Annual Meeting 2012: The State of the Land Trust

Annual Meeting, ROSE: 9 June 2012, Sunnivue Farm: Can the ROSE Land Care Association, which holds and protects Sunnivue Farm, survive in its current form?              

Sally opened the meeting by welcoming the twenty attendees and the speaker, Melanie Doerksen of Slow Food London. She pointed out that ROSE is now 20 years old, practically to the day, and hopes to celebrate its 21st birthday next June with a party.

What was the world like 20 years ago when ROSE got underway? The war in the former Yugoslavia was heating up, Bill Clinton was not yet elected President of the United States, who was Prime Minister of Canada? (People suggested that it was Jean Chretien but in fact it was still Brian Mulroney.) It is difficult now to remember how it felt to live in the world 20 years ago, before September 11, before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, at a time when there was already a great deal of awareness about the need for protecting our environment and our food, and when there was perhaps a greater sense of hope about our ability to do so. It was in that context that ROSE was founded; how has it weathered the two decades that have passed since then?         

As to its current state, so far the organization is managing to meet its annual financial commitments, including taxes, insurance, and some maintenance at the farm property, but revenues are decreasing and there is still a need for steady donations. In addition, further funds will be needed if a more ambitious building project on the farm is undertaken.            

And indeed there is a desire within ROSE to do something more ambitious, perhaps to build a second house on the property or improve the other farm buildings or make more provision for student visitors. But we have been stymied in our deliberations about what to aim at, despite the many needs we see. We are in a time of transition, knowing that we need to protect agriculture – both our land and our food - more effectively, but needing a clearer vision of the direction we should take. It may be that the land trust as it currently exists is actually not the best vehicle for carrying out our aims, or for Sunnivue Farm; this is a possibility we also need to consider.            

We have tried within our working group to be clearer about our purposes and our future direction. Many of us see two things that are necessary for this process to bear fruit. First, we need clear and unified leadership from the farmers about where the farm operation is going and what changes will be appropriate. Second, we need additional participation and leadership from new Board and working group members of the land trust, including some younger members who can bring youthful energy and a felt connection with the future. While in no position myself to be ageist, I have to admit that some of us are weary and long to share the work with younger colleagues and successors.            

So those who appreciate the ideals held by Sunnivue Farm and by the ROSE land trust are asked to consider contributing to our efforts, and to bring us their skills in planning, in organizing, in administration, and in fundraising. This participation is what can ensure that the ideal we committed to 20 years ago fulfills its potential. 


Alex vs. Francis the Bull

Nine months after his epic battle with Francis the water buffalo bull, Alex has had a chance to reflect on the experience and has written the following moving account as part of his annual newsletter about the farm. 

Almost all the time last year we were blessed with the right people showing up at the right time.

Above all there were Victor and Morgane, who arrived for two weeks only, coming from France via Quebec. At home Victor works on farms and his parents run a farm. And one day in April, when Francis, our 4,000 lb. water buffalo bull, saw his chance to do me in , employing all his muscles to reach that goal, Victor was in the barn with me. And instead of running away screaming for help, he entered the pen where I was with the bull and he found a moment to pull me out. Only five days later the two of them said good-bye, heading further west. Fate? Providence? No Question at all, not for me. To doubt that, the timing of it all was way too tight. Anyway, this gloomy, final moment went by, leaving me with a multiply patched leg, a few broken ribs and a large number of stitches in my right hand. And for the friends of thrilling stories here is a report from someone who was there.

“Like always and every day  I compliment the animals out of the barn, heifers and young bulls that is, so we can clean up, do the bedding and feed them undisturbed. Within this group there is also Francis, who for a while had been giving the impression that he was looking for something like a decision between him and me. So I’ve been watching it. So far there was no doubt where each of us was within the hierarchy of beings.

Everybody leaves through the door but when I get there to lock them out something big comes back in, approaching me. Now he is in front of me, he wants to know. The spot where I am is as unfavourable as it gets, far from any exit,  a wall to my side, a wall ahead of me. I don’t want to turn and run, that would give the wrong signal and he would be faster than me undoubtedly. So attacking seems to be the best way of fleeing. Yell at him and get the electric prod to his head. But this time it does not cause retreat but it is understood as a declaration of war. And I know here it comes and several thousand pounds of body weight, a huge head with two very big horns are about to come down on me. It is only fractions of a second but I seem to be waiting for it for a long time. I notice that he smells good. Rage smells better than fear, I did not know.

Surprisingly, there is no fear, not even when the first hits throw my body around. Still looking for a way out. This animal is so overwhelming in its dimensions that fight is no option. My consciousness starts flickering. In between I see Victor poking at Francis with a pitch fork but Francis seems to care only about me. On one side that is flattering but of course it is terribly threatening.

This threat has become so general that there is hardly room for anything else and again and again the body feels the impacts of those dull hits while it is being tossed through the barn, along the wall all the way to the gate which separates me from freedom, from life. Every so often the bull steps back trying to judge me and the situation. In such a moment Victor opens the gate and he says, “Alex, come!” and really he can get me up and together we leave the fight ring, Francis coming after us, colossal as he is,  but there is a small people gate, too small for him to follow.

The rest is lying on the cold concrete waiting for the ambulance. Thank God Ellinor has taken over by now, I myself was confused enough trying to convince Conrad to drive me to the hospital in Strathroy. Now there is the trip to London to the trauma centre. There is the admission ritual. My production of adrenalin seems endless, I am joking with the white coats, I can hardly grasp that there is a complete team of professionals just for me!

At last at some point the light goes off and does not come back on until I am in a single room in intensive care, realising with astonishment that I am still alive and right away I am wondering what kind of obligations I am into now to balance this new chance. This is the third time in my life that I am told, it was still too early to withdraw and whatever it is there are still a lot of things to be done.

In any case, again it is Ellinor who is to carry these extra things, the fear, the terror,  with HER adrenalin to run the show, keep everything going, but also the relief and our kids having a hard time being informed how great this is that I am still alive. But, of course, there is also extra work for her and a lot of it. And, of course, it is April, which means, it is spring, so much to do.

Luck wanted it that just two days before this happened we planted hay and oats at a nice early time and it is coming great and even this stubborn frost weather cannot hurt it. And we notice we have friends and what that means: Hans and Conrad both show up on the early mornings to give Ellinor a hand in the barn and they keep coming because it takes a bit before I am back in halfway shape. It still drives tears into my eyes thinking about it. We did not have to ask anyone for help, they just came because they thought it was necessary, and indeed, it was. There were also folks who prepared some lunches for us which only needed to be heated up, so there was something to be served to the people who came to help."