Our History, Environment
Remember the Farm: A Farm and Family Memoir
Curated by Cayla Albrecht
November 9, 2021
This is the prologue from “Remember the Farm: A Farm and Family Memoir” written by Cayla Albrecht from the stories and experiences of her relatives about the history of the land and people connected to the Noah G. Martin farm, her paternal family farm located at the north edge of Waterloo. Cayla is a Master of Arts graduate of the Department of Geography, Environment & Geomatics where her research focused on connections between producers and consumers of local food. She currently lives in Vancouver with her husband and daughter.
The strangest thing about leaving the farm and starting to live a different life was that, from the minute I left, I was always coming back.
~ James Rebanks, A Shepherds Life
When I was 10 or 11 years old, I had a shirt that read: ‘Proud to be a Farmer’s Daughter.’ Along with the words, there was a picture of a girl my age who had reddish-blonde pig-tails and a big grin. I can’t remember where I got the shirt. Maybe it was a hand-me-down or purchased from a thrift store. It was white with light blue baseball style sleeves. The picture and words on the front were starting to peel away. I don’t think I ever wore the shirt to school, only at home on the farm. Eventually it was probably relegated to ‘barn clothes’ status, where all our clothes inevitably went once they were too dirty, old, faded, or if you just didn’t really like them anymore.
Although I remember liking the shirt I also remember that I didn’t identify with the girl in the picture. For one, she didn’t look like me: I had brown hair and I didn’t wear it in pigtails. Second, I think she represented a type of country girl and farmer’s daughter that I didn’t quite understand. I thought some of my friends and neighbours fit the image of a farmer’s daughter more than I. Maybe it was because they had stronger opinions about truck and tractor brands or maybe because they had 4-wheelers and snowmobiles. I guess I imagined that being a proud farmer’s daughter meant I had to know and care about those things more than I did. For whatever reason, I never quite felt that I fit the description of ‘proud farmer’s daughter.’ While I had my favourite calves, I didn't really have a favourite type of tractor, didn’t listen to country music, and all in all, didn’t spend much time reflecting on being a farmer’s daughter.
Growing up on the farm, I went to the barn every evening to feed calves and help with the milking. I spent time outside (although probably not enough if you ask my mom), played on hay bales with my brothers, biked up and down the lane, chased the dogs, and did lots of other typical farm-kid stuff. Being a farmer’s daughter is what I lived, not what I actively thought about. But now that I no longer live, work, and play on the farm, that phrase has taken on new meaning and I find myself reflecting on it more and more.
I am proud to be a farmer’s daughter. Actually, I’m proud to be the daughter of two farmers. I’m proud to be the granddaughter, cousin, niece, and sister of farmers.
Leaving the farm is a strange thing, and has made me question my identity as that farmer’s daughter. While I was there as a kid, the description fit. When I worked at home full time for a year after finishing high school, I think I was still a farmer’s daughter - or maybe I was a farmer myself that year. Can I still be a farmer or a daughter of farmers now that I live a city life? I ask myself these questions as I realize how much my identity is tied to farm memories and experiences. And the more I think about it, the more I do feel pride as a farmers’ daughter.
Part of this pride may be nostalgia for childhood or a romanticism of farming. Part of it may be that it gives me a sense of uniqueness among my city friends and family. However, it is also pride in having known a place well, in having appreciated the way work must always be done, in having felt responsibility for other creatures, in having been embedded in living patterns and cycles. It is pride in understanding the attention, knowledge, creativity, and experimentation that go into farming.
Being off the farm and trying to explain it to others is hard. Sometimes it comes across as a place of wild tales: animal escapes, animal births and deaths, extreme weather, stuck vehicles, machinery breakdown, and always something unexpected. Or it comes across as an idealized place of bounty: fresh milk, eggs, rounds of cheese, freezer of home-grown pork and beef, a self-sufficient source of food and goodness for the family. More truthfully, though, it is both and neither of those things. It is also the mundane, the repetition, the labour, and the constant attention demanded by land and animals that define the farm. There is much that cannot be easily explained, much that is learned and understood only through repeated experience, through observing the gradual changes and seasonal cycles of the land and animals.
Although going back to the farm physically is something I do less often now, I return to it often in my mind. I am farther removed from farming now, but its impact on me is strong and I want to explore how influential a farm can be in creating memories, a sense of place and purpose, and a plentiful landscape of knowledge and practice that often goes unspoken. And to do so, I want to explore not the farm that I grew up on, but the farm that my dad grew up on. Through stories and experiences of my relatives, I will try to tell the interconnected ecological and family history of that place.
My hope for this book is that it can be a partial history of the land and family connected to the Noah G. Martin farm at the end of Martin Grove Road. It can be a way of sharing, reflecting on, and passing on the knowledge and practice built up over generations as both the land and the families on the farm have changed.
For me, the farm was Grandma and Grandpa’s place. It was where I went to see my grandparents and get together with cousins, aunts, and uncles. My perspective is different than my dad’s or any of his siblings’. It is different than my four cousins who grew up there, or my aunt and uncle running the farm now. The farm has touched many lives over the years and there are many perspectives to share. I know there will be much more to say and that I will not be able to tell or represent all perspectives. But that’s the beauty of a farm – it is a shared space that holds meaning for different people in different ways.