Farewell to Alex and Ellinor

At our barbecue on October 1, 2016, Sally had a few things to say, mainly about Alex and Ellinor, who have completed the long and painful process of selling the water buffalo and will be moving away from the farm:

I was invited to talk about the history of the ROSE land trust and Sunnivue Farm.

But I thought for a while about what that meant: 25 years of work, of meetings, of planning, of fundraising (nobody’s favourite activity) of plans gone awry, of wonderful interventions and wonderful food, of sad and discouraging events, and sometimes anger and bitter feelings, of amazing support and enthusiasm, from all quarters of the globe, and of hundreds of people who have visited this farm, and who gave many gifts to the farm and the land trust, and gained much from it.

I decided right away that I couldn’t cope with my assignment, that I was going to opt right out of it. So, I want just to mention a couple of representative examples that I hope can stand for many others. And in doing so, I’ll put most emphasis today on the role of Alex and Ellinor, who have been so central to the development of this project, and who are now retiring from farming and leaving Sunnivue.

Recently Ellinor and Alex have been throwing out a lot of things, in order to move on, and I’ve had an opportunity to intercept some of those things before they hit the recycling bin. One interesting document is an account of an interview with Ellinor conducted by a graduate student at Wilfred Laurier University who was writing a thesis about women and ecological farming in this region. Ellinor may not even remember some of the things she said in that interview.

One part that interested me was a reference to the terrible horrible no good very bad year they had at the farm in 1997. It looked to Alex and Ellinor as if they might have to give up. But, Ellinor says,

We decided not to give up. One of the reasons for this was Gail, who suddenly made an appearance and took everything very seriously.

What we could not know in January was that in April Dagmar would join us and, a gardener through and through, would conjure vegetables for the store out of the ground..

Norm Smith declared himself willing to sow our soya beans without asking anything in return.

Wolfgang Pfenning put seed oats at our disposal for which we didn’t need to pay.

So many gifts from the heart, and gifts critically important to the future of this project, are symbolized I think in those examples.

And I can think myself of so many more people, and groups of people, who came forward at the very beginning of the land trust and throughout the past 25 years to make a crucial difference. Many of them are mentioned in the book of Alex’s newsletters which was put together and edited a few years ago by Barbara Lowery. Many others, who directed their support more to the land trust than the farming operation, are remembered in our annual lists of donors. These good people can never be thanked sufficiently, but I hope that they find some reward in coming out to Sunnivue and in knowing that we are soldiering on and still trying to make a difference in the world.

In the interview, Ellinor was asked to define what farming meant to her, especially as a woman. She talked about the way city people are disconnected from farming, and said that city people must wake up and speak out or small diverse farms will be gone.

At the same time, she said that she does not believe in going backwards. Instead, she felt that we should try to bring back into our lives, as they are now, the warmth that she believes was more characteristic of past times, and she indicated that women farmers have an important role in helping make that happen and thus in creating something new and better. In our treatment of animals, and in our attitudes toward money and profitability, we need to be respectful and serve others, both humans and animals, rather than focusing mainly on the bottom line.

One way in which Ellinor and Alex tried over the years to serve others was in opening the farm and their lives to young people, in many cases young people whose lives were troubled and who needed a safe haven and meaningful activity.

I’d like to read a tribute from one of these young people, a young woman whose life was in a mess when she came here. When she left, she carved her thank you painstakingly in a plank of wood:

To Alex and Ellinor:

I can’t even find the words to explain to you how thankful I am that you let me into your home and work with your animals and wwoofers. Sunnyview farm is a memory that will last forever. It made me realize that you can make the best of a shitty situation. . . .You are so welcoming and kind. The thing I love the most about you farmers is that you sincerely care for the wellbeing of your animals. This was really what I needed, a reality check. I appreciate every part of nature and have learned that there is a lot more to life than just money.

I know that working with young people has been very significant to Ellinor and Alex, so I’m sure this tribute meant a lot to them. But I’m also aware of how much responsibility Alex and Ellinor have taken over the years for all the activities at Sunnivue, and for the state of the farm itself. Now that they are on the point of leaving, the other members of the ROSE board are trying to come to grips with providing all the normal and occasional care that the property needs, and we now have, I think, a better appreciation of all that they have taken on over these past 25 years.

As we go forward, and find new activities and new contributors to the work at Sunnivue, we will be challenged to keep it up to the Nurnberg standard. In particular I can see that it will be hard to combine the inspiration of a strong idealism with the dogged persistence and hard work that farming requires. We will miss Alex and Ellinor in so many ways, and we will need to work hard to learn as much as we can about their experience on the farm so that we will be prepared as a group to look after it in the future.

And at the same time, as always, we will depend very much on all of our friends and supporters for your volunteer help, your encouragement, your belief in this project, and, yes, your donations.

Best wishes to all, many thanks to all!