Sunday, July 14, 2024
Chris Judd

Neighbours

About 25 years ago, I wrote a series of articles for a Quebec farm paper that was headlined as “The seven bank accounts of a farmer” (Soil, Seed, Continuous education, “the team”, Neighbours, Politics, and Money). After you had read the seven articles, you realized that if you got the first six right, the money would be there. If you didn’t get the first six right, the money would soon be gone.
Whether you farm or live in town, if you and your neighbours get along, you will both have a happy life. If you don’t, life will be miserable ‘til you do, or someone will eventually move. My grandfather had a saying, “you can get along without your relatives, but not without good neighbours.”
When I was a kid several years ago, not every farm had their own threshing mill or corn cutting outfit. Because farms didn’t have a work force of the 10 to 20 men to keep a threshing or corn cutting going smoothly, we all depended on neighbours to work together for those major harvesting operations. Often a “wood bee” would be created to go from farm to farm with a circular saw and another gang of men to saw up old rails, fence posts, branches that had fallen off and accumulated through the year. These “sawing bees” would produce the kindling for the year and most of the fine wood for the cook stove. All these bees gave the young farmers a chance to drive many kinds of neighbours’ tractors and teams, and we all found out who’s wife was the best cook in the community.
When there was a disaster in the farming community like sickness, death, or broken bones that took the farmer out of commission, you soon found out who your best neighbours were.
The one word that terrifies every farmer is fire. About 15 years ago all our family was away in Toronto at the wedding of our cousin. After the service we had all just sat down for the wedding feast when I received a call on my cellphone from a neighbour to inform me that there was heavy smoke coming out every door and window in our old barn complex. We had recently moved the dairy herd, calves, and most heifers into a new facility a mile away. It was the night of the “Fireman’s Ball” in town and all the firemen and half the town were there. By the time I received the call, every fireman and piece of fire-fighting equipment was on the way (only a mile) to our barn. All our family was four hours away and felt very useless.
A few minutes later, I received a second call and was almost afraid to answer. It was a neighbour calling to assure us that no, the barn was not on fire. The firemen had arrived, circled the barn complex and checked every corner of every barn, and there was no fire. It was a very calm evening and the smoke from the municipal dump had drifted over the hill just a half a mile from our barn, and that dense smoke had gone in the north doors and open windows of the barn and poured out the openings on the lower south side and filled the valley below our barn. Thank God that we have great neighbours and such a well-trained fire department who were there in minutes.
Although there was no fire, the firemen had all the work of cleaning and putting all their equipment away before going back to their party. I’m not sure about our firemen who had their evening spoiled, but I sure enjoyed a glass of something after receiving the second call that everything was ok.
There have been several fire disasters in our area and recently a complete dairy facility was lost to fire at a neighbour’s farm on the Ontario side of the Ottawa Valley. It is incredible how neighbours can appear within minutes of a disaster, move animals, find manpower, buildings, equipment, and facilities to get all the needs met to look after a complete herd of dairy animals and never miss a feeding or a milking which happens every few hours, every day.
Jeannie and I were happy to attend a benefit party for the family of that recent barn fire with a thousand other neighbours, and that reminded us why we live in this beautiful caring Ottawa Valley that has been home to neighbours of different skin colors, who speak different languages and who come from dozens of different countries. We have spent more than 200 years working with our neighbours and improving the valley that we call home. No one can take that away.

Chris Judd is a farmer in Clarendon on land that has been in his family for generations.

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