In 2009, with several months to kill between undergrad and masters degrees, Ian McCormick signed up for the intern program at Everdale Farm near Guelph. He wanted to learn more about vegetable production and the viability of small-scale farming.
Around the same time, Shilpa Kumar, newly returned from San Francisco and interested in growing food, also headed to Everdale.
Neither of them counted on falling in love.
Maybe it’s the water. So many couples have found each other at Everdale, the farm has been dubbed “Loverdale.”
Shannon Jones, an Everdale intern, and Brian Dyck, an intern at Whole Circle Farm, met through the weekly field trips organized by the CRAFT Network (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training in Ontario). They fell in love and now own a farm together in Nova Scotia. Simeron Novak, taking a break from restaurant work in 2008, met his fiancée Jessie Guylas while both were interns.
Given the killer hours and program’s workload — seven months of long days learning curriculum and working the fields — it’s surprising anyone found time to court. But McCormick thinks it’s precisely the hard physical labour that results in love. The “feeling of energy and being more alive” puts you more in touch with your body, he says. Combined with the close physical contact of being side by side in fields under a hot sun, it’s a recipe for romance.
There are emotional reasons, too. In farming, you can’t control certain things, especially the weather, and you are “forced to slow down, and let go. It’s very attractive,” McCormick adds.
As director of Everdale, Johnson is in a position to see a lot of interns. “They want better or different lives, and being able to fulfill that passion and sense of calling fills you with a joy … that got away from farming when mono crops came in.”
Because the interns are part of the local sustainably grown food movement, they share an intellectual understanding. As Jones says, “you don’t frequently meet someone who has such a similar vision and outlook. Being able to talk about what we hoped for ourselves and our belief systems … helped us connect.”
Although she does admit that Dyck’s beard might have had a little to do with it: “I kind of have a thing for beards.”
While romance kindled their desire to farm together, Jones expects that farming will be the glue that sustains the romance. “We couldn’t do this [farm] without each other. In farming, so much of our lives and livelihood depend on the other person. You have to deal with things as they come up, and you can’t walk away because ‘this isn’t working for me.’ It forces us to prioritize and develop as individuals.”
Unlike most modern romances, for Jones and Dyck life and job are “interconnected.” The crops they grow on their recently purchased 15-acre farm will not only pay bills, but cover some of their personal needs — like the hive of bees and the dozen or so laying hens. They are thinking ahead, and their retirement plan includes planting black walnut seedlings for a crop that’s easier to harvest when their bodies aren’t so strong.
Eventually they want to expand, by buying the adjacent forest for woodland crops such as mushrooms and maple syrup and the acreage across the street for pasture land.
Expansion plans include children, both their own and kids in the community. “A big part of what we’re doing is making sure we don’t take more from the earth than we should,” Jones says. “We want to share with children in the community — the next generation — about stewardship and respect for the earth.”
Jones also has another kind of expansion in mind: a “weed dating” program. It’s win-win she figures: Singles meet each other, and Broadfork Farm is cleaned of weeds.
The future of local farming may depend on such romantic partnerships. Small farms have always been managed this way: Partnerships lighten the load, and ease the isolation that comes with farming.
Even with several years experience farming in Southeast Asia, South America and the U.S., Jones never envisioned farming alone, in spite of friends urging her to try it. It was only when she met Brian, who had “dreams in common and a shared vision,” that she believed it could happen.
Kumar, who with McCormick is exploring small-scale farming, believes “having a like-minded partner is pretty crucial. It is a way of life … having someone there through the venture definitely makes it feasible.”
And when vision isn’t exactly in sync, there’s negotiation. While McCormick finishes his masters, he’s been raising and marketing grass-fed meat. Kulmar, a vegetarian, isn’t crazy about this, but they’re working on a compromise: raising goats for cheese, and growing greens in winter.
As important as pairing up may be for farming, Everdale isn’t in the dating business. It’s considered a leader in education. The rapid rise of the local food movement has piqued the interest of more people, who have no prior knowledge or experience because they weren’t raised on farms. They need grounding in basics: soil science, crop rotation, the financial realities of how hard it is to make a living in small-scale farming, weed control, animal husbandry, tractor operation and secondary tillage.
But they also need to physically experience “the cycles of a whole growing season, from seeding to harvesting, how intense it can be, and the incredible exhaustion,” Johnson says.
Most of the interns he sees are young, articulate, intelligent and “in it because they see a community and connectedness, it’s a vocation … deeply rooted in their beliefs.”
He’s impressed with their determination to see solutions instead of being weighed down by environmental woes. At Everdale, “stuff is happening,” he says, the future holds promise, and romance seems to be a natural by-product.
As Johnson says “you can’t have food and farming without passion.”