Archive for July, 2010

Blog flogging

I haven’t written much on here in the last week or so as I figure you’d heard enough from me during my North American blogging marathon.

To use the time you perhaps would have otherwise spent perusing my site, perhaps you’d care to mosey on over to some other blogs, written by some of my lovely Nuffield chums while they’re on their travels.

Firstly we have Princess – she’s an agronomist from Hertfordshire who is currently in the US doing a course on soils. I can’t pretend to completely understand what her study is about, but it seems to be something along the lines of man-made fertiliser alternatives and burning bras. (This may or may not be hers, I couldn’t possibly start any rumours.)

burning braPic : Death by 1000 paper cuts

Rona, my favourite Devon duck farmer, is currently in France checking out canard with her entourage. Rona and her hubby are first generation farmers so she’s looking at how you go about starting an agricultural enterprise from scratch.

Michael is the funny one of the UK group so I’m almost loathe to direct you to his blog in case you don’t come back here, but he’s just landed back in Scotland after a month in New Zealand and Oz looking at new entrants to farming. He’s into sheep, but regardless of that, I still think his posts are worth reading.

And finally the last of the British bloggers is Adam, who’s looking at how to improve public views about farming. He hasn’t started travelling yet, but he works for Natural England so you may want to go over to his blog to complain about your HLS application. I know he loves things like that.

If you have any more reading time left, a few the Aussie Nuffield dudes have blogs too, but they write in funny accents so they’re probably not worth bothering with. If you’re that desperate for something to read, the links to theirs are on my blog roll on the right of my homepage.


Where’s Wally?

Here she is:

me looking stupid
I’m getting the insults in before Gob of the Wash does.

It’s a peach of a hat, innit? Bet you’re wondering why I have a scrunched up piece of felt and a feather protruding from my bonce, don’t you?

Every year the Farmers Weekly journos who report from the CLA Game Fair put together a wish-list of items they’d buy from the fair if money was no object.

Regardless of whether I actually would want to buy one, I thought it would be terribly amoosing to have my photo taken wearing a ridiculous hat. What I didn’t think about was the fact the photo of me in said stupid head-wear would be published in this week’s FW.

What’s made it worse is that since checking out the milliner’s website, I realised the lady on the stall actually put it on my head the wrong way around. So that’s why it looks so silly, eh?

What with this photo and a couple of other unfortunate snaps, this week’s issue of FW is actually like a Where’s Wally book, but featuring yours truly. At least my mum will have a field day cutting out the pictures…


Bitter, much?

I’ve just seen Lembit Opik – the asteroid-fearing former weather forecaster fiance, Cheeky Girl squeeze and Lib Dem MP – speak at a debate at the CLA Game Fair in Warwickshire.

“With a CV like that,” you’re no doubt thinking, “it’s perfectly obvious why the CLA keep wheeling him out to talk at these things”.

Funny, that’s what I was thinking too.


To be fair he obviously knows his stuff about farming and in the past I’ve been quite impressed with the way he’s argued for his rural constituents and promoted agriculture.

Sadly I don’t think I’m going to be quite as impressed with his foray into stand-up and his brand of self-pitying comedy.

“Every time I see a friend do well, something inside me dies,” he told the audience. “It happens every time I see Nick Clegg.

“I’m sure he’ll think the same thing when he sees me on Celebrity Come Dine With Me though.”




Before I went off on my Nuffield adventure, the lovely Nick Padwick – Co-op farmer and FW Farmer of the Year – spent a week in FW Towers as guest editor.

Aside from seeing how many times he could get his mug in the magazine (I haven’t forgotten my promise to ‘decorate’ a copy for you, Mr P), Nick brought us some gifts in the line of mini plant pots to grow our own peppers in.

I had been out of the office for a few days so missed the initial planting ceremonies and was playing catch-up, but I hoped in my two-week Nuffield absence someone would have taken pity on my little seedlings and looked after them.

So much for the FW team having green fingers. This is what I came back to:

dead peppers

Funny how Young Rolf’s plants, in the pot behind, seem to be thriving, isn’t it? Just goes to show, you can never trust an Australian…


Back to Blighty

I’m writing this a few thousand feet over the Atlantic. Despite usually having narcoleptic tendencies whenever I board any kind of transportation, I’m annoyingly wide awake. Plus I’ve managed to pick the one seat on the plane where the tv set isnt working so I can’t watch a film – hence the blogging.

I’ve been trying to think  of a way to sum up the past couple of weeks, but at the moment my head’s whirring with all the information I’ve been given, the things I’ve seen and the people I’ve met. I thought it was another one of those lame Nuffield cliches (© MJWN, again) when past scholars have said you don’t really get your head around things until a few weeks after your trip, but I think that actually might be the case.

At the moment I don’t feel like I’m anywhere near answering my study question about communication with farmers – in fact I think I have even more questions.

