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Old School Meat

Bluefield Natural Products—time-tested ways for today

The Story of Your Food
by Nina Linton

Bluefield Natural Products (photo: Nina Linton)Stroll into Bluefield Natural Products (BNP) and you might feel like you’ve stepped back to a bygone era.

Behind the porch-like screen door, blithesome butchers in tidy red aprons-wielding burnished blades and 45 years of combined experience—welcome customers with wide grins, offering supper suggestions as they saw sections of short loin into steaks.

Since it’s debut in 2011, the Cornwall business, owned by Wade Campbell and Donald Hay, has served up a nostalgic niche; tasty meat grown using sustainable farming methods, then conditioned and cut by knowledgeable hands.

For Campbell, opening a butcher shop selling naturally nurtured, homestead reared meat links the North Wiltshire resident with his grandfather, a farmer who, over 60 years ago, sold grass-fed beef in his small country store. A stickler for quality, the proprietor refused to carve up carcasses until they’d hung in a chilled crate for 21 days, releasing the meat’s robust and savoury flavour.

Today, the twenty-first century entrepreneurs follow a similar approach.“We are not reinventing the wheel here. This is how it was done years ago,” says Campbell. “It is old school meat.”

Crammed with crimson cuts, brawny briskets, and porcelain poultry, the shop’s sparkling showcase is a feast for the eyes, giving customers a local, organically grown alternative to supermarket shrink-wrap. “People want to know what they are eating. They want to know who is feeding it, what it is eating and everything else,” says Campbell, divulging exactly how all their animals have been reared.

After all, he says, they don’t just sell the final product; he and Hay raise most of it on a picturesque farm less than twenty minutes from the shop.

Their cattle are pastured, free from overstocking, growth hormones, as well as medicated and genetically modified feeds.

Their pigs and chickens are also raised following a strict “organic regime,” dining on oats, field peas, barley—all sprouted without the use of synthetically-produced chemicals, pesticides, or fertilizers. “We’ve got about 800 acres under cultivation, and all are certified organic so all the feed coming back to the farm is also certified organic.”

But raising premium animals is just part of ensuring only quality meat winds up stamped with the BNP logo. Aging is the final step to superior beef says Campbell. Using a decades-old dry aging process, BNP butchers Rick Arsenault and John Betts transform hunks of beef into portions of protein teeming with taste, so soft it flakes at a utensil’s touch.

A lost art in today’s modern meat industry where cuts are quickly prepared for market and in the grocery store within days of harvest, the duo shelve slabs in carefully controlled cooler conditions, letting flavours intensify through moisture loss and natural enzymes tenderise the meat. BNP beef is aged 21 days. “To me it tastes like meat did 30 years ago,” says Campbell.

Customers, who gobble up the shop’s custom line of gluten free and celiac friendly deli meats and sausages, seem to agree. Some dedicated regulars drive from either end of the province, coolers in tow, ready to lug home a week’s supply of prime cuts.

For BNP’s loyal clientele, the initial appeal may be a desire to connect with their food, health concerns, or the truly farm to fork operation’s complete product traceability but, according to Campbell, they soon find themselves hooked on the taste of organically raised meat.

And he’s proud to offer consumers that choice. “It is pretty much what I look for when feeding my own family so why should anyone else get anything different?”

Dedicated Dairyman

Garnet Schellen and his herd of Ayrshires

The Story of Your Food
by Nina Linton

Garnet Schnellen (photo: Nina Linton)

It’s 5:15 am. Garnet Schellen’s hand fumbles into the murky darkness, silencing the alarm clock’s shrills with a slap. He slides out of bed and into his work clothes—a well-worn set of navy coveralls—before easing out the back door and down a path carved by decades of hurried footsteps.

All’s quiet except for a faint wind whispering in the bare tree branches. Overhead stars spill across the cobalt sky, the morning sun’s delicate rays cloaked by the dim horizon.

Slipping into the barn, Schellen flips on the milk house lights and marches straight into the stable, ready to rouse his 65 dozing bovine from their plush bedded stalls. He peers around the open space. Looks like he’ll skip the wake up call today; most of his red and white herd is already up, munching on home-grown hay, waiting for him.

