AgriCulture: What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

Eric visits his old (very old) high school Photo by Mark Scherzer

A summer vacation right in the middle of growing season. The very thought seemed to me the height of irresponsibility, particularly when I have been running eternally behind on everything needing to get done on the farm. A weekend to weekend break, twice as long as I’ve taken in the last five years, seemed risky. The prospect made me anxious.

The vacation was timed for now because I wanted to accompany Eric to his beloved native city of Quebec and be introduced as his boyfriend to family and friends about whom I’ve heard so much. But that too, was anxiety producing, leading to a cascade of concerns, both rational and irrational. Would my French be up to the task? (rational) Would the Canadians let me cross the border? (irrational) Would family and friends approve of me? (rational) Would the farm fall apart in my absence, even with trusty Steve farm-sitting? (The question may be whether it was together to begin with.)

As it turns out, I got through the border without issues, and I write this from Fossambault-sur-le-lac, at the lovely country cottage of Eric’s friend, Michel. I’ve been able to hold conversations in effortful and fractured French, and to my great relief, have experienced nothing but welcome from Eric’s family and friends. Indeed, Eric’s brother in law, Julien, an agronomist, upon hearing that Eric referred to me as “Mark le fermier” (Mark the farmer) stepped in to defend my honor by telling Eric that the farmers he worked with considered “fermier” to be a pejorative term, and that they preferred to be called “producteurs agricoles.” Eric, though, having consulted with other urbanite friends who still view “fermier” as a somewhat romantic term, has decided to stick with “Mark le fermier.”

The farm did end up having its challenges, in the form of a ewe presenting Steve with surprise twin lambs on Wednesday (three months after I thought lambing season was done) and promptly rejecting one of them. Steve had to struggle with colostrum replacement, bottle feeding, trying to get the mother to accept the lamb, and ultimately a visit to the vet. I expect or at least hope that upon my return I will be entering a bottle feeding regimen in which the lamb will determine that I, the new source of its milk, am its step-mother.

One is naturally led to speculate about why the ewe has rejected the lamb. Is there something abnormal or unhealthy about him? Other than weakness, that doesn’t seem true in this case. Does the mother lack sufficient milk for two? It’s hard to tell. Is she just a bad mother with evil intent? Somehow I doubt it. As he struggled to bring the lamb along, Steve has repeatedly observed that “This little creature has a fierce will to live.” As to the mother and the morality of her choice to favor one lamb over the other, he says the issue “could occupy a rabbi in debate for hours.”

Whatever the lamb’s fate, its ordeal, its fierce will to live and its struggle to be accepted by its mother, has provided a prism through which I’ve processed my time here in Quebec. In part, it has made the incredibly close bonds between Eric and his mother and sisters, and his decades long friendships, all the more affecting. But in greater measure, it is the lamb’s “fierce will to live” that has shaped my perception of Eric’s world and the that of his Quebecois compatriots.

Quebec City is a remarkably preserved walled city, formed in the 17th and 18th centuries. Newer structures that have been introduced are mostly in good taste and well-integrated. As Eric has shown me the places here that shaped his life, including the Seminaire (his high school, in continuous operation since the 1600s), the Conservatoire (his drama school), churches, restaurants (his parents’ included) and bars, in large part in buildings hundreds of years old, his pride has been evident. It requires an exceptional dedication to maintain this level of preservation in a modern evolving economy. One realizes very quickly that the dedication reflects not an abstract interest in historic preservation but a national pride. It is not structures that are preserved, it is a heritage.

The dedication to heritage is equally apparent in preservation of the Quebecois language. The Quebecois live in a vast sea of English speakers, and many are quite comfortable in English, yet they prefer to function in all aspects of life in their mother tongue. They will be gracious and speak to you in English if necessary, but the language and their heritage and identity are inextricably linked and they are not about to give it up.

At a moment in world history when Ukrainians are being killed and their historic structures destroyed in a Russian effort to eliminate their national identity and heritage, one cannot resist the urge to cheer on the people of Quebec in their fierce will to nurture and maintain their distinct language and culture.

Throw in a dedication to eating well, drinking generously, and living a vivacious social life and I can’t imagine a more agreeable world to get to know than Eric’s Quebec. A wonderful way to learn that I could leave the farm in mid-summer.

Doodles and friend

The rejected lamb, now named Doodles, visits the vet Photo by Gillian Ferguson

WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK:

Sales will resume Monday, July 19, upon my return.

EGGS: $5/doz Plentiful
Many cuts of lamb, just ask
Black currants: $8/pint
Gooseberries: $6/pint
Garlic: $2/head
Spearmint, $1/bunch
Mint, $1/bunch
Fresh horseradish root: $4/lb.
Garlic chives (flat leafed): $1/bunch
Rhubarb $4/lb
Sorrel $3/bag
Oasis Turnips (small white salad turnips) $3/bunch
Shiso leaves, $1 for 10



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