Islands Museum
Long and Brier Islands, Nova Scotia

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Survival of A People: Using our Natural Resources 1875-1975

 

 

Farming On the IslandsLong and Brier Islands provided far from ideal conditions, either in weather or soil, for productive farms. However, to be self-sufficient, the people developed a farming sector. Most of the farming consisted of the individual family keeping a pig, a cow and some chickens, and growing their own vegetables. There were a few devoted and industrious farm families, with larger farms being located at Gull Rock, Brier Island, the Pyne family farm in Freeport, Small's in Central Grove, as well as the Pugh family in Westport and the Melansons in Freeport.There were a small number of specialists - dairy farmers, fox farms and a mink farm. Typical of the few general farms was that of the Small family in Central Grove. When we look at their records, we see that their most popular vegetable was turnip. Most of us remember just how staple this vegetable was in the winter, and especially in the early spring.The variety of products this family handled is quite astounding. The list of items in their annual accounts included the following:- vegetables: potatoes, turnips, carrots, squash, beets, parsnips, cabbage,corn, cucumbers, pumpkins- meat: lamb, pork, beef, chicken-eggs-fruit: apples, quinces, berries ( strawberries, blueberries, cranberries)-forest products: logs in bulk, firewood, sawed wood, axe handles, along with some bulk logs for wharves and other construction-other: lamb pelts, yarn, mittens, socks, butter, straw, hay, flowersImagine all the work involved in looking after all those animals and producing quantities of all these items. Expenses on the farm would include feed, fuel for machinery, hired men, tools, and some food stuffs such as flour, sugar, molasses, yeast etc.Most of the accounts with the farm customers were paid by cash, but there were also lists of labour done in payment for food, such as butchering, sawing wood, shoeing oxen etc.Let's look at just a few comparative prices of the products over their busy years. Item: 1929 1941 1946-48Potatoes, bushel 1.00 1.00 1.40Carrots 1.00 1.00 2.00Turnips .50 .50 .75Beef/pound .50 .50-.75 .75 -1.00Lamb .50 .20 .75Pork .15 .30 - .37 Eggs per dozen .30 .30-.40 .45 -.50Squash/100 lb. 3.00 2.00 3.00Apples/barrel 3.25 5.25Berries/quart .20 .20 .25Quinces/doz .50 .80Logs/foot .08 .08 Wood/cord 7.00 7.00 Labour/day 1.00 1.00 .60 -.80Prices had remained almost constant from the 20's to the war years, and in a few cases even dropped a little during the war. Directly after the war there was a sudden and substantial increase in prices.The farm required year round work and all members of the family had to pitch in. The island people raised large families in harsh circumstances and struggled to keep them fed and clothed. The Small family women, as well as others of Long and Brier Islands were adept in the arts of spinning, weaving, knitting, sewing as well as rug hooking.They were not specialists - a fisherman's family had their own garden and animals, canned products of farm and nature, and had informal contests to see who could raise the fattest pig or the biggest turnip. Even the social notes in a local paper could be depended upon to give information about what was happening in the farmyard.- Mr. L.C. Bailey has grown a number of parsnips that girt 15 inches. Beat this if you can.- Mr. J.A. Peters has a very fine cow. From July 3rd to August 1st he made 61 pounds of butter. Another farmer was noted for his dahlias.Were these hard working, struggling ancestors of ours perhaps more content and accepting of their lot than we are with all our luxuries? These people were creative, versatile, clever , and self reliant. We can be proud of them.

 

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