Schellen zig zags through the dawdling cattle, his eyes focused on a faded metal gate at the far end of the brightly lit barn. As he passes, some of his loyal ladies follow. Their placid mood changes once he pops open the gate and a surge of bossy Bessies rush forward, eager to give milk.

Back in the milk house—where the milking equipment is kept—the life long farmer grabs the six milkers he’ll need to draw out the frothy white liquid, and wrestles the lengthy stainless steel and plastic tube units into position in the milking parlour.

Everything is ready to go—the day’s work begins on one of the Island’s 192 dairy farms.

As Schellen peels open the aged parlour door, ten cows stampede into place. He kneels down and gently cleans each animal’s udder while they get a tasty grain treat. Four pulsating cups are attached to the cow’s teats and their warm milk is whisked into a sterilized pipeline before pooling in a massive on-farm cooling tank until pickup.

The narrow room hums with the rhythmic sound of pumps and cows’ breath; this is Schellen’s sanctuary. “When I am milking in the morning there are not a lot of other places I’d rather be.”

Raised on his family’s small Vernon River dairy, he started working in the barn at nine-years-old. After high school, the teenager returned to the farm fulltime, taking over ownership in 1985. “This is what I’ve always wanted to do,” he says.

After nearly two hours, Schellen bends down and removes the last milk machine. He’s finished the first of two daily milkings.

As the final cow sways out of the parlour, Schellen moves on to his next task.

His lengthy to do list starts with sanitizing the milking equipment, followed by bottle-feeding a handful of young calves. After breakfast, the farmer continues chores like cleaning out the barn, bedding the cows, feeding the older calves, performing heat and pregnancy checks.

Less urgent tasks including processing farm paperwork, returning calls or emails and trimming cow’s hooves or hair, often follow lunch. (During the summer months, Schellen works in the fields growing fodder for winter.)

By mid afternoon, Schellen starts the evening chores and milking. “I spend more time with some of these cows than I do my own family.”

And he cares for them both equally.

“The Ayrshire cow has been my heart,” says the dedicated dairyman. “She has made me who I am today.”

As the moon peeks over the farm, Schellen makes a last trip out to check on his herd. At 11 pm, he flicks off the light and sinks into bed, ready to get up and do it all again tomorrow.

The Clark Farm

The Story of Your Food
by Nina Linton

Clark Farm (photo: Nina Linton)Donna Clark is on call 24/7. Some nights she gets no sleep, working around the clock helping mothers deliver healthy little ones. She lingers by their sides for as long as it takes—some minutes, others hours—ready to jump in and help during the most difficult and intense births.

With two grown children of her own, Clark’s mothering instinct remains strong. She’s delivered triplets, quadruplets, and even quintuplets- often giving overwhelmed mothers a hand, coaxing impossibly tiny multiples to bottle-feed up to four times daily. She spends months monitoring her delicate wards, including some premature arrivals that demand special care. She fawns over every newborn: tracking growth, cooing over first sounds and relishing first steps. She beams after each birth, and cries when the little charges she fights so hard to save don’t make it.

Clark isn’t a midwife or neonatal nurse, although she routinely practices many similar skills; she’s a passionate sheep farmer with a love for lambs. “Most people will say it takes a woman to help run a sheep farm. You have that mothering instinct. When the babies are born you get them nursed and get them started,” says Clark, besides, she smiles “how can anybody not love a baby lamb? They are so cute and cuddly.”

Six times a year, she and her husband, Steven, welcome a new crop of wool-clad lambs onto their 220-acre Belmont farm. (The couple also has a herd of beef cattle.)   For them, rearing lambs is more than a job. It’s a lifestyle. Days are long. Countless hours spent in the barn or in the field, ensure that the sheep and lambs lead stress-free lives as close to their natural existence as possible. “We take so much pride in raising them,” she says. “A lot of hours go into feeding them, looking after the animals, and growing feed for winter. That is our life.”

Sick days and time off don’t exist. Family vacations are an impossible dream. “We can’t go as a family because someone has to stay behind on the farm.”

