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grandkids and us

Sometimes when you first see a place you know immediately that it’s home. In Hockley Valley, the landscape argues with the horizon until the earth relents, acquiescing into undulating shrugs of valley and hill chaperoned by an unrelenting sky. Cradled between the ancient hills–hills that, like rounded anvils, have endured many hammers–we found Peaceful Valley farm back in 2010. The forest sprawls for miles, smoothing over the wrinkles and grooves tickled into the earth by jostling streams and spring-fed ponds. Meadows and pasture loll complacently amidst the spectacle, like old work-horses waiting to relinquish their bounty to any soul who cares to work them. It is this we come home to–should we ever have darned-fool enough reason to leave it in the first place.

So it was clear that nature seemed to be doing her job just fine and the only change it required was in the form of addition, and to that end we planted flowers, trees and gardens all over the place. The man-made things, on the other hand, seemed to be shirking their duties. A derelict barn foundation was leaning its way into archaeology, so we decided to convince it into becoming a pool. It proved more stubborn than we imagined, but with a good deal of planning and a lot of hard work it finally came around. The need for an on-farm wedding chapel was decreed and since–around here at least–one spot seems about as religious as the next, our desires seemed to sanctify its position poolside, in view of a particularly proud garden. You should come by and see it sometime, take a picture or two.

But, just in case it sounds like we spend all our time cocktailing around the pool, spectating the timely marriage of blushing brides, I should tell you about the actual farming. We found horses and cows way too easy, as everyone knows: all they do is stand around and block-out the scenery. They feed themselves, they mow the lawn, they self-fertilize, they dispense beverages and they’re practically made of meat–at least the cows, anyway. It was getting so that we barely had to get off the couch! Something had to be done.

So we traded in the cows for chickens, thinking that something smaller and harder to see might better meet the challenge that farming was supposed to be. At any rate, they wouldn’t take up so much window-space. And indeed, they did keep their heads low–a good idea for chickens–scratching and clucking around on the barnyard floor. Not only that–we only bought chickens that couldn’t fly, so there’d be no chance of a perfectly good sunset being blotted out by a sudden flocking. Now, feeding chickens came dangerously close to being too easy; they’ll eat practically anything they find on the ground. So to counter that problem, we decided to feed them an exclusive diet of full grains, just to keep things interesting. Mind you, they still had the salad bar, as long as we could remember to forget to close the garden gate. Now it is true that chickens are annoyingly convenient for dispensing yummy brown eggs at the drop of a hat, eggs you could definitely eat and easily sell. But we decided to overlook that: if we had to make a little bit of money from the eggs, well so be it. At least we could look forward to chickens strutting and flustering around every corner of the farm like they owned the place, which seemed promising. For the most part, chickens seemed a good deal harder than the self-sufficient cows and horses. So they were keepers.

Heartened by the difficulty of the chickens, we bolstered our resolve and turned to bees. Smaller still than chickens, bees could only block out a shrub or two in any particular vista, depending on how close they were to your eye. And, since you got to build them their own house, coax them to live in it and then break-in every once in a while to convince them to part with some of their life’s work you prayed they’d actually produced, bees seemed able to overcome all objections to the threat of them being “easy” to farm. Plus, you might manage to get stung a few times a year, if you were careful. But if we were wavering before, we weren’t after we discovered we could actually pay tuition and go to bee Ivy League college. After graduation, we built a few small condos and went through several interior designers, but the bees held out for a heated pond and a corner lot. That’s when we knew we’d made the right decision. So, all in all, the bees have decided to keep us. As long as we fence their product for them, on commission–no salary.

Now, apart from a flea circus, going smaller down the domesticated animal line just to save the scenic view seemed a touch impractical and we were at a bit of an impasse as to what to farm next. Then it suddenly dawned on us: why not farm the scenery itself? Scenery couldn’t block-out itself, so you’d always be able to see it. Plus, scenery hardly moved at all, so it couldn’t get in the way of anything. But, how do you farm scenery? Two words: maple syrup. The trees: you farm maple trees! Bold, yes. Improbable, maybe. And the best thing was, it might actually be pretty hard! The first step is to plant some seeds. The second step is to wait fifty years. After that, all you have to do is string 4 miles of interconnected plastic pipe through twenty-five acres of bush and undergrowth and attach all of the ends to a couple of hundred maple trees. Next, attach the other end of all that pipe to an oven as big as a mid-sized Buick that can boil-away 400% of the stuff you collecting in the first place, leaving only a drip-drop of ambrosia to trickle into little glass jars you might be able to sell uptown if you meet all provincial, federal and United Nations regulations for purity, clarity and colour. Oh, and you can only collect the sap that makes the maple syrup for a few weeks a year during springtime and only if the weather is freezing at night and warm during the day. All of that sounded like about the right proportion of ‘easy’ to us. So, we’ve decided to keep the scenery, too.

Whether it’s cows, horses, chickens, bees or maple trees, farming is hard work. But when you work with nature–helping her produce what she would have anyway–it feels so much more rewarding than some cushy job in the city with its car allowances, luxury condos and trips around the world. Luckily, Peaceful Valley farm took us away from all that. And yes, we produce and sell some of the finest all-natural eggs, honey, maple syrup and jams you can buy. Oh, and we’ll even let you take pictures of the scenery, too. So if you need to get away from it all–or at least most of it–for a while, we’re just a short drive away. And they say, if it weren’t for the hills, the trip from the city would be half the distance.