It’s the day before an extreme weather event; a threat that the local and national news has been eager to make prime time and headline. Hurricane Earl is coming and there’s nothing we can do to stop him. I have recently relocated my busy Toronto city life to sleepy Wolfville, Nova Scotia, where, according to the weather people, we will be hit by the eye of the storm. Is it an omen? A sign that I have made a terrible mistake? Probably not, but it sure is daunting. I was thrilled to find, when I moved here, that I am able to drive four minutes from my new digs to a handful of farm stores offering fresh, spray free peaches, plums, and apples, apples, apples. The vegetables grown with care are crunchy, colourful, and fresh.
After my first exploratory bike ride this morning, it dawned on me, as I was cruising by the orchards and bright red, clay soil fields, fruit hanging heavily from the branches, that these tender fruits are going to have one hell of a time through the storm. How resilient are the Gravensteins, the L’Acadie grape, the endless rows of green cabbage?
Today is a balmy 31 degrees, and that’s without the humidity, which feels like pea soup even when you’re standing still. There isn’t the slightest bit of wind or cool breeze to indicate that a storm is coming. Yet, Environment Canada has reported a Tropical Storm Warning for Kings County, reckoning that we will experience between 40mm and 70mm of rain within the next 24 hours and 90-110km/hr winds. The locals are bracing themselves for the event, taking in their patio furniture, packing away their gazebos, and stowing anything that could be vulnerable to lift off.
But what will the farmers do to protect their livelihood? I visited several farmers who all exhibited a common, and totally unexpected, laissez-faire attitude about the whole situation. Hal at Sterling Produce said they deal with Mother Nature every day, this is no different; they’re crossing their fingers and waiting it out. They’ve been busy harvesting what’s ripe and hoping the young apples and pears will hold on to the branches through the storm. The wind seems to be his biggest concern, not so much the rain, he says the trees could use the rain. Dave, his counterpart, leaning up against a pile of wooden pallets, cigarette dangling from the face of exhaustion, interjected with his feeling on the subject, “We’re not looking forward to it (the storm) but we’re not much for worrying ‘bout it either.” At Noggins Corner, just down the road, Andrew, the owner was on the phone busy getting his daughter’s wedding sorted out for the next day and hardly worrying about the storm either. He said that they were frantically picking peaches, at around 4:30pm, but he had other things on his mind. At Elderkin’s Farm, another local orchard just a stone’s throw from Acadia University, Jason at the shop suggested that it would be too bad about the tomatoes. The farmers are busily harvesting the crop, but if they get too many to sell at the farm store then many will go to be processed as seconds and the Elderkins will make far less money than they could.
And grapes? The Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia is well-known for its vineyards. Set on picturesque, winding roads, sloped toward the sun, grapes such as the L’Acadie prosper in this region. Emily at Gaspereau Vineyards said they had had several reporters passing through today asking what would happen to the crop in the storm. She told them all the same thing. Mother Nature will have her way. They’re tying things down that could blow into the crops and hurt the vines, but that’s about it. With the season as it’s been, particularly good, the grapes are two weeks early in ripening. They will be starting the harvest three weeks from now excited for the higher sugar content in the grapes this year because of the hot and dry weather. But as for the rain, they are not too concerned; the wind might blow away some of the crop, but there is nothing they can do to protect any of the fruit or the vines. “For now,” Emily suggested, “just sample the wines.” And so, I did.
More than finding out what farmers do in the face of an impending tropical storm and severe weather warnings, it has become clear that the lesson of today’s outings has been more sociological than agricultural. ‘Que sera, sera’ seems to be the outlook in the Maritimes. My city-stress-case perspective is getting shaken down and flattened out. No drama here, except for in the playhouse, taking things as they come. I’m going to learn how to slow down and take it easy, just like the locals. Tomorrow morning I’ll be able to attend my first farmers market in Wolfville, where, if it goes ahead, I’ll be able to learn even more about this new pace, more about food in the region and will be able to fill up my fridge with the harvest’s bounty.