Despite my study confusion, I have managed to identify ten other lessons from my trip:

– pears are legitimate weaponry
– Lego is still fun, even as an adult
– squirrels can be accessorised with white, black, red and grey
– I can be out-sarcasmed
– Belgium is in fact Holland, apparently…
– fireworks should be watched with the sound on
the bee scene from Candyman hasn’t made me as terrified as bees as I thought it had
– cats and bagpipes are an obvious combination
– I should have packed straightening irons
– chocolate cake is a viable breakfast foodstuff
– my mother needs to be taught the concept of time differences between different continents in time for my next trip  (though everyone loves an early-morning wake-up call)

And finally (okay, so there are eleven), I’ve found oat how talk speak like a proper Canadian and that, eh?

Thanks to all the people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made and the folk who have made me feel so welcome on my travels – especially my pocket-sized hostess-with-the-mostest. I look forward to repaying your hospitality soon x


Wining about local food

This area of Ontario around Niagara has traditionally been a fruit-growing region. It has chalky soils, warm summers and less harsh winters in comparison to the rest of Canada because the lake, so it’s perfect for growing things like cherries, peaches and blueberries (or ‘bloobs’, as us in the know like to call them).

However, over the past few years farming in the region has had a bit of a revolution – farmers have discovered they can make a packet out of growing grapes and making wine and have diversified by the shed-load.

Niagara is now home to hundreds of vineyards, most of which have visitor centres where you can be plied with samples and get so sozzled you end up buying a few cases of the stuff. I don’t normally like wine but ended up getting out the credit card more times than I care to think about, though I think that was probably because I was so scared by the sommelier (he had a real-life twirly moustache and only started being civil when I asked about the soil structure of the farm) that I didn’t dare tell him I only usually drink tipples made from grain.

Anyway, one of the professors I spoke to at the University of Guelph earlier this week said Canada had a big issue with promoting regional produce and getting consumers onside with the local food thang, but I reckon farmers in the rest of the country could take a leaf out of these guys’ books. I’ll concede their success if probably mostly because they are lucky enough to have the tourist hot-spot of Niagara on the Lake and the falls nearby (think Windermere but with more sun, a Christmas bauble shop and a bunch of forts), but the diversifications are targeted incredibly well to the local population too.

The suburbs are mostly made up wealthy retirees and professionals who commute to Toronto and the farms have been turned into ‘Destinations’ for these people to go and spend their hard-earned cash. The farm buildings, tracks and crops are immaculate, the wineries are tastefully built and decorated and the majority of them have a restaurant attached to them so you get drawn in to eat and drink even more of their plonk over dinner. While most of the wine is shipped around the rest of the country and overseas to be sold, the farmers here do a bloomin’ good job of looking after their local markets (after all, the tourists are only around during the summer months), and they seem to be raking in the profits accordingly.

Enough writing for now, I’m off to crack open the case of ice wine. What do you mean, it’s only breakfast time?  It goes great on cornflakes, hic….


So close…

When I was eight we did a class project at school on Canada. It largely entailed making a totem pole out of cereal packets and shoe boxes and learning that a moose and a mousse were two different things, but as part of the project our teacher got in touch with a school in Niagara on the Lake in Ontario and arranged pen pals for everyone in the class.

I can still remember sitting cross-legged on the assembly hall floor as the first batch of letters were handed out,  and particularly how envious everyone was of my letter. It had been written at Christmas time, so my correspondent had written each alternate word with a red and green Biro. But what was more impressive was her festive letter was written in an elegant, joined-up script. We had been allowed to exchange pencils for Berol handwriting pens only weeks earlier and had just been taught how to join up letters (don’t ask me how I remember this rubbish, I wish I could remember useful stuff this well), so my friends and I were in awe of this Canadian girl, who was obviously much cleverer and cooler than we were.

Soppy childhood reminiscing aside, my pen pal, Nicole, and I sent each other snail mail every couple of months or so for about ten years (until we discovered emails and Facebook). To me, Canada was such a distant country that I never thought I’d ever get to go to see where Nicole lived. That’s why this street sign, and my last couple of days of my trip, have been special:

street sign

Yep, I went to my pen pal’s house today. The only flaw is she’s buggered off to Costa Rica for the summer to go surfing and learn Spanish.

It’s not as unfortunate as it sounds – I had known she wasn’t going to be there, but I went along anyway and had a smashing time with her mum, Lise. She took me around the town and into the country and showed me the landmarks and places where Nicole hung out as a kiddie-wink. I’d always known she lived close to the beach (I used to think she was so exotic because she always wrote about going kayaking), but I never imagined she would live quite so nearby. It was kind of surreal watching the amazing  sunset over Lake Niagara knowing Nicole had no doubt hung out there countless times. I assume I have pollution from Toronto to thank for the funky colour of the sun….

Anyway, it really meant a lot to go there, and I hope I can go back some day (or maybe to even to Costa Rica, eh Nicole?!) to finally meet her. xo.


Viva las Niagara

Heaven forbid that I would ever be accused of having a romanticised view of things, but I just didn’t expect Niagara Falls to be surrounded by a town that can only be described as as a cross between Blackpool, Las Vegas and Mablethorpe.

My hostess Sarah and her man friend, John, made the 90 minute trip with me from Guelph to the town of Niagara so I could do the tourist thing and see the waterfalls. It’s something I’ve always wanted to visit, and I wasn’t disappointed when I got my first glimpse of them – their size is incredible, the people who even contemplate trying to go over them in a barrel must be utterly bonkers.

niagara falls

For some reason though, I had got it into my head that the falls would be situated inside a national park, not at the side of a pavement on the edge of what felt like a tacky seaside town. Bored of the outstanding natural beauty? Well that’s just fine, pop over to the waxwork museum or spend some dosh at the casino. Apparently this town’s the honeymoon capital of north America – I just hope couples are going there for the view and not so they can get his ‘n’ hers maple leaf hats with their names stitched on.

The area we had to drive through on the way to the falls is rich agricultural land. The region’s always been known for it’s soft fruits and there were loads of roadside stores selling cherries, peaches and blueberries, which have just come into season around here.

fruit stand
The fruit’s dirt cheap too – Sarah bought bags of the stuff for about £8. And that’s even a considerable mark-up from the supermarkets – I bought a peach yesterday for about 15p, while bananas were selling at about 40p/lb. Apparently Ontario’s always had cheap food as it’s been a dumping ground for fresh produce – lorries start on the west coast of America, selling along the way until the ocean stops them from going any further. What’s scary is consumers still complain about how much this stuff costs…


Miss Bee Hivin’

See what I did with the title there?


Nice outfit though, eh? One of those might come in handy when I’m in Australia trying to cope with the sand flies.

I was back at Guelph university yesterday to see some of the work that’s being done there with bees. Guelph has one of the leading apiary research centres in Canada – if not the whole of north America – and researchers there are currently looking at something called Colony Collapse Disorder.

Basically the number of honey bees has declined by about 30% over the past six years and with bees responsible for pollinating crops and helping to produce food, it’s important scientists work out why the little fellas are popping their clogs.

According to Janine, the ridiculously lovely and enthusiastic researcher who showed me around the centre, biodiversity loss, mites and disease and pesticides are all factors (it’s been discovered one pesticide was causing memory loss in bees, so once they’d found the pollen they couldn’t remember their way back to the hives).

bee stuff

I have to admit, the subject of bees has never really interested me much before (thanks, Comtesse), but spending a couple of hours with someone who was so passionate about their research – and who could explain what they were doing so well – completely changed my view. As with Mimi, the other researcher I met this week, it just goes to show the potential power of good agricultural communicators.

Anyway, I learned loads of stuff about bees, like how the queen goes out to mate for a few days then comes back to the hive and is able to lay 2000 eggs a day for a few years without ever going outside again, and how the colony decides when it wants to have a new matriarch. I also learned about how bees release a banana-scented chemical when they sting someone so other bees can smell danger and know where to attack, and how scientists artificially inseminate queens using this contraption:

bee machine
But most-importantly, I learned how to make a bee beard. If anyone wants some instructions, let me know…


Sneezy going through Canadian farmland

Maybe I was asking for trouble when I took my Matthew Williamson handbag with me on a trip to a goat farm.

Maybe it was my own fault for getting so close to try and take a photo.

Anyway, lesson of today, in case you didn’t know dear readers, is that goats have a powerful sneeze. I s’pose wiping goat snot from a pricey piece of leather – as well as my legs – is another of those ‘Nuffield Experiences’MJWN).

My experience with the runny-nosed ruminant came about during a whistle-stop tour of farms around the Guelph area. Thanks to my trusty guide and Nuffield chum, Karen, I visited three farmers who all had very different enterprises.

There was Paul and his grain storage and farm supplies business:

Paul Sharp

Brent and his turkeys and sheepsies:

And finally, ex-pig farmer Greg with his goats and lambs:

Greg and titchy billy
It’s apparently an unusual thing for me to have seen two farmers who produce sheep in Canada. The country only produces enough lamb to meet 40% of demand – the rest is imported from New Zealand and can only be bought frozen from the supermarket.

In the past, demand for sheep and goat meat hasn’t been very strong, which is why few producers have bothered with it. But these two forward-thinking chaps are hoping to take advantage of a growing demand from Canada’s rapidly-expanding ethnic and immigrant markets. It looks like it could be a profitable move too – Greg can get $212 (£134) for a 115lb lamb, a figure he could only dream of when he was a pig farmer (he switched to sheep and goats earlier in the year after the industry was on the brink of collapse because of low prices and high input costs).

On the way home we drove through some of the province’s Mennonite farmland, which was pretty interesting. Similar to the Amish community I visited earlier in the year in Pennsylvania, the majority shun electricity, cars and so on. Like the Amish community though, some made exceptions – the Mennonite farmer combining Karen’s dad’s wheat was driving a rather lovely, shiny New Holland.

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