The fat lady is singing her heart out…
And it’s (still) not over yet!
Guess what. After 40-plus years, DvL is no longer owner-publisher of the company that grew out of the need to find some way to pay dental bills. It was April 1976. I had published Papeek, a children’s story, with JB Lippincott seven years prior. That must have sold a dozen copies. Following that, the fiction well was plumbed to greater depths and found dry. There were odd jobs. I turned to non-fiction and The Family Cow was born. This went over far better than Papeek and is still on the market with Storey Publishing these decades later. Then what to do? A book about raising pigs came to mind. That sounded like fun.
While researching that topic in books and direct experience here on this small farm, Rural Delivery came together with the help of many friends. This classified advertising exchange would keep beans on the table pending eventual launch of the pig book – while saving old farm and kitchen tools the indignity of ending up lawn and bar-room ornaments.
From the start, making a buck publishing magazines has remained a tricky task. That first year, June through December, display advertising brought in $75. Subscriptions at four dollars a year barely covered printing and mailing of an eight-to 16-page newsprint “pony tab” (half tabloid size). I turned 38 that first year and that’s enough about me.
The more important story is where DvL Publishing Inc. goes from here. We know now that the journey will be with Chassity Allison at the helm. She’s about that same age I was in ‘76, and full of enthusiasm for the task ahead. Chassity is from the area, is a graduate from the Nova Scotia Community College, is married, with two young children, and has been with us the past decade, most recently as general manager.
“Out with the old, in with the new,” ad production person Stephen Nickerson quipped.
Chassity has the able backing of Stephen plus 10 more, looking after advertising, production, and editorial tasks either in the office or from their homes. Add a small army of freelance contributors, many of whom have been with us for years, and we have all the ingredients for the “new” to keep faith with the old.
In this regard and because this is Rural Delivery, I’ll single out editor David Lindsay, who deserves a great deal of credit for going beyond “keeping faith.” Enthusiastic reader response says all is well in RD land.
The “old” is not out of the picture, however, for the crew now in place has generously granted me the exalted position on the masthead of “publisher emeritus.” With it comes the understanding that I may continue to butt in (a little), contribute “Pot Luck” opinions and rants, along with illustrations and cartoons. Pretty good deal.
But retired? No. Just shifting down to take on the next and steeper hill of succession here at home. This includes Edgar MacDonald’s beautiful seaside farm we were fortunate to have stumbled upon in 1970, and obligations relating to the Harrison Lewis Centre on the hill above the barn.
The Centre is governed by a not-for-profit registered charity with a mission that reads: “To operate an educational retreat for the exploration and appreciation of the natural history and rural heritage of Nova Scotia through instruction, research, literature, and the arts.” Lofty, eh?
Over the past decade several hundred people of all ages have taken part in a variety of offerings relating to natural history at the Harrison Lewis Centre, either our own workshops or field schools tied to Dalhousie University’s Seaside summer program. With rural heritage in mind, the Centre has presented workshops relating to small farm and woodlot management and garden-to-plate food self-sufficiency.
We’ve made a start – probably more so on the natural history side of things. As for an appreciation of “rural heritage,” that has to include an introduction, at least, to traditional rural skills of all sorts. There is room to grow, as our departments of agricultural and ag institutions sideline skills training formerly delivered on campuses and through vibrant extension services. Why not sideline ’em? Who needs trained people on the land?
Lots of people, most of all would-be self-employed small-scale and food-subsistence farmers, want that training. It is being offered in many locales but often piecemeal. Ed MacDonald’s farm would be an ideal place to pull much of this together, teaching the basics of soil, crop, and livestock management. Tillage, fencing, rough carpentry, horticulture, small engine maintenance and repair, feeds, feeding, and livestock handling are but a handful of what could and should be covered.
These skills were absorbed as though by osmosis by children growing up on farms. Now, however, with fewer farms and smaller families, large (and even not-so-large) farms are having to look off-shore to Mexico, the Caribbean, and most recently among Syrian refugees, for skilled workers.
It is not easy for new, home-grown, small farmers and homesteaders to find one-stop shops for needed farm skills. More difficult is finding one that adds skills relating to woodlot management, garden-to-plate food self-sufficiency, and, rarest of all, that incorporates all this with an introduction to the natural world.
The importance of wrapping a natural history bow around a package of rural skills was nicely summarized by John Ikerd, University of Missouri Prof. Emeritus (agriculture), in an article he wrote last year, “The failure of modern industrial agriculture,” that was published in the online magazine, Common Dreams:
“Our well-being ultimately depends on working and living in harmony with nature rather than conquering nature. We are currently seeing the disastrous consequences of treating living ecosystems as if they were inanimate mechanisms.”
Ed MacDonald’s farm needs attention before it’s ready to roll out the welcome mat as a fully-functional centre delivering the full gamut of skills training – incorporating all that comes with living with nature. What needs doing? I can make a stab at a list, but here’s maybe a better idea. That’s to organize a weekend gathering of representative naturalists; agronomists; pasture managers; fruit, vegetable, and grain growers; ag engineers; and small and large livestock managers sympathetic to small farming. Their task would be to take a hard look at this farm and plan its revival. What would it take? What might it cost? Is it, after all, a feasible idea?
Endure April. It’ll be over in 30 teasing, mixed-weather days. DvL