• James Armstrong

Return of the family farm in Rigaud a cross-generational learning experience

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PHOTO BY JAMES ARMSTRONG

Jersey bull calves, Spaz and Spot are part of the debut efforts at farming for Rigaud family (left to right) Shawn Paige, Blair Bailey, Jordan Bonnell, Crystal Hooton and Blair Paige.

Although the summer break from formal education will soon be over, for the Hooton/Paige family in Rigaud, this summer has been an on the hoof, as-it-happens educational experience.

The rising cost of food and a desire to feed their family organically grown vegetables and meat impelled Crystal Hooton and Shawn Paige to embark on a project that is rapidly becoming a modern version of the family farm.

A large garden plot filled with rows of yellow and green beans, six different kinds of peppers, several varieties of tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, zucchini, turnip, chard, watermelon, and pumpkin was their first step in the adventure that began in the spring of 2015.

In addition to the garden, Hooton and Paige bought two jersey bull calves now known as Spaz and Spot. “The main goal is to produce enough food to conserve for winter use,” explained Hooton noting that there will be lots of weeding, harvesting and processing to be done to reach that goal. “It also tastes so much better,” she added.

With their children, Bailey and Blair Paige and Jordan Bonnell helping out with the chores and care of the animals, Hooton and Paige added four ducks and four chickens to the mix. Living quarters for the calves and fowl are being renovated. The small barn on their property has a new hayloft and will soon receive a concrete floor. Currently, the calves share space with the ducks and chickens.

Spaz and Spot arrived about three months ago and almost immediately, Spot suffered a bout of pneumonia. “He had problems breathing and was dehydrated,” said Hooton and a visit from a vet to help resolve the situation. As Spot recuperated, the two calves were socialized. Both have been trained to walk on a lead and go for walks with the children.

Today, the calves are growing and gaining weight. They get to graze in the open field next to the barn and have been known to wander into the adjacent garden. “We want them to have as pleasant and stress-free life as possible,” she explained adding they are destined for the freezer in about 15 months. Next year’s plans include fencing to keep them in their own paddock.

Farming and gardening are fraught with the unexpected and the uncontrollable vagaries of weather. As the season unfolded, this farming family discovered that raccoons love sweet corn, and that some vegetables don’t always produce as planned. “The cucumbers didn’t turn out well and neither did the garlic,” said Paige adding he’s planting next year’s garlic this fall. “We’ve saved a lot of money on groceries,” added Hooton, “We’ve almost completely stopped buying vegetables over the summer.” She noted the freezer is filling up and she’s planning to can the abundant tomato harvest. This year was a trial run to see what they would like the most and what would grow the best. “Next year will be better, there will be two rows of peas and two rows of carrots at least along with strawberries,” she said with a smile. As for the sweet corn, the hope is that they can grow enough that the raccoons will leave something behind.

As summer fades to autumn and school looms on the immediate horizon, the family is looking beyond the fall harvest to next year. They intend to raise two more calves; a couple of pigs and possibly more ducks and chickens. “I can’t wait for next year,” said Hooton. Although she admits its not easy, a lot of work and something’s always breaking, the payoff for the family is healthy food, sense of accomplishment, and the lesson for the kids of the farm-to-table cycle.

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