Wednesday, 25 January 2017

01 / 25 / 17

In our first Northern Living Series post we interview homesteader Marissa Froese, who lives on a small farm in Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia with her husband and three daughters. Here she shares her experience of living and working in a rural community on Canada’s east coast.

Background: I grew up on a small ranch/homestead in western Canada, while my husband Dan grew up spending many hours on both sets of his grandparents’ farms in Ontario. Dan and I lived together in British Columbia up until 5 years ago when we moved to Nova Scotia. In British Columbia I stayed at home raising my daughters, and my husband was ready for a change in work. We badly wanted a small farm, or at least a few acres of land, and so for a year's time we seriously considering the move from BC to Nova Scotia before taking the leap to do so.

We found and purchased an old farmhouse on 7.5 acres in Nova Scotia. We sold or gave away everything that couldn’t fit into our 12ft trailer, loaded in our dog, our one year old and three year old daughters (with myself being four months pregnant with our third daughter), and made the 4500km trek across Canada.

Our life now, far away from family and all that we were used to, has been challenging but we love it here on our wee little farm.

On the “slower pace” of life: For us, the real draw of Nova Scotia was the chance to have a small farm and a slower pace of life. Many days, we laugh at the idea of the “slower pace” but truly life is different here in our rural community. Life is slower and more weather dependent, which can be a negative or a positive depending on how you look at it. We enjoy seasonal living; working in the garden in the summer with long hours of hard work, and winters spent closer to the fire, doing school work, or working on projects.

On the warmer months: We arrived to our farm just as summer was beginning. Glorious summer. It’s so beautiful here in the warm months when we spend hours upon hours working in our gardens in the sunshine. It’s hot, but an ocean breeze is usually coming up off the bay and tidal river that we live next to. Plus, we always know that the ocean is just a short drive away.

Autumn is my absolute favourite time of year, we’re harvesting all kinds of home grown food from our gardens and the leaves are changing colours in a glorious display. It’s cooler but so pleasant after a hot summer.

On farming in the winter: By the end of November the rains come and everything gets sloppy and muddy. Caring for our animals becomes much more difficult and we long for the frozen days of winter when we won’t have to slog through the mud to milk the cow and haul feed and water to our menagerie. Usually true winter doesn’t come until after Christmas when the snow starts to really pile up and we know we are in for the long haul.

It varies from winter to winter, but there is usually a snowstorm in our valley every week or so. While the temperatures will at times dip down to -30°C (-22°F), usually the weather sits -10°C and -15°C without the wind chill, so not too cold except that the humidity drives the cold deeper into your bones. We also have many warm days throughout the winter with temperatures melting all of the snow, and often it rains as well.

Because of the wind, there are often 3-6 foot snowdrifts in our yard. One winter we had to keep raising our fence wires so the cows and pony wouldn’t walk over the fence. Finally, we just had to feed them constantly to keep them in, though we would wake up in the morning to see the pony out of his pen, munching on the haystack!

On making hay while the sun shines: I run an Airbnb and my husband has a photography/design business. Both occupations have a seasonal element: we have less income during the winter months that we have to plan accordingly for. From June to November, both of our businesses are very busy, along with all of our garden work. We call it “making hay while the sun shines” and it’s our reminder to keep going even when we feel worn down.

Living rurally, the weather really impacts our travel. Unlike when we lived in BC and Alberta where the cold made the snow lighter, here the wet, often blowing snow makes driving incredibly more difficult, so we are more likely to have to reschedule appointments or miss work days. The winter winds are also quite taxing on trees and buildings, so in the summer we often need to do repairs such as replacing roof shingles on the house (though we now we have a tin roof), mending broken fences or fixing damaged structures.

On being in tune with nature: I’m not sure if it’s because we now work so seasonally with our jobs, gardens and animals since moving here, but we now are far more in tune with the changing of seasons. We prepare in advance for harvesting in the fall, and animal care and fireside living in the winter, planning and prepping in the spring, and gardening in the summer. We pay attention to the frosts that sweeten apples and rosehips for harvesting, and plan cider-pressing days for then. We’ve also learned the weather in late winter is ideal for running the Maple tree sap for Maple syrup.