Which is not to say they couple don’t enjoy their work. “You have to love what you do.” On a crisp winter morning, Clark scoops an armful of bottles and slips inside the lambing pen. A few of her adoptive ovine bound towards her at full tilt; they know she’s got breakfast. The small sheep clamour over each other, tails twirling like propellers, as they push their gaping mouths forward for the first drops of milk. “I love raising little babies, you know, but it takes patience when you’ve got 16 lambs coming at you and only two hands,” Clark laughs.

But no matter how charming they are, the seasoned livestock producer never looses sight of the fact that these little lambs will be going to market in a few months. It’s a bittersweet parting for the dedicated farmer and the animals she so diligently nurtures. “It’s farming. Everyday is a challenge. You take the good with the bad. There are days with lots of disappointment but the joys of going out to the barn and seeing a new set of baby lambs makes it all worthwhile.”

Rose Viaene

A driving force behind community shared agriculture (CSA)

Difference Engines
by Nina Linton

Rose ViaeneRose Viaene hugs a wooden basket as she sorts through freshly-harvested vegetables. Brimming with leafy greens, the bushel basket gets a hefty helping of additional produce as Viaene tucks smooth-skinned tomatoes, oblong eggplants, and tufted corn ears inside.

Delivering these overstuffed containers to her customers’ doorsteps over a 15-week span, the Eldon area vegetable farmer is part of a thriving alternative food network that benefits both local consumers and producers.

The premise is simple. Community shared agriculture (CSA,) or as it is also known, community supported agriculture enables farmers to grow high quality food for consumption in their local community while receiving a fair and guaranteed price. Consumers become stakeholders by financially investing in farms. Their edible dividends arrive weekly, layered in boxes or baskets containing their share of the harvest.

Members not only reap the benefits, they also absorb the losses. Says Viaene, “If the lettuce was a failure that week, they don’t get any lettuce. They take a risk along with the farmer. The people who buy into CSA understand what farmers go through and what we face on a day-to-day basis.”

Entering her second CSA season, Viaene says consumers are interested in agricultural like never before. “More and more people want to know where their food is coming from.”

And for the third generation farmer, that is a good thing. Direct sales avenues, like CSA’s, keep her farm and others like it in business. “If we were going to stay in agriculture we had to make some changes on the farm. I saw a niche for people wanting more contact with farmers and that is where CSA came in.”

With 25 members her first year, Viaene is gearing up for an increase this summer, attracting, through word of mouth, new customers in Montague, Stratford, Charlottetown, and Eldon. In 2010, ten farms offering this personalized service.

Growing a wide range of exotic and heirloom produce alongside more traditional vegetable varieties on her family’s 25-acre farm, Viaene packs her CSA baskets with healthy produce, sometimes sneaking in a quart of juicy strawberries picked down the road or Mason jars of home made preserves. Also included are recipes to extend her customer’s culinary experience when cooking unfamiliar vegetables like Swiss chard or bok choy. Many customers are surprised to learn what vegetables can actually be grown in the province.

Says Viaene,“We really are the garden of the gulf and we are a paradise for vegetables. And there are a lot of people out there who want to keep it that way and buying directly from farmers is a way they can do it. I see that more and more. People want our farmers to remain here so we need to be as flexible as we can for our customers, making it easy for them to support us.”

Jack Arsenault

Difference Engines
by Nina Linton

Jack ArsenaultWhen Jack Arsenault steps out onto one of the busiest thoroughfares in Charlottetown, he not only ensures he gets across the road safely but that dozens of Parkdale Elementary School students under his guard make it to class unscathed.

Spending 13 hours a week at the corner of St. Peter’s Road and St. Pius X Avenue, Jack raises his handheld stop sign to countless streams of cars that sputter to a halt mere feet away.

The dedicated civilian has become a fixture in the local community over the past 33 years. “I got a call from the Town of Parkdale to fill in for one day, and I have been there ever since,” says Jack, admitting that first day on the pavement was daunting. “It was kind of scary because I had never done it before; there was the traffic and watching the kids.”

Jack knows each of the students by name and appreciates the interaction he has with them. “I just enjoy when the kids are joking and carrying on, perhaps throwing a snowball at you or when they are playing around. They are all great kids at Parkdale.”

However, he also doles out tough love to the students. “At times you have to be very strict with them and you have to really watch the traffic because you don’t know sometimes if the cars are going to stop.” Only when he is confident the vehicles have paused does the conscientious crossing guard give his young wards the okay to step off the curb, and continue on their way to or from school.

