Bright and early, I boarded the bus with 13 other tour participants, two organizerettes from Manitoba Farm Mentorship, a tray full of cinnamon buns, and, of course, the bus driver, and we headed west for our first stop, Blue Lagoon Organics, located just south of the village of St. François Xavier off PTH 26.
Apparently, I was the only one on the tour who wasn’t a farmer(ette) or prospective farmer(ette). Everyone else on the bus seemed to know each other and I admit to being a little concerned about what kind of group I was travelling with when one of them got on the bus singing the words to the popular chart-topping hit, “I got to pee so bad, pee so bad.” However, the group was quiet and most everyone left me to collect my writing fodder and highway pictures in peace, though I’m sure many of them, if not all, were asking, “Who is this guy and why is he here?”
Back to Blue Lagoon Organics, I’ve been past this farm frequently, but I’ve never seen their actual operation before. We were met by the “brains of the operation”, who gave us a nice tour of the family farm and told us of her many trials and tribulations from her years of experience. I was particularly surprised by how many hoops they have to jump through to be “certified organic”.
Two of their more significant problems are deer and coyotes and they’ve come up with some ingenious ways of fending them off. They have red lights on top of posts to ward off deer, who confuse them with the eyes of a coyote, in addition to the electrified fencing around their chicken yard.
They do sell “tomatoe” plants, though I didn’t ask what they were.
An elaborate irrigation system.
Their worm farm.
Chickens, chickens, and more chickens. If you’re wondering what that big black pile is off in the background of the second chicken picture, it’s all horse manure.
No, this isn’t their house, but it was a, ahem, collector’s paradise.
Need a used car?
They have some chickens out on one of their berms fertilizing the ground and they regularly move the chickens from berm to berm.
While there, they were good enough to let us use their outhouse and my decision to bring hand sanitizer with me paid off for the first and not final time on this day.
Two hours later, we were back on the bus heading west towards Littlepath Farm somewhere in the general vicinity of Minnedosa. Once we got on the Yellowhead past Macdonald, the bus driver pulled out a Swiss army knife and began to cut up some mini squash that he bought at Blue Lagoon. The problem here is that he was driving at the time. Many of you may be aware of the new cell phone law in the S.P.R.M. that bans the use of cell phones without a handsfree device while driving, but let me be the first to call for a similar law that bans the cutting of squash while driving.
Once we got past Gladstone, I used the washroom on the bus. For those that have never tried to answer the call of nature in a washroom in a vehicle being driven at a speed likely exceeding 110 km/h on a neglected and typically rough Manitoba highway, that is one of life’s experiences that need not be repeated.
Around 1:30 in the afternoon, we ended up at Minnedosa. From there, we proceeded north through the pretty town, past Minnedosa Beach, and found our way to a deserted country road officially known as Road 90N in the RM of Minto, where we stopped at a small house, not sure of where we were or where we were going. After one of the tour directors asked for directions from the people at the house, who must have been shocked by the sight of this big tour bus in their midst, we headed back down Road 90N and turned down a different unnamed road, where we arrived at Littlepath Farm.
We were met by an enthusiastic farmer named Wes, who took us around his scenic workplace. The first thing we saw was their collection of “chicken tractors”:
The first of their “tractors” was empty on account of the fact that the chickens had already been taken to market, but the second set still had the chickens inside, though they only had days to live. I was able to touch one of them, as did a few others.
We then walked down to see his expansive vegetable garden, complete with a much-needed irrigation system, then it was on to his pig pen.
Don’t worry. I won’t eat you.
Wes then took us up a hill to where his turkeys are penned up.
Just outside the cage is his kitchen:
It’s not something you’re likely to see on HGTV, but it works for him and that’s all that counts. Nearby is the tent he calls home during the summer months. He has no power or running water and he has to truck the water he has from nearby Bethany. He does, however, have a solar panel that he uses to get a small amount of power to charge the battery on his BlackBerry. I remain convinced, now more than ever, that I am the last person in the Western world without a cell phone.
After the tour of his farm, Wes led us back into Minnedosa, where we saw his makeshift retail outlet in the north end of town. While there, Wes told us about the farmer’s markets he goes to and how he tries to get some local bands to be playing while the market is open. He mentioned this topic while at his farm as well and I was puzzled as to why he deemed it necessary to have loud music blasting near his stand. Personally, hearing bands playing next to a farmer’s stand would make me buy my food elsewhere.
As he continued talking, I listened as a few of my fellow travellers discussed the best methods for slaughtering chickens. That wasn’t something I really needed to hear, so I returned to the bus and waited for the rest of the group.
Though the farm tour was over, the ride back to the degenerate capital of the S.P.R.M. was not without adventure. Our bus driver picked up a dish of chipped beef and fries at the burger stand next to Wes’s retail outlet and was balancing the Styrofoam container on the steering wheel while trying to eat the contents and control the bus travelling at a speed of somewhere in the neighbourhood of 110 km/h.
As he ate, the bus weaved back and forth slightly, nearly running onto the rumble strips past the white line a couple of times, and no one was more relieved when the driver finished his meal. Only then was his full attention focused on the road in front of him.
I would like to be the first to call for a “the steering wheel is not a dinner table” law.
By accident it seemed, we arrived back in Winnipeg safely and I nearly kissed the ground when I got off the bus. We left Minnedosa at 4:30, and after slowing down for Neepawa and Gladstone, then having to go through Portage on account of the construction on the bypass, we were in Headingley at 6:20. You can do the math to find out how fast we were travelling.
Overall, it was an enjoyable tour, though I’m not sure I’d do it again, regardless of the issue with the bus driver. I used the tour evaluation form to indicate my comments regarding the driver and I hope that, in future, this driver will place a higher premium on paying attention to the road.