PEI·Point of View

What I know now, after saying goodbye to the land my family has farmed since the 1860s: Point of View

I was, you may say, a reluctant farm kid. Unlike my outdoorsy and capable sister and brother, I preferred books to barns. Inside to outside. Town to country. Then came the day our family decided to sell the farm.

'We only really borrow the use of the land. We don't really own it'

Derwin Clow waves as the dairy community says their goodbyes during the pandemic-style parade in front of the family farm in early June. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

I was, you may say, a reluctant farm kid. 

Unlike my outdoorsy and capable sister and brother, I preferred books to barns. Inside to outside. Town to country. 

I am grateful for the way I grew up. Few people are so aware of what they don't want to do for a living by the time they are six.

I loved to learn about farming. I still feel passionate about agriculture, land and animals. I just didn't care for actually doing it. I left home at 18, heavy with that awareness, and knowing what hard work felt like. It has made every job since then seem easy. 

I left with great memories, too, that have only grown over the years.

As 'reluctant' as she was, eight-year-old Julie Clow is pictured in the barn helping milk the cows. (Submitted by Blanche Clow)

The sound my rubber boots made crunching snow on the way to the dairy barn for the night's chores. The smell of diesel tractors and winter as we moved animals around to spread fresh straw in the pen. The excitement of finding a new calf, or new kittens or an ever-exploding population of rabbits. 

'The memories are about the people'

But most of the memories are about the people who were there, and until this month, most of the people that remained there. 

I remember dad's pride when I spoke broken French to visiting farmers from Quebec. My mom showing me the best way to slide between cows to not get kicked or stepped on.

My brother's quiet, protective gaze as we bounced down a field on a giant hay wagon, my legs getting scratched all the way. I remember watching, amazed and jealous, as first my sister Darla, and later, my brother Derwin, went off to university and started exciting, grownup lives. 

Colbourne Clow, Julie, Darla and Derwin's dad, pictured moving hay on the family's farm. (Submitted by Julie Clow)

And then soon, it was my turn to leave. I moved around a lot. First for school, then with the CBC in Toronto, Washington, and then moves toward home, to New Brunswick and finally P.E.I. 

As I grew older, the farm became more of an attraction. I would come home from whatever city I was working in with friends in tow. I would show them around the farm, and they would marvel at how wonderful it must have been to grow up there. I agreed.

My mom and dad, brother and sister never grew tired of explaining how Cassialane Farm operated. They always wanted to share everything about farming with everyone who would listen, like ambassadors.

Blanche Clow, Julie, Darla and Derwin's mom, helped guide Derwin when he took over the farm after her husband, Colbourne, died nearly 15 years ago. (Marleen Wolfe)

Visitors were amazed that I didn't move once during my young life, and more so when I told them about the generations that farmed here before us. Clows had farmed this same land since 1860 or so.

Selling the farm was never the plan. My brother took it over, partly while my father was still alive. Then, when my father died nearly 15 years ago, Derwin took it on, with guidance from my mother and a partnership with his wife Janet. 

'What would I think if he sold the farm?'

But then my brother started to have back problems. Then other strange health issues. And finally, a diagnosis: multiple sclerosis. I was, like our whole family, filled with grief. Derwin wasn't, or he was good at hiding it. A strong faith seemed to hold him together and give him clarity as he broached the subject with me months later — what would I think if he sold the farm?

Derwin, wife Janet, and their son Evan pose for a picture in the dairy barn. (Marleen Wolfe)

Again, I wasn't surprised. I'm married to someone with a chronic illness. I have learned that you will do anything, anything at all, to cut the stress out of life, ruthlessly. Farming is stressful. It had to go.

Clarity or not, this isn't something my brother came to easily. He had a son, one who might farm one day. That in itself as a farm parent is tough. Do you want your child to volunteer for such an unpredictable life — filled with long days and hard work? Still, he would have wanted him to be able to choose. 

But, MS doesn't wait around for a good time to do things. His physical abilities were degrading.

In the end it's all God's. So the new owners that will have taken this on, they will hopefully prosper on this farm as we have for the last 100-plus years.— Derwin Clow

"On the days where I don't feel well, I want to just be able to lay down and not feel well," he said to me one day. Imagining his feeling of obligation to the cows and our legacy while dealing with his suffering is unbearable to me still.

He consulted with us endlessly. He owned the farm, but the history of it belongs to all of us and our own families too. 

As it rolled closer, we talked about it less. It was only administrative, after a while. I found it easy to push to the back of my mind. 

Julie's daughter, Alice, looks in to the barn where generations of Clows before her worked and lived out much of their lives. (Mark Wight)

Then — there it was, on the last day — with a big, red sold sign at the end of the driveway. 

I fought tears. I tried to look happy in front of my husband and four-year-old daughter as a massive parade of our farm friends rolled by, congratulating us, pandemic-style.

'That's where the farm is now'

I struggled to look at my brother. 

But then I overheard him being interviewed by a reporter. 

"We only really borrow the use of the land. We don't really own it," he said. "And in the end it's all God's. So the new owners that will have taken this on, they will hopefully prosper on this farm as we have for the last 100-plus years."

Again, my brother is right, as is the job of older siblings. We will remain farmers, no matter if some of us — OK, just me — were reluctant. You don't get to shake off farming like some other jobs. It's in you — a bond that holds us together. 

This Christmas, when someone who doesn't know about the sale asks me if my suburban husband, daughter and I are going to the farm for the holiday, I will say yes. Yes, because that's where the farm is now — it's my people, together under one roof.

More from CBC P.E.I.


Julie Clow

Senior Producer

Julie Clow is a senior producer at CBC in P.E.I.


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