With three grandchildren of his own, the local resident recognizes the immense impact his daily shift has on the lives of school children and their families.

Pedestrian injuries are a leading cause of injury and death for children under 14 years old in Canada. Diligent crossing guards like Arsenault are key in preventing these avoidable tragedies.

In 2010, Jack was awarded top honours in Safe Kids Canada’s Favourite Crossing Guard Contest, for his exemplary decades long service to child pedestrians. He is the first Islander to win this national accolade.  “It was quite an honour,” he says. “I thought it was somebody pulling a joke on me at first, but then they said it was no joke. It is very nice award that makes you feel pretty good about yourself, that people notice you are doing a decent job.”

The caring citizen is known for going above and beyond in the larger community he serves—whether that be digging into his pocket to outfit under privileged kids in essential winter gear, or taking extra time to ensure safe crossing for special needs children or elderly pedestrians on the busy street.

“All crosswalk guards do a great job. They are out in all kinds of weather, and it is a very treacherous job with big responsibility, and sometimes they don’t get the credit they deserve.”

Stay Tuned

Lester Stubbert refurbishes guitars for use in Montague schools

Difference Engines
by Nina Linton

Lester Stubbert (photo: Nina Linton)It’s been a while but Lester Stubbert still remembers the feeling. Without an instrument himself, the musically-inclined child fashioned an impromptu guitar from one of his father’s lobster traps and a Popsicle stick; his aspiring three-year-old fingers plucking the interlaced strings, a resonant warble emerging.

Lester recalls that moment as perhaps the first and the last time he was unable to play an instrument. By Grade III he had performed his inaugural concert, with his musical ambitions amplifying throughout the years to include the piano, bass and mandolin.

Making a name for himself in the East Coast music scene, Lester has two Music PEI awards to his name and has played alongside famed fiddler Natalie MacMaster, and Celtic crooners The Barra MacNeils.

“It’s my life,” he says about his employment. However, it wasn’t always easy. Raised in a modest household where money was tight, Stubbert learned his craft on borrowed guitars brought to him by his cousins. “It was just a continuous cycle all the time of bringing a guitar, leave it for a month, then they would pick it up and bring me another one,” he says.

So when the opportunity arose for the musician to volunteer his time repairing donated guitars for local school kids, he took the task to heart. Ensuring the next generation of strummers would have quality strings to learn on.

“I saw the need so I decided that it would be kind of cool to do that for the kids, so they can take the guitars home and they are playable,” he comments. After placing an ad in the newspaper looking for contributions last fall, Montague Consolidated School received a score of used guitars, many in inoperable order. Lester quickly found his living room full of guitars waiting to be repaired.

Running Stay Tuned, a professional stringed instrument repair business based in his Brooklyn home, Lester says that this project has helped further his own growth, expanding his repair skills while fixing objects that expand the students’ melodic ones.

“There were some neck adjustments,

I had to put new bridges on, and every one needed strings, but that was pretty basic. Some of the necks were off them so I had to put them back on,” he says.

These refurbished guitars are used in the study of music at the elementary level, also enhancing the students’ team-work ability, as well as improve self-discipline, creative thinking, problem solving and self-expression.

With more guitars trickling in, Stubbert hopes to continue his pro bono restoration work for the school, inspiring more students to appreciate music and the opportunities it presents. He also feels that having an enjoyable pastime keeps kids “off the streets.” Says Lester, “There is so much interest now in music from kids, and it is nice to see them good at it and provide an instrument for them.”

Helping Hands

Difference Engines
by Nina Linton

Tom Stewart (photo: Nina Linton)Tom Stewart leads photography group at North River 4-H Club

When Tom Stewart dropped his young daughter off for her first 4-H meeting he had no idea that eleven years later he would remain the one involved, sharing his skills with youth while enriching the local community.

Initially jotting his name down next to hers, Stewart enlisted as a volunteer leader at their local 4-H club, becoming one of over 300 leaders across the province teaching more than 600 young people life skills and leadership.

“Once I got into the 4-H program I found I really enjoy its emphasis on learning to do by doing. I thought that was great. We can always use some additional skills in terms of making that a reality,” says Stewart.

