Monday, January 28, 2013

Winter on Prince Edward Island

We were curious to experience the Island during its off season. Most tourists visit Prince Edward Island during the summer.  The ocean is warm enough to swim in, and the road conditions are perfect for going for long drives through the countryside. That's when all the tourist attractions are open, from the amusement parks located near Green Gables, to the Island's famous restaurant at the Inn at Bay Fortune which was once run by chef Michael Smith, who still lives on the island. During tourist season, the population of the Island swells times in size as people from all over the world come to visit. The week we visited my in-laws, the first week of January, was described by Islanders as the deadest week of the year. The locals were all recovering from the holidays. There was, it seemed, nothing going on anywhere.

John A Macdonald, looking cold and lonely

We brought in the cold with us from Ontario.  Up until January, the weather had been mild and there hadn't been much snow - farm animals were still grazing on the green grass right up until December.  The first week of January was frigid and windy, and it seemed like every day there was a fresh layer of snow for the tractors to plough from the lanes.

my husband's parents' farm

a long way to plough

We went for a drive to Prince Edward Island National Park. We were the only car coming though the place, which is usually bustling with families picnicking in the summer. Brackley Beach in the winter was an incredible sight. Once we made it over the treacherously slippery red sand hills, we were rewarded with the snow-covered shoreline, where the powerful ocean waves crashed against the ice and the frozen ground.

lines traced by the wind carving through the ice

Afterwards, we kept driving and stopped for lunch in North Rustico. This little fishing community is usually quite lively during the summer, full of fishing boats catching fresh seafood from the harbour, bed and breakfasts for tourists, and even tight-knit community of artists settling in to enjoy the pleasant  scenery.  In January though, most of the fishing boats sat on the land like sleeping giants waiting for the spring thaw

Robin's! Some Islanders would claim it's even better than Tim Horton's

grabbing some yummy fish and chips for lunch

After lunch, we stopped by the old family farm, built by my husband's great-grandfather and still run by the family today.  I rarely get a chance to visit a large-scale fully functioning farm, so I was really excited to see how everything runs in the winter.

arriving at the farm

farm equipment sitting in the snow

the biggest pile of carrots I've ever seen

the largest bull I've ever seen. Seriously that was a big bull.

bonding with the cows

so many cows

this calf was born yesterday. He was literally still wet behind the ears

super high tech milking station

They say the family farm is dying in Canada, even in Prince Edward Island which was once mostly an island of family farms.  McCain's is the largest company on the island and owns more and more of the farmland to supply its French fries business, buying out many of the family farms that younger generations are no longer interested in tending and replacing them with corporate farms.  Still, I was impressed by the amount of work that goes into running a family farm. Farmers have to be vets, scientists, computer specialists, meteorologists and handymen all at once.  The advancement of farm technology is unbelievable.  At this farm, each of the fifty plus cows were fed using a computer that reads each cow's tag to calculate how much food should be rationed to the animal.  The tractors are outfitted with GPS, a monitoring system that allows the tractor to be run on autopilot, and even a stereo system.

My husband tries out the tractor

We stopped by the Charlottetown Farmers Market, which I really enjoyed. I bought some homemade jelly, local tea, and some handcrafted soaps. I'm always amused by urban foodies and hipsters who act as though they've singlehandedly discovered the art of local organic non-corporate food (or, as my friend Soo jokingly described, "organic artisanal local-sourced small-batch individually-hand-labelled harvest-day-numbered" food), when realistically, folks on Prince Edward Island have been eating like that for centuries. It's just as much effort to buy eggs or potatoes from the grocery store as it is to buy them from the roadside egg stand or the roadside potato stand. Getting the best cut of meat doesn't have to involve standing in a long line at a busy Manhattan boutique butchery. On the Island, you just drive to an industrial park to "the fish guy I know" and buy seafood freshly caught that day, or sometimes from the fishermen themselves, right off the boat. And boy, is the food good on the Island.

this fish guy we know

Seafood chowder and lobster poutine at the Daniel Brenan Brickhouse

After our lovely drive, we went back to my father-in-law's farmhouse, where we were greeted by the alpacas that our parents are raising.

what's up doc?

baby alpaca says hi

look at that baby alpaca's stare

We've always enjoyed visiting the farmhouse in the summer, but it was quite the sight to see in the winter, beautiful and quiet as ever, but covered in snow.

going for a walk in the woods near the farm

cool looking tree

my strong husband holding up a tree with one hand

broken down building

a holly tree

sunset at the farm