We love music, but we had such a passion for the farming and how food is grown and raised.
—Monique Scholte-Mierau, opera singer turned farmer
Trading in the stage lights of Europe's best opera houses for farm life in Manitoba might seem like an unusual career move. But for Terry Mierau and Monique Scholte-Mierau, the timing just felt right.
Mireau had moved to Amsterdam after studying voice in Winnipeg, and met his future wife while they were both studying opera. They later married and performed in Italy, New York and Germany, but as time went on, their music began to separate them.
The couple would be touring different shows, following each other across continents, meeting up on breaks. When Scholte-Mierau became pregnant with their first child, they decided to set down some roots, and bought a summer home in rural New Brunswick where Mierau started to dabble in organic farming around their tour schedule.
"How to slaughter livestock and game, raising chickens on a small scale, the family cow, raising pigs at home, you know, all these kinds of things," he says, laughing.
After a run of performances in Amsterdam in February of 2011, they knew it was time to make a permanent change. The family relocated to Southern Manitoba last spring, with their three kids and animals, and set up a farm in Neubergthal.
The Scholte-Mireau family on their farm. (Karen Pauls/CBC)
When CBC reporter Karen Pauls asked if it was hard to leave the glittering stage lights behind, Mierau didn't hesitate. "The opera houses in Europe are only glittering when the lights are on, and that's only one per cent of the time. That's the part the public sees, the rest of the time it's really dark and dreary."
So instead of rehearsing arias, the couple spent the summer raising their chickens, cows, pigs and sheep. They're working towards organic certification, marketing and selling the food they produce. They acknowledge it was a lot of stress to move a farm and a family, and it doesn't leave a lot of time for singing. But Scholte-Mierau says for now, that's okay.
"We love music, but we had such a passion for the farming and how food is grown and raised. Then we started being aware there's something really wrong with our food system. And I think that's where our biggest passion right now comes from, is that people have the right to choose how they want to eat. And right now that's a big issue, it's all over the news, all the time," she says.
So now when Scholte-Mierau sings, she's typically sitting on a tractor, surrounded by pigs in the mud and pecking chickens. Her husband jokes, comparing the open prairie to an opera house, "The pigs don't clap, that's one thing."
But Scholte-Mierau does feel a connection between her two worlds, especially when she's singing. "To look out over the earth, the music is the sound of the visual I'm seeing. But it's such a connection to me, it's such an important one."
And the couple hasn't given up on their music, they're planning their first concert in a barn down the road, to introduce their new neighbours to their old way of life.