A part of the Island’s social fabric since 1918, 4-H empowers young people between the ages of nine and 21 to reach their full potential, learning and working under the guidance of volunteers while still having fun.

The youth development organization—despite its common perception as being only for children raised on farms—provides diverse learning opportunities to young Islanders of many backgrounds, offering youth the opportunity to explore over 50 areas of interest including sewing, rocketry, scrapbooking, small engines, cooking, outdoor exploration, computers, woodworking and finances.

Stewart’s local 4-H club gave the self- taught photographer a chance to pass on his passion for pictures from behind the lens.

He aims to help his photography project members become comfortable with their cameras and enthusiastic about the possibilities in photography, and is often impressed with the results the kids produce.

“I guess the biggest thing I get from it is seeing the members involved with their projects … you will really reach someone and they will understand it and you can just see that switch turn on,” he explains.

“You see it not just with photography but with all the projects. You see the pride in learning.”

With six students in his photography group this year, the dedicated volunteer extends his helping hand beyond this small group to the North River 4-H Club as a whole with its’ over 70 members and 20 leaders.

As editor of a monthly newsletter, he ensures everyone is up to date on news, awards, events, and fundraising activities while putting his own photography skills to use documenting many of the club’s activities with his camera. Some of these photos end up in the leaflet with many more appearing in a year ending slideshow celebrating the members’ achievements.

The 4-H program, with a focus on community, encourages members and leaders like Stewart to not only work on personal development but wide scale initiatives that benefit the citizenry, like collecting donations for local food banks or fundraising for local charities.

With no plans to step down from his post, Stewart enjoys the challenge and growth afforded not only to the young people he works with but also to himself through their involvement in 4-H.

“I enjoy it. I feel I am contributing and from a volunteer perspective that is something that is important.”

The Curling Life

Nancy Cameron plays Abig volunteer role in the Scotties on PEI

Difference Engines
by Nina Linton

Nancy CameronFor every rock that will be cast down the ice at this year’s national women’s curling championship, the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Charlottetown resident Nancy Cameron will have invested countless hours in the event’s success.

An elite level curler who in past has competed in eight Scotties tournaments, Cameron decided that when her hometown was announced as the 2011 venue, she would extend her performance off the ice and into one of the many volunteer positions.

“I have been up at the curling club probably since I was a year old. It has been a huge part of my life. I’ve competed in provincials, juniors, ladies and mixed curling over the past number of years,” says Cameron. Her personal involvement with the winter sport goes back to her father Doug Cameron, one of the most successful curlers in Prince Edward Island history.

“I started to curl when I was 12 years old, my Dad got me into the sport. I started in grade seven and I have been doing it pretty well every year since,” reveals Cameron of her cool past time.

“I think that I really wanted to be a volunteer because it has given me so much of my life and I wanted to put a little bit back into it.”

One of three pro bono directors of the ‘Painting the Town’ committee, she is in charge of getting the word out about the upcoming bonspiel, increasing public awareness through signage and public promotion.

With approximately 25 volunteers under her lead, Cameron has been busy since April 2010 making appearances at many local events including the 2010 Cavendish Beach Music Festival.

“We were there with our Scotties volunteer shirts on and we were passing out information,” she comments.

Her tenure as volunteer wraps up as the event kicks off mid-February, when Prince Edward Island is set to welcome 60 of Canada’s top women curlers along with their coaches and families to a tournament that boasts 21 draws spread over nine days.

So used to seeing what some refer to as “Canada’s other winter sport” after hockey, from the other side of the curling sheet, Cameron says it has been an eye opening experience to be involved behind the scenes.

“When we go to these events everything is done for you so all you focus on when you get there is curling and you don’t realize the time that has gone into organizing this event—everything from the decorations to the media.”

Working alongside a host of other keen and devoted volunteers during this, the 30th anniversary year of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, has been an exciting and remarkable enterprise for Cameron who has continued to train for competition in the event while working to promote it.

“There are quite a few competitive curlers that are volunteering because it is something we as curlers can do before the Scotties starts and putting a little bit back into it,” she says, adding “We are just hoping that the seats are filled and the curlers have a great time while they are here, and we know that will happen.”

Events Calendar

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