It all started with a message sent to my Instagram account: “Hi there! My name is Shannon. I’m reading your book and I am certain I live almost right across the river from you!”
She’s right but the turns in the river prevent us from standing on our respective shorelines and waving at each other.
Shannon went on to write, “We’ve lived in NS for eight years now, but many of the thoughts and feelings you share about living in rural Nova Scotia have only become a reality to me since we moved to this property in Rockley a year and a half ago.”
Curious about the photos she posts on Instagram, I headed across the river. Shannon is a homesteader, which means she grows and makes all her own food, including cheese and tea. Raised in Quebec by parents who lived “pioneer-style,” Shannon grew up with gardens and animals that provided sustenance for the family. When she hit her teens, however, she wanted to stay inside to read and be online. She also wanted to travel, and that’s how she met her husband in Belgium.
When her brother joined the navy and her parents moved to Cumberland County, Shannon and her new husband bought an old farmhouse near Amherst. She soon realized it wasn’t the right property for her goals. Her early upbringing had come home to roost: she wanted to be self-sufficient.
“When I was ten, there was a huge ice storm in Quebec and the power was out for several weeks. People were freezing, they had no food,” Shannon recalled as we sat at her kitchen table. “The first morning it happened, my mom got me up for school and only thought to check the radio to see if there would be school after we stepped outside and saw how slippery it was. The storm didn’t impact us at all because we were off-grid and we always had a full pantry of preserves and a root cellar filled with veggies. So that is my ultimate goal.”
But first, she wants to “grow pizza”. Shannon said that started as a joke, “but now I have two varieties of grains growing in the garden, a ton of tomato plants, and goats for cheese. That goal may be achieved this fall!”
When she and her husband and now three-year-old daughter moved into an even older farmhouse in Rockley in August 2017, they started from scratch, building the chicken coop, the garden and the goat enclosure (which also now contains a pony). They also had to renovate the house, rewiring it and putting in new windows.
The old windows? Repurposed as cold frames to grow cold-hardy greens from April to December because Shannon sees no need to spend $500 a year on salad.
“There’s obviously a secondary benefit to growing or raising everything ourselves,” Shannon said as she showed me where she’d just planted four blueberry bushes. “We aren’t buying so our cost of living is very low and that allows us to live on part-time jobs.”
Shannon has no plans to become a market farmer, but she would like to encourage people to grow at least some of their own food. “We can grow all sorts of things here in Canada that we just assume come from hot climates, like peaches, plums, apricots. There are so many native berries that you never hear about but that grow here. I think there could be a lot fewer hungry people if it was common knowledge you can easily grow two or three berry bushes in the backyard that will produce enough healthy, fresh eating and some freezing or jam. For $15 upfront, you can have years of blueberries.”
Meeting Shannon just as she’s starting out on her path to self-sufficiency means she’s more inspiring than intimidating. It also means that if she hosts a Friday Night Pizza Night this fall, I won’t be ashamed to bring the Caesar salad because, thankfully, I have a garden and I grow romaine lettuce.