On having time to celebrate: Solstices and Equinoxes are now marked and celebrated in our calendar. We are of Christian faith and so we observe Holy days throughout the year, such as the season of Advent in December with the lighting of advent candles and awaiting the celebration of the coming of Christ on Christmas day and Epiphany on January 6th. I love that these aren’t just things that our girls read about in books, but are how they experience life.

On SAD: One of the major challenges for me personally in living here is the lack of sunshine during the winter months. It’s not so much the shorter days that affect me but the grey dreary weather. I deal with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), as well as other depression, so the winter months are very difficult for me in that regard.

On the plethora of winter activities: Most of our outdoor activity is spent in daily chores; milking the cow, hauling water, feeding all the animals, filling the wood stove, shoveling snow to make clear paths and clearing the driveway. For fun we have a small pond for skating on, which the girls spend hours on when it’s frozen. We’ll go sledding and take advantage of our community snowshoe lending program. Ice fishing and rabbit trapping, as an addition to our desired local diet, is something that we are getting into and is another winter activity.

The winter months tend to see us sticking more closely to our fireside and our homeschool schedule. Winter is when our daughters spend more time working on reading and math, as well as art and various handiwork projects. I’m an artist and creator so I can always work indoors on sewing or needle felting or knitting or decorating or painting, as well as helping my daughters on their projects. We are slowly renovating our home and winter is our chance to get to those projects.

On time spent together: Our summer months are so busy and full of interactions with guests, we often need a breather from activity and time to catch up on home projects in the winter. Have I mentioned that we spend a lot of time by our wood stove? We heat our house with a wood stove, and the draftiness of this 118 year old farmhouse has us tucking in close while we read, work on projects, play music or just warm up after completing outdoor chores. In many ways, it brings a lovely closeness that we really value.

Time spent with friends is often either sledding, attending skating parties or enjoying a quiet knitting night with whoever feels like braving the weather. We also love music and so have kitchen parties or just music with our family.

On wool: We wear wool. Wool, wool and then more wool.  Seriously, wool is our best insulator. For the past few years, I’ve saved up and used gift money from grandparents to invest in quality wool bedding and clothing. We visit great thrift stores where I’ve been able to purchase most of our wool blankets and wool sweaters, hats and coats. We all wear a wool base layer that doubles as pyjamas and wool socks, sweaters and hats. Honestly, its probably the adults in the house who struggle with the damp cold the most, but we all love layering up and taking off a layer if we get too warm.

For footwear during the winter months, we’ve found that a cold temperature-rated, lined rubber boot with a good pair of socks is the best option for keeping feet warm and dry. A sheepskin liner in the bottom is fantastic and can be pulled out to dry quickly by the fire if need be.

I had never seen so much vintage wool clothing and rubber boots in circulation until I moved to the east coast. On the rare occasions that I’ve been to a mall in Halifax (Nova Scotia’s major city), I’ve even seen rubber boots being worn there as a fashion statement.

On time spent away from the farm: Having a small farm, with all our livestock and poultry, makes it complicated to leave for more than a night or two. We have friends who very generously farm sit for us so that we can visit family every few years. We have taught one friend how to milk our cow but as much as a sunny vacation seems tempting during the dreary months, logistics and finances keep us pretty close to home most of the time. However, we make the most of what we’ve been given, and in the summer we love taking day trips to the beach or going on an overnight tenting trip by a gorgeous nearby lake.

On keeping a sense of humour: When we moved to Nova Scotia, one thing that struck us as odd were the old homes that had a barn attached to the house. We would ask to each other, “why would anyone want the barn with all its smells and mess attached to the house??" Then two winters ago, we were hit with snowstorm after snowstorm all winter, and as we lugged bucket after bucket of water through the wind and snow that was sometimes waist deep, suddenly we understood exactly why one would choose to attach the barn to the house.

Thank-you so much Marissa for sharing your life with us! You can read more about her experience living in Nova Scotia on


Jessica said...

Beautiful!!! What lovely story-telling and incredible photos. Sure makes me yearn for some time on the east coast. Thanks for sharing, jake! XO

Jacquelene said...

Thank-you Jessica! Yes, Marissa paints the most compelling picture of life on the east coast, making me want to get out there again soon. My mother-in-law suggested visiting Nova Scotia the next time we go back and I'm totally on board with that!