Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lies, and the Lying Liar who told them

Warning - this isn't my usual happy sort of post.  Today's post is a bit of a "get it off my chest" post, and also an update to so many of you who have asked about the winery and the blueberries.  Ah, the blueberries indeed.  Let's go back in history a little bit, so we are all on the same page.  You'll remember that I decided to move back to Canada in October....just about a year ago.  I had mixed feelings about leaving Iowa, the land that I had grown to love, my friends, my flock, my really good job, and law school, which was nearly finished.  All of that, I decided to leave behind, to start a new life back in Canada, my homeland.  I was excited to be going "home" and excited to be facing a new challenge - working for myself.  I was really excited to be carrying on the tradition of a blueberry wine business that had started nearly 30 years ago.  Lowbush blueberries are a native plant in Nova Scotia, and I was going to be growing them and making the most wonderful sweet velvety wines from these delightful little berries.

You may also remember that I visited the property around Christmas, when it was snow covered and cold and icy.  I spent time talking to the owner who was quite ill, learning a little bit about the business, the history of it, and what I'd be doing.  Richard did much of the leg work on the review and purchase of the property, since he works in real estate, and lived in the area.  It was much easier for him to do it.  I knew the house was desperately in need of TLC and updating.  I knew the farm was somewhat overgrown and would need work, but I was able to see the potential, taking the word of the senior owner, seriously ill, with nothing to lose, as the ultimate truth.

So thus it was, that I came here, with some expectations, based on statements from the owner, including...

  • * he had promised to teach us how to make the wine as soon as we moved in, which would including how to use all the winery equipment - the bottling, the sanitation, the corking, labeling, the use and cleaning of the fruit press, the wine vats, etc.
  • * he had promised to give us the recipes for the 12 wines that he made, stating that they would be in the file cabinet in his home office when we moved in
  • * he had assured us that the 3-point-hitch post hole digger was in great working order
  • * he had assured us that the brush mower on the property was in great working order
  • * he had assured us that the electrical system was "ready to go" and simply needed switches added in the upper level of the house
  • * he had strongly implied that his wife was dead and that he was a lonely widower
  • * he had assured us that within 2 years, the overgrown fields could be brought back into full blueberry production as he had been using them a mere 2 years before that
  • * he had assured us that the oil furnace (normal in Nova Scotia) and wood furnace in the basement were in perfect order
It was a private sale.  We purchased the farm as a residence, not a business.  This was because the interest rates are markedly different for home purchases versus business purchases.  This was also because there was some difficulty with my having been out of the country for 9 years...I was treated as a "foreigner," which meant that down payments even on a residence were necessarily much higher than normal.  A business purchase would have been out of the question.  Accordingly, none of the business aspects were included in the contract, because it would have turned it into a business purchase, which was not advisable for financial reasons.  But why on earth would a sweet, elderly man, who was anxious to pass on his legacy and his knowledge, lie about anything to do with the business?  We trusted him without question.  

So, at the last minute, it turned out that all the paperwork needed to be changed.  Why?  Because we had put all the paperwork in his name.  He informed us that it had to be in his wife's name.  Huh?  But she', she was not dead.  She was very much alive.  She had left him in 1997 of her own accord, and had been paying on the property, which was in her name, ever since.  Wow.  So, all the paperwork was changed.  I was uncomfortable, but by then, we were in "full-steam-ahead" mode.  Small glitch, we thought.  No problem.

Then, suddenly he wanted a paragraph included that allowed him to stay on the property for up to 3 more months, because he was in-and-out of hospital for blood transfusions and other procedures.  We sighed a big sigh, and acquiesced.  Many things were put on hold.  I could have worked for a couple more months, but as it was, I had to live with my dear parents, who were terribly kind about the whole thing and allowed us to inhabit the spare bedroom for 2 months. was moving day.  We were thrilled to be moving ahead.

Since then, we have been unfortunate enough to have learned the following;
  • * the former owner refuses to help us learn anything whatsoever about making wine.  He will not teach us how to use the equipment or what to do with the existing wine in the vats in the winery.  He has stated that his ex-wife is the one with all the information on how to make wine.  She left in 1997.  He was making wine until 2008.  Enough said.  Lies, lies, lies.
  • * the recipes were not in the file cabinet, and he at first kept promising them, and then eventually said that his ex-wife had all the recipes, and we would have to get them from her.  She is a lovely person who has come to visit and has tried to reason with him, to no avail.  She never had any recipes.  She never had anything to do with the wine production.  He's just a liar.  We don't even know if they ARE written down anywhere - they may have been in his head.  Whatever the case...we don't have them.
  • * the 3-point-hitch post hole digger was bent, and completely unusable.  I had sold mine, prior to leaving Iowa, based on the assumption that we had a working one at the property.  Big oops, based on a lie.
  • * the brush mower on the property was rusted beyond use and partially buried underground.  We subsequently learned that he had "built" it himself (he used to work as an engineer for Caterpillar) and it had been the subject of a lawsuit, which he lost, because he had not followed through on a contract to build an operational brush mower for the company that hired him to do so.  Liar, liar, pants on fire!
  • * the electrical system was a complete mess and the upstairs level of the house had no power.  We've had an electrician spend about 3 weeks on the place until we ran out of money, and it's still not done.  
  • * the overgrown fields that we had on the 66 acres we bought had NEVER been used for blueberry production.  He sold the 40 acres of blueberry land before we bought the remaining 66 acres.  The land is not even suitable for blueberry production because it is too wet.  This was not evident in the winter when we viewed it, and we did not know enough about blueberries to know better.  The neighbour who bought the 40 acres might be willing to sell, but that would require us to have some income with which to buy back the actual blueberry land.  Now that was a really BIG lie!
  • * the oil furnace (normal in Nova Scotia) cannot be insured because the tank is metal and we need to have a fiberglass tank installed.  The wood furnace does not heat a large portion of the house because the ductwork does not extend there.  Sigh.  Lies....
This is just the major stuff.  I can't even begin to remember all the small details and issues we've had, many of which were embroiled in lies we were told about the property, its value, its potential, or the existing buildings. One example is that none of the barns, in their present condition, were usable, because they were either falling down, full of rotting wood, or otherwise compromised.  We don't expect two of them to last the winter.  

Everything I left behind was based on the premise that here, I would have a business to run, and a moderate income generated from that business.  I would not have left Iowa if that had not been the case.  I am not usually a risk-taker, and I certainly would not have taken on this property under the circumstances in which I now find myself.  It was a house of cards....lies upon lies that propelled us forward into the purchase, trusting that we had a viable business to run.  The Nova Scotia Liquor Commission, which is the government body responsible for the distribution and sale of alcohol in the province, is simply desperate for the product that this winery used to sell.  They wanted 500 cases as soon as possible.  And here we are, without a single case, because of a lying liar and the lies he told.  

Furthermore, we've learned from neighbours over the past few months, that he was renowned for this sort of behaviour.  In fact, he's been in several lawsuits over time, and has lost them all.  After his losses, he apparently approaches the winning party and tells them it was a "good fight" and congratulates them on their win, but points out with a laugh that they will never see any of their winnings because everything is in his ex-wife's name, and he has no way to meet the judgment imposed upon him.  In fact, nobody around here liked him or trusted him, and most people are not all that surprised by what has happened in our dealings with him.  It seems to be his "usual" way of operating.  

I am not usually a bitter or vengeful person, but this entire situation has made me so angry, so cynical and jaded, so hurt and defeated, that I barely recognize myself some days.  It has been the biggest disaster of my life, and hopefully will be the only disaster of this proportion.  Richard has to keep his job in the city working for possibly the most immoral and obnoxious boss on the face of the Earth.  He commutes over 1.5 hours each way to keep us afloat, because there is no farm winery income.  Meanwhile, I am trying to make the house a decent place to live, removing the years of neglect and slowly updating things, but I can only do so much on my own.  I am also working furiously at my fibre arts, attempting to build stock for the Nova Scotia Fibre Festival in October, so that I can actually bring some income as well.  

Meanwhile, we are taking stock of what we have, our assets on the farm, to see what we can do.  We have winery equipment that is likely outdated and inefficient.  We do have a large space though, with stainless steel counters and sinks, which might be useful.  We have 66 acres of land, including pasture and woodlands.  We are trying to consider all possibilities, such as...
  • growing other types of berries for wine production
  • using the winery space for other purposes, such as a goat or sheep milking facility and cheese production area
  • turning the winery space into a fibre production facility, in essence becoming a "mini mill"
  • installing fences and considering livestock, such as alpaca, angora goats, or other fibre animals
  • growing specialty crops that have a market in the region
  • buying blueberries from the local blueberry production facility (we are in the "heart" of blueberry country") and developing our own recipes, and slowly upgrading the winery facility and equipment.
Truly, we are open to any and all ideas at this point.  Anything is on the table.  We may have lost a few battles and some pride in this process, but we have not lost our personal skills and adaptability.  We will survive, and eventually we will thrive, but there is a lot of healing to be done, and a lot of work in the future.  We are making arrangements to have an agricultural consultant view the property and help us determine what might work for us.  It is bound to be a long and rocky road.

