’t want a full-time job year round.

It was kinda strange how this came about. When our farm ‘caretakers’ completely unexpectedly bailed on us in January, knowing we would be heading back to Canada with no work lined up, I began once again thinking about what next in terms of career/work realizing the international development was not going to work out due to our home situation. I had several years ago now considered a career in chocolate making, stemming from my passion for food, so I had undertaken research into this sector of the food industry.

I learned t1hat there are chocolate makers and chocolatiers – you should be pronouncing this in French not English (there are of course the cacao farmers but we can’t grow cacao in Canada). The chocolate makers are those folks who take the raw cacao beans and turn them into cocoa and then chocolate. The chocolatiers are the folks who make the chocolate creations, e.g. chocolate bars, chocolate bonbons – also please say this in French not English. I discovered an online school for such a career. In the end I never went any further in this exploration because eventually it would have been necessary in my opinion to study in Europe which would not have been a cheap endeavour although certainly immensely enjoyable. It would have also been a business targeting high end customers which is not necessarily my cup of tea. This was really a fantasy of mine since I do love high quality chocolate – dark of course! All those people who keep saying that you can make money from your passions – that is not at all a guarantee of success so blindly believe this piece of supposed advice – many other factors have to come into play for this to become a reality.

So back to Barbados, I had noticed on crackbook (aka f b) that AC would be expanding and thought hey that would be a great place to work in order to stay living and working rurally. I would be working for a local company that sources many local ingredients, a small business selling a product I can stand behind. I do love chocolate! I can handle only having to commute 15 minutes to get to my job (by car of course – I could bicycle but I don’t have the time nor the love of bicycling to do this although I am toying with the idea of an electric or otherwise powered bicycle…hmmm a discussion with Mr.C5 is in order on this idea).

I had read that they had already hired some staff in anticipation of the new store front so I thought oh well. But near the beginning of June a job ad was posted. I thought why not apply. I certainly don’t have a conventional retail background at all but I have done plenty of customer service, especially these past few years with the farming biz and having sold my products at 5 different farmers markets and having undergone the small business training. I also knew that the owner knew me as we had been side by side at the local farmers markets so he saw how I interacted with customers.

In one week I have already learned a lot about chocolate! Partially just from observation but also instruction from the husband – owner with his wife – who has the passion and is the main chocolatier, and from reading the course notes of the online program he had followed last year, the one I had researched a few years back. Prior to this, he had had no formal experience, having being taught by the previous owner, his stepdad.

Their signature product is a unique truffle offering: double dipped either with milk or white (both from Belgium) or dark (from France) chocolate filled with a maple fondant alone or with some added ‘tastes of Nova Scotia’ e.g. berries such as blueberries, cranberries, black currants, cherries, or ginger, walnuts. If they can’t source the ingredient locally, then they do work with local companies that source the items and ideally from Canada whenever possible. Besides this you can also get the plain chocolate bars or bars with fruit added. The first real bonbons are soon to be available. I of course do get to do tastings, and they want me to know the flavours so that those customers who ask “what do you suggest” or “what is your favorite” I can answer – which has already happened. I do love good chocolate and I can say this is good chocolate. I can appreciate the fondant filled truffles won’t be everyone’s cup of tea as they are sweet but who can resist the flavour of maple syrup! Imagine: I have already had my first customers, a pair of older ladies, who actually didn’t like maple syrup – I was shocked. I mean I have never ever met such people before. Sacrilege really! Oh well everyone one has their own likes and dislikes when it comes to food and tastes.

Anyway I look at this time as an opportunity to learn more about small businesses, to learn more about the people of Tatamagouche & surrounding areas, & of course all the cottagers and tourists who are around during the summer months (I have already been able to speak some Spanish and French with customers!). I have noticed the support demonstrated between the different local businesses which was a pleasant unexpected surprise. This is my sociology hat’s cup of tea of course.

I do see this as a long term commitment which for me is a few years, not that I am aiming to be a chocolatier. I certainly won’t get rich from the work but that is not the point of doing this job. This job allows me stay local. In the community we live closest to there are few opportunities: post office, beer store, pizza joint, gas station with convenience store & restaurant, and library. This is about it for work in the little village. I wondered how do you get a job at one of these establishments? It was clear that you had to wait for a retirement and then you had to know someone who already worked there. Despite the fact that some of these places – the library, post office & beer store – had to advertise their jobs because it was either a government or union workplace, when a job would come up the notices were not widely distributed. In the end nepotism was at play – not cool in my book.

We are fortunate that our expenses are low as we don’t carry a mortgage or pay rent, and we carry no debt of course so getting a job that paid well was not a requirement! As mentioned above, I will also be teaching some courses this next academic year. This is where the $ comes in. I do believe it is probably the ‘best’ part-time job you can get just because the pay is good and the hours are few. This will help replenish a bit of our savings.

Aside from this, my hemp has been planted. I managed to get this in before the job began. Unfortunately we had have to deal with scavenging chickens. It never fails that if a chicken sees you working in the dirt, they soon come along, scratching away looking for bugs or worms which is fine if you are just weeding but not if you have just planted seeds or seedlings. It took a few days for them to venture into the fenced off area but then we were running around trying to scare them away but they always come back – chickens are either smart and stubborn or stupid depending on one’s perspective.

I was pissed at the buggers. This was until my partner worked on adding some netting on top of the fencing. And we then had a chicken strangle itself but not on the added fencing. Oddly enough it was in between slats on a wooden gate we have had there for years. This was the 1st time I was not upset about the accidental death of a chicken. I know, not that nice of me. But I had reached my limit of chickens getting the gardening work I had done these past many weeks. I am happy to say the hemp has sprouted. Now to wait and see how much will not sprout thanks to the chicken damage.

All that I have left to do gardening wise now is plant out the brassicas which 1st need hardening off, and then it is really just weeding and watering when necessary until harvest time. I’m glad since my heart really isn’t into it this year. The plan for us was to be in Barbados this year and thus not farming. I really felt I needed this 2nd year off from doing the farm biz. Oh well shit happens and then you go off in different directions.

Happy gardening & Happy Solstice. Summer is almost here and hopefully the frosts have ended for now.

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