Nfld. & Labrador

Future uncertain for Frank and Joyce Pye, couple behind Grand River Farm

A Labrador couple who started a farm as a retirement project would like someone else to take it over.

Frank and Joyce Pye unable to continue because of health problems

Joyce and Frank Pye have been farming in the Happy Valley-Goose Bay area for nearly 30 years, but have to give it up because Frank has health problems. (John Gaudi/CBC)

It's been almost 30 years since Frank and Joyce Pye started farming in central Labrador. Now, the retired couple regrets this is the last year they will operate Grand River Farm as they have in the past.

Frank Pye, who will be 79 on Nov. 25, told CBC's Labrador Morning that he is dealing with a medical condition involving his prostate.

Everyone, I guess, who ends up with a diagnosis of cancer, has to just make a great big turn around.- Joyce Pye

"I had been saying over the years, joking about it, 'When I can't lift a 50-pound sack of potatoes, I'm going to quit farming.' — Well, now I can't."

Joyce Pye, 76, said her husband has a new reality to cope with, and the couple now has to start in a new direction.

For almost 30 years, Frank and Joyce Pye have been providing fresh, local produce in Upper Lake Melville. Sadly, this is the last year they are operating Grand River Farm as they have in the past. They couple is now facing a new reality. 10:44

"Everyone, I guess, who ends up with a diagnosis of cancer, has to just make a great big turn around. Everything that was happening, stops."

Retirement project

Starting out as a retirement project, the Pyes founded Grand River Farm along the Trans-Labrador Highway in 1987 before moving it to the present location on Mud Lake Road in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

It is one of only a handful of farms in Upper Lake Melville, a region that relies heavily on food being brought in from the outside.

"Having the public come and sharing harvesting, picking things here on the farm, it's been a tremendous joy to both of us," Joyce said.

It's been a total partnership, with Frank and Joyce Pye growing everything from pumpkins to peas. (CBC)

The last Saturday in October the couple had the farm open saw dozens of adults and children come out for hay wagon rides.

But the question looms of what will happen to the farm.

The Pyes said they're not sure who will take it over given their children weren't raised on the farm and lead their own lives.

Agricultural land can only be leased from the province, Joyce explained, and if the land isn't farmed for a period of time, the government will take it back.

That leaves the couple in a bind.

No business like it

"Anybody who'd be interested in buying it knows that when we are no longer able to farm it, it's going to be taken back by the government," Joyce said.

Frank and Joyce Pye say they're looking at a big change in their long-standing routine. (Grand River Farm/Facebook)

She added that a $120,000 dollar shop they built on the land, with some financial help from the government, will go with it.

"Instead of paying us money to buy the farm, all the person has to do is wait until the government takes it over, and then they can apply for the land."

Frank Pye said registering a farm only costs about $1,000, on top of leasing the land itself.

Despite there being government subsidies to buy farm equipment — financial assistance the Pyes have received themselves — Joyce Pye said she doesn't think there's much incentive for young people to farm if they can't own the land they're working.

We've reached the point that we know that we won't be able to go out on the land next spring.- Frank Pye

"What other industry, what other business, do you invest all of your money, and your work and your effort, but you can't ever claim any equity from what you've built?" she said.

The Pyes are now looking at their options, with Frank toying with the idea of asking people if they'd be interested in running Grand River Farm as a community farm.

Fond memories

Coping with a cancer diagnosis, the Pyes said they're having to change their routines as they face an uncertain future.

One of the features of the Grand River Farm is the berry u-picks, available in the summer seasons. (Grand River Farm/Facebook)

"We've reached the point that we know that we won't be able to go out on the land next spring, and do what we had done," said Frank Pye, who added he treasures having a strong partnership operating the farm with his wife.

"People who come to us and ask, 'Oh, Mr. Pye, how do you grow this?' I haven't the faintest idea. I'm only here as the tractor driver. Joyce, you go over and ask her and she'll know the answer. She's the horticulturalist."

The couple said they will miss interacting with people on the farm and at the community market in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and will also miss working with equipment and the pure magic of watching seeds grow.


John Gaudi

CBC reporter

John Gaudi reports from Happy Valley-Goose Bay for CBC's Labrador Morning.