This time, let’s get to the takeaway right off the top: savour life and be optimistic.
“I just try to enjoy each day as it comes,” says Whitehorse farmer Rolland Girouard.
“I still enjoy getting into the market garden, and getting down on my hands and knees to pull weeds. After I’ve done a row, I’ll look back and say, ‘look at that.’
“I just enjoy what I’ve accomplished and look forward to tomorrow. You’re a farmer, right? So you believe tomorrow is going to be good.”
The words of an optimist? You bet, but not a blind one.
The story of Rivendell Farm is one of struggle and perseverance. There’s a reason why “Whitehorse farmer” is not a common term. If Girouard and wife Mary had chosen to dwell on the bad, they would likely have packed it in years ago.
As it is, it’s been 32 years since the couple took a piece of picturesque but totally raw land along the bottom of the Takhini River Valley and made it into something special. Along with bedding plants and organic produce, it’s a popular agri-tourism destination for nearby Whitehorse.
“I wouldn’t say it’s thriving, but it’s making its way,” Girouard says.
That’s no small feat for an operation that suffered one blow after another.
Silviculture was “a total flop.”
A greenhouse in town had to be moved back to the farm because customers kept bringing in aphids and other pests from other operations. The Girouards don’t use insecticides.
Four thousand strawberry plants, planted according to government recommendations, all died.
Its largest buyer of produce closed.
A venture into elk ended with a six-figure loss after Girouard developed severe allergies to the animals.
Actually, it wasn’t just elk. In 1992, he somehow became allergic to “just about everything,” including hay, which is a major cash crop, and sawdust. It meant Girouard’s off-farm job, carpentry, was also out.
“I couldn’t work. I was so sick I couldn’t do anything at all,” he says.
Rental houses, Mary’s off-farm income and bedding plants kept things going.
It took five years before he accidentally discovered yeast was triggering his allergies. That was a life-changer and allowed the couple to reclaim their weed-infested market gardens and continue to upgrade the greenhouses and farm.
And, as always for Girouard, it was a labour of love.
He fell in love with farming as a kid, when he and his two sisters summered at the Alberta farms of his grandparents and uncle.
“It was just so much fun — even the chores were fun,” he says.
“Our cousins thought we were crazy because they lived it all the time. But we only got to come in summer, and there was more fun on the farm than anywhere else.”
A lot of their customers might say the same about Rivendell.
The highly innovative couple, who were named Yukon’s 2014 Farmers of the Year, offer “pick your own” memberships, which give customers first dibs on produce when it’s ready to harvest.
Members can also come by six days a week to use the picnic sites and nature trails or walk the raspberry labyrinth on the 125-acre farm. Non-members pay an entrance fee ($6 for adults but younger children are free).
The farm also offers events, workshops and activities such as “farmer’s golf.”
It costs a lot to bring in power, build roads and make improvements such as a gravity-fed irrigation system, but they “wouldn’t have traded it for anything,” says Girouard.
“It’s been an incredible life, most excellent,” he says.
“It’s been hard, it’s been sad at times, but it’s been rewarding and joyous — the full range. I’m not going to be a millionaire, although I could have been.”
Oh yes, there’s that. Along with being a master carpenter and architectural technologist, Girouard is an in-demand project manager known for getting behind-schedule and over-budget construction projects back on track. Companies have even sent workers to Rivendell to help with harvest so they can get him on site earlier.
“I love construction and farming, I just love farming more,” he says.
“I’ve driven into the elk enclosure and had an elk stick its head into my vehicle. Who gets to do that? Who gets to walk through the forest looking for an elk fawn?
“Not every day is happy, happy, but you’ve got to find the joy where you can. And when you farm, there are lots of opportunities for that.”
A born optimist? Fair enough.
Most of us aren’t cut from that cloth, tending to obsess when things go wrong and becoming fearful of trying new things.
But optimists remind us that taking time, even once in a while, to count our blessings is a better approach.