Before the Pye Centre was established in 2019, the property was home to the Grand River Farm, owned and operated by Frank and Joyce Pye. Frank has since passed away, but his legacy, and the legacy of the Grand River Farm, lives on through the Pye Centre.
In July 2020, Jamie Jackman, Program Coordinator for the Pye Centre, along with Labrador Institute summer student Rachel Goudie, interviewed Joyce Pye to learn more about her history and experiences with farming in Labrador. In Part II of Jamie and Rachel’s conversation with Joyce, they talked about her hopes for the future of the Pye Centre for Northern Boreal Food Systems, and the wonder and magic of farming and gardening.
Q: What would you like to see as the university develops space here?
Again, just to see the community being able to come here again. I don’t know if I’ll be here long enough to see it, but to hear kids laughing, and parents going about, and to see people going out and about on the farm again would be amazing.
Q: There is quite the legacy about the Pye Farm. Almost every person in town has a memory of being down there.
A: It did get to be quite well known, yes.
…“to hear kids laughing, and parents going about, and to see people going out and about on the farm again would be amazing.”
Q: What advice would you give for anyone looking to farm in the Lake Melville area?
A: It bothers me that it is so difficult for young people to get started in farming, and it bothers me that the government doesn’t make more of an effort to somehow encourage and support young farmers because Frank and I were only able to do it because we both had careers and a pension. If all failed on the farm, we wouldn’t have gone hungry, we had a pension to fall back on. But if young people are starting out, a young family with kids, how could they start? When we started it took us at least 5 or 6 years before we could say we made a profit.
The initial effort takes a lot of money: things for soil, equipment to clear the land, and farming equipment is expensive. If you’re going to make a living of it, you’re going to have to buy equipment. It is really problematic for young people to get started, and you have to start small and slow in order to get going. Unless you have some sort of funding source to help you.
Q: It bothers me how essential farming is to people’s lives, but it is so difficult and undervalued to get into.
A: It is so undervalued, you’re right Jamie. It’s under the idea that if you have no higher education and nothing else to do so then you go farming. But that is the wrong view to have. In this province they have raised the value of fishing as a living but haven’t done it with agriculture. Over the years they really have raised the view towards fishing, organized the industry, and now it is big business, but farming is still viewed as what you do if you can’t do anything else.
Q: For anyone trying their hand at growing, do you have any advice?
Everyone should have a backyard garden. There is so much pleasure, excitement, and surprise involved. It really impressed me this year that because of COVID there was a whole new interest in backyard gardening. The threat perhaps of the supermarket not having all the produce you need is encouraging people to garden.
My daughter is really into yoga and meditation, and she told me she loves weeding; I think she’s the only person to ever say that, but it is so peaceful. Gardening and farming is very meditative. Frank always said he wrote his best sermons while out in the field driving his tractor. It was certainly a good lifestyle and way to live, and we enjoyed it. We are very fortunate here as there are countries really struggling. I heard an appeal from our church that 200 million people will go hungry because of COVID.
“…it is so peaceful. Gardening and farming is very meditative….It was certainly a good lifestyle and way to live, and we enjoyed it.”
Q: Crazy to think about.
A: Back to the home gardens. Even the flower beds. To me, it is pure magