Monday, May 14, 2012

Ruckle days. Survival farming on Saltspring island.

 Once a year in the Spring, Islanders gather at the historic farmstead that forms the core of Ruckle Provincial Park at the south end of Saltspring Island. It is a celebration of, and a reminder about, the pioneer life that lie just back over the historical horizon. In fact, for people like us it is still contemporary; this week we have just finished a herculean task of replacing our deep well pump (all 200 feet down) and this was accomplished without calling in the specialists; the plumber and electrician that would have made this a very expensive operation.  Just my wife and I and Heather`s brother Colin, hard at work for a day. We are independent minded people who are quite convinced that there is very little we cannot learn and do. We get a lot of satisfaction from this kind of big project just as during these warm Spring days we are deeply involved in planting our big vegetable garden. Small wonder Ruckle Days seems up to date and perfectly normal.

The area near the barn, the milkhouse and the blacksmith shop, was full of folk demonstrating their skills; butter churning, rope making, blacksmithing, and various groups of musicians added to the ambiance. For the children there was 'go fish' and face painting. On the other side of the fence in a field was a lovely Swiss breed young ox that had been trained to pull a sled. All this would seem rather 'cute' to a professional agri-business farmer, so small scale and amateurish, more a version of hobby farmer and home gardener: from the kind of small acreage that would sport a few chickens (steadily being decimated once again by racoons, mink, eagles and hawks), a large vegetable garden (organic), with an orchard of heritage fruit and nut trees and perhaps milking goats, or a cow or two.  This is the kind of mixed survival farm that our pioneer ancestors of a hundred and fifty years or so ago would have had. And for much the same reasons in some cases: if money is scarce one can live well off one`s own produce or trade with neighbours and there is that secure feeling that these skills can be passed on and be the essential knowledge base for making a whole community self-reliant if that great economic mega-system that keeps our stores full of products should fail.

In places like Greece the unemployed young are returning to the inherited farms of their grandparents to learn old skills and this is happening in many other places around the world. What we see on this little patch of historic farm is an example of people who are hedging their bets, learning old skills and getting a lot of pleasure and satisfaction at the same time.

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