August 31, 2004
For immediate release
Looking Forward to the Future
Agriculture, Fisheries, Aquaculture & Forestry
While the Matheson homestead still remained in the family, the land was sold when his father retired. When George and Melaney got married, they moved into the homestead and became more determined than ever before to regain the farm.
“We got the family farm but we had to buy it,” Melaney jokes. “We were starting from scratch.” Springwater Farm's main commodity is hay. Melaney said that they produce approximately 17,000 bales annually, adding “It’s a bit of a niche market – not that many people are doing small, square bales anymore – but for people who have horses in the backyard, the smaller bales are easier to handle.”
The Matheson’s also have a handful of sheep. Both George and Melaney are convinced staying small and carving out niche markets is the key to survival in the 21st century. Melaney further stated, “My sense is there is a chance for the small family farm if it stays small.” George feels that keeping a close eye on the bottom line is crucial, like it is for any small business.
“We get to work together,” Melaney adds. “If you are really big and have a lot of employees, you end up only being the farm manager instead of the farmer.”
During haying season, work on the Matheson farm is basically a sun-up to sundown affair. A lot of credit goes to their summer staff for getting the work done. The first thing on the agenda is to unload the previous day’s harvest – usually four or five wagon loads. While one partner is handling that job, the other heads to the fields to start cutting and raking the hay that would be baled that afternoon. After the noon meal, it is back to the field to begin filling the wagons again.
On an average day, Melaney said that they can harvest from 1,000 to 1,200 bales. This usually takes them well past the supper hour. After that, they have to put the wagons under cover for the night. George explained that virtually all of the production is stored in the farm’s main barn until it is shipped for delivery. He usually delivers the product personally to regular customers, often leaving the farm in the morning with 118-120 bales. There are also chores to do with the care and feeding of the sheep. During lambing season, the couple has a baby monitor in their bedroom to alert them to any problems with the newborn lambs in the barn.
In the Spring, the couple plants Christmas trees -- they just began that venture three years ago. Since it takes at least ten years before the first trees are ready for harvest, that is a long term commitment.
George has off-farm employment as an insurance director, adding that the flexibility of working from home and setting his own hours is a good fit with his farming lifestyle. Melaney has recently left her part-time position as a United Church minister to turn her attention to readying the farm to receive its first agri-tourism visitors.
Since many people, both islanders and visitors, have lost the direct connection to farming, Melaney views the venture as an opportunity to show them what agricultural life is all about. George hopes to add hay rides and farm tours to the farm vacation experience and provide guests with an opportunity to help out with the chores if they so desire.
“People come to PEI for the attractions, but they also comes for the rural lifestyle,” Melaney said. “They like to see the lush, green fields.”
The Matheson’ love of rural life has also encouraged them to become involved with the Dundas Plowing Match. Melaney sees that as another way to help educate the non-farming community about the industry and to pass on her love of the best of rural life.
While that is a long time in the future, the pair said they would like to eventually see their two children Ila (five) and Rae (who is two and a half) eventually become involved in the operation. Melaney added, “Certainly our hope would be that this would be a working farm after we are retired – we want the farm to be here so they have the option.”
(This article is one of a series prepared for the Prince Edward Island Agricultural Awareness Committee to profile life on 21st century Island farms. Funding for this project is received from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada)