A place called Netherleigh

Jorge Maria

Shawville July 12, 2021

Phillip Holmes struggled with allergies while growing up. As an only child, he was expected to take on the family business of farming. The farm, called Netherleigh, has been in the family for more than a century. 

When he was two, a bull jumped over him. “So my parents were terrified and kept me away from the animals. I got a pony when I was three, and I ended up in the hospital with asthma.”

Holmes says he loved farming, he was a member of the 4H, but his allergies often made it impossible. It was hard, but he showed up. He never imagined that he could take on the task when he was older.

As he grew, his focus turned to the arts. “He was a phenomenal opera singer and toured overseas,” Phillip’s wife Alina Holmes says. 

Something you wouldn’t expect from a small-town farm boy spending his days on a 100-acre farm tucked away on the edge of a dirt road called Zion.

Phillip has been involved in the arts since he was a teenager and teaches theatre at PHS. Alina is a school teacher at McDowell Elementary. 

Like many, COVID has given the Holmes’s the opportunity to take stock of their lives and find what’s essential. Alina and Phillip have three kids. Mason, 8, Amelie, 4, and Davey, 3. After years of commuting back and forth between school, the farm and their home in Norway Bay, all while managing the kids, they decided something had to change. So in March, the family bought a trailer and moved to the farm permanently. 

“Before COVID, we figured we’re going to need to figure out a way to build a bigger house somewhere on the property. We couldn’t quite figure out how to balance it. When COVID came, it was like, you know, who cares? We don’t need space. We don’t need stuff. We just need to be here.”

In that time, Phillip has converted an old 450 square foot shed into space for all five of them to live in. Phillip’s mother lives in the main house. All they need now is a porch (Phillip is building it himself) and some comfy chairs, Alina says.

Music is how Phillip met Alina. Phillip was conducting a musical and Alina played the saxophone in the pit band. It wasn’t a fairy tale, though. “We didn’t like each other at first,” Phillip says.

“I thought he was terrible,” Alina responds.

That first impression didn’t last, though. Music tends to foster closely-knit communities and it wasn’t long before they would meet again and eventually fall in love.

“Fate brought us together and it was the best thing that ever happened,” Phillip says.

Phillip is 39 and Alina is 35; neither of them plans to leave teaching for farm life. They love it too much. 

The name Netherleigh conjures up the fantastical and unknown, something hidden, like a secret garden. Phillip doesn’t know the origin of the name but says “nether” is Dutch for low and “leigh” means meadow or pasture. A dictionary definition turns up “delicate” as another possible meaning.

The name works, though, and is reminiscent of something from Peter Pan, so it is perhaps fitting that Phillip and Alina plan to combine their love of teaching kids with farm life.

The farm has sheep, cows, rabbits and chickens, which keeps them very busy. Eventually, they would like to make it a place where they can bring kids for school trips or other educational activities. To start, they would like to get their own kids more involved. 

Mason, their oldest, says he wants to be a teacher and a farmer when he grows up.

Davey, the youngest, wants to be a teacher, and Amelie is just happy to go to school; she starts in August.

They are still young, but none of them has the allergies their father once had.

As an only child, Phillip taking on the centuries-long project can’t even be called destiny, but maybe inevitably or, as Alina calls it, “impossible without this family.”

FREE ACCESS FOR EQUITY SUBSCRIBERS

This article is available free to all subscribers to The Equity. If you are a subscriber, please enter your email address and password below.

SET UP YOUR ONLINE ACCOUNT

If you are a subscriber but have not yet set up your online account, please contact Liz Draper at liz@theequity.ca to do so.

HOW TO BECOME A SUBSCRIBER

To become a subscriber to The Equity, please use our Subscribe page or contact liz@theequity.ca