“A past generation did it because they had to. I’m not doing it because I have to. I like the challenge.”
– SPERLING FARMER AND HOME GARDENER JOYCE NICOLAJSEN
Ki tchen counters are stacked with cutting boards, glass jars, colanders, bags of sugar and pickling salt. Out in the garden, or piled on the back steps, is another haul ready for shelling, chopping, puréeing, fermenting, freezing, drying or canning.
The harvest of the home garden has begun in earnest and for those in the midst of it it’s a time of year that, like the harvest in the fields, has its own narrow window to get it all done before nature’s best-before date.
And it’s a pile of work, oh yes. Ask anyone who’s spent the day or evening or worked into late nights shelling a big box of peas or putting up dozens of jars of this or that. Yet, those who undertake this task every year, speak more about the pleasure associated with this end-of-summer job.
“A past generation did it because they had to. I’m not doing it because I have to. I like the challenge. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t like doing it,” says Joyce Nicolajsen, a mother of four who farms with her husband near Sperling.
Joyce is a renowned home baker in her community and is found every summer at the Carman Farmers’ Market selling both her baking and other home produce. These days she’s harvesting the farm garden, which is about an acre in size. Some she’ll sell. Most she’ll put away for home use. It is deeply satisfying to feed one’s family this way, says Joyce. “And this is something I was raised with.” She’s making sure her kids are too.
Down-the-road-neighbour Karen Tjaden echoes similar sentiments. Karen takes a break each summer from her duties as a United Church minister to tend to a large backyard garden. From it she harvests a mountain of fresh, homegrown vegetables that feeds her own young family of three. She, too, grew up helping take off a home garden and grew to love the taste of homegrown food. That’s what’s most rewarding about doing this, says Karen, who was shelling peas last week.
A BITE OF SUNSHINE
“I always like knowing we’ll have this bite of sunshine later on,” she says. Karen freezes virtually all her fruits and vegetables. “It’s pretty pleasing to look in the freezer later on and see everything in there. It’s like a work of art,” she adds with a smile.
A peek into kitchens across the province right now would find many more like Joyce and Karen.
In Manitou, farmer and municipal councillor Brenda Seward is putting away jar after jar of wild chokecherry jelly. “We pick the berries from the nearby Pembina Valley,” says Brenda, who makes time to harvest her garden each summer in the midst of her other duties as a farmer, municipal councillor and business owner.
The Sewards’ farm is where Manitou residents Joe and Dorothy Kozak, who helped found a local food festival, come to plant their stash of garlic every year. The Kozaks make a huge array of pickles and spreads to sell at the Pembina Valley Honey, Garlic and Maple Syrup Festival’s farmers’ market each September. Joe anticipates they’ll have about 100 lbs. off their plot this year. He and Dorothy have been putting every waking hour into drying, cleaning and braiding garlic in recent days.
ONE THING AT A TIME
They do it for the flavour and abundance of the food they’ll have afterward, home preservers say. This evokes a sense of security, self-sufficiency and independence unlike anything else can. And this is work done equally well both by those good at multi-tasking and by those who prefer to do one thing at a time – you pick, you wash, you chop, you stir, all the while listening to your own thoughts.
Plus, if there’s anything left over – and there always is – they’ve got plenty to share. And they do.