Do you have ideas for us?  Thoughts or suggestions on how to move forward?  We are all ears!  In the meantime, you will find me licking my wounds, trying to stop crying, and trying really hard not to regret all my decisions.  One day at a time.  So, when you ask how the winery is, I'm sorry to say, it isn't.  

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Synchronized log pile climbing

Inigo and Westley are considering entering the Goatolympics in the sport of synchronized log pile climbing.  It is one of their favourite hobbies, and they are pretty darned good at it!  Here is one of their practice sessions for your viewing enjoyment!

Okay, cue the music, we're ready...
 ...and up the first log we go, careful with the back foot Westley, out of sync!
 Good!  Good tail motion!  Nice back leg syncing!
 Shoot, there's a log out of order here!  Who messed with our pile?
 And now we are back in sync!  Keep it up boys!
 Do NOT stop for snacks!  Points deduction!
 Obstacle!!  Not fair!  Oh wait, what's this little snack....
Fine, I know, they need practice, but they're getting there!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Elusive and Mysterious Jungle Sheep of Nova Scotia

(cue wildlife documentary music...)

Announcer:  Today we go in search of a strange and little-understood species in the sheep world.  Not just an average stand-around-in-the-pasture sort of sheep.  This little creature is incredibly rare and was thought to be extinct until very recently, when it was miraculously spotted on a small farm in Nova Scotia.  We join the farm's shepherdess for an interview to learn more.  So, tell us, how long have you lived here?

Shepherdess:  Well, just a few months really.  Before that, the property was rather overgrown and not well cared for.  I think its condition made it an attractive home for the jungle sheep.

Announcer:  Amazing!  You must be thrilled to have this creature living on your farm!

Shepherdess:  Indeed I am.  I hope they will be happy here!

Announcer:  When did you first notice their presence?

Shepherdess:  Well, I saw some unusual droppings...

Announcer:  Excellent!  Have you taken samples for the museums of the world?

Shepherdess:  Not yet.  Anyway, then I heard some snuffling and saw some flashes of grey or black in the woods.

Announcer:  Wow!  Can you please replicate the snuffling sound for our viewers?

Shepherdess:  Well, um, like this... snorty-snorty-whoosh-whoosh-snort....baaaaaaaa.

Announcer:  (enthralled)  Imagine that!  You've just heard it here folks, the long lost sound of the Nova Scotia Jungle Sheep.  Tell us more about the flashes of grey and black!

Shepherdess:   I took some photographs, I have them here:

Announcer:  Startling!  You must have been very afraid.

Shepherdess:  Well, not really, they're quite small and innocent.  Not at all aggressive.  They are a bit shy really.  I had to put up some special hidden cameras after that, to get better evidence of their presence.  They were always hiding when I wanted to photograph them.

Announcer:  Remarkable!  Were you worried that the sheep would destroy the cameras, perhaps eating them or viciously shredding them to pieces?

Shepherdess:  Definitely not, sheep are very gentle creatures.

Announcer:  (with some tone of disappointment)  Oh, yes I see.  Soooo, did you get any pictures with the hidden cameras?

Shepherdess:  Yes, I did!  Here, you can see the male of the species hiding within the jungle foliage.
Here he is eating a leaf.
Announcer:  Wow, just look at those powerful jaws!

Shepherdess:  Errrr....yes, well, here is the female of the species.  You can see her lighter fleece colour.  She is considering eating some leaves from the shrub I believe.
Announcer:  Incredible, she's about to totally destroy that tree!  What a shot!

Shepherdess:  (rolls eyes)  She's only about 35 pounds, quite small really.  Very gentle.

Announcer:  Do they climb trees?

Shepherdess:  No, they lie down under trees, to rest.

Announcer:  Stupendous!  You've seen them resting then!  And do they fight amongst themselves?

Shepherdess:  Not at all, they co-exist peacefully together, as you can see here.
Announcer:  And there you have it, a rare moment of tranquility in the life of the elusive and wild jungle sheep of Nova Scotia.  Next time, join us for our exciting trip to view the incredible and frightening meadow vole of Alaska, with jaws strong enough to snap a woolly mammoth's leg...

(OK, so they're not REALLY the elusive jungle sheep.  They are my absolutely adorable new lambs from Hidden Meadow Farm.  Both are 3/4 Cotswold and 1/4 Shetland and 100% lovable!  I am soooo excited to have started a new flock of sheep here in Nova Scotia, after the sadness of leaving my sheep in Iowa.  The Cotswold-Shetland fleeces are oh-so-crimpy and bouncy - they will be superb yarns in future! )

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Goats will be goats!

Despite valiant efforts to contain them, goats cannot always be contained.  Miss Lucky Nickel is a very high jumping goat, and she is no match for the average, or even above average, fence.  She is therefore very tricky to contain.  This means that she often just runs around the property, eating a bit here and there, and generally causing mayhem.  She gets in the way of outdoor projects and eats the flowers.  Now, she has instructed Inigo and Westley how to get out with her!

One of her more nefarious deeds lately has been her discovery of a beautiful garden bench that my Dad refurbished for us, and which we placed on the front porch.  The porch is still under construction, but it was complete enough that we could put the bench out and enjoy sitting on it and taking in the views of the hills and fields around the area.  Miss Nickel decided that the bench was also her throne, and she has taken to sitting on it whenever she likes.  Particularly in the heat of a sunny day, she will go there to retire in the shade and chew her cud, while contemplating other troublesome things she can do.  Lately, she has taken to holding court while sitting in her throne and instructing the other goats to lay at her feet.
Can't you hear her now?  "Westley, bring me my crown."
"As you wish, your highness."
Unfortunately, she has decided that the arms of the bench are good for chewing on, probably somewhat absentmindedly.  This made me very upset and also upset my Dad, who had put so much work into the bench for us.  We did try new methods of keeping Miss Nickel in place, all to no avail.  The bench arms will need to be refinished again, but Richard will do that just as soon as we can keep Nickel contained.  Either that, or when the colder weather comes, we shall bring the bench inside where she cannot reach it.  The intention is to screen in the porch with a low wall around the sides, such that we can sit out there and not be bothered by the swarms of mosquitoes.  When we put in the low wall, Miss Nickel's reign on the porch shall end, and the bench will be off limits.

So what do you think - are these two planning a revolt?
Stay tuned for a new blog post soon on some new additions to the farm!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Remembering Marshmallow

It is with a heavy heart that I write this post.  Very sadly, Miss Marshmallow the sheep passed away recently of injuries sustained in a coyote attack.  Although she initially survived the attack and was under veterinary care, she tragically succumbed to her injuries after about a week.  She was well tended by the sweet daughters of the family where she went to live, who fed her grass that they picked themselves.  She is buried in their garden and will always be fondly remembered by them, and by me, and hopefully many of you readers who remember her story.
It had originally been my intent to bring Marshmallow to Canada with me, along with Lucky Nickel.  At the last minute, I changed my mind and decided to bring Kenzie the lamb, whom I felt was more likely to need extra care.  As you know, Kenzie didn't survive her required spaying operation to get her across the border.  Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but I am really internally conflicted over whether I did the right thing.  I can't change the outcome and must live with my choices.

Marshmallow was born June 18, 2009.  She was one of quadruplets and was abandoned by her mother, so I brought her into the house and raised her as my first bottle baby.
I'd never had to do that before and was unsure about what I should do, but I read a lot of information and did my best, and Marshmallow thrived.  She taught me how to bottle feed and diaper a lamb!
 She was a little explorer, particularly interested in yarn and spinning fibre!

 She liked to sleep under my desk while I was studying.
She also liked to sleep in my bed, when she got old enough to jump up into it!
She liked to sleep on the dog's bed too.
She grew big and strong, until she outgrew her diapers!
 Eventually, she moved outside and lived with the other sheep.  She was always a bit small - I guess she was considered a bit of a "runt" of the litter, but she got along fine with the other sheep and she became more independent and "sheepy" minded.
I last saw her on a visit to her new farm in March of this year before I left for Canada, where she was happily living in a pasture with the other sheep from my flock and with my former llama Dolly - she was with friends.  The coyote problem is widespread in Iowa, and there are no guarantees.  Even with the presence of a llama, two lambs were killed and numerous sheep injured.  It may be that the llama prevented Marshmallow from being killed at the time, but her injuries were too severe for her to recover.
 Sleep well, sweet Marshmallow.  May Mother Earth take you softly into her gentle arms and love you as I did, and may you run free in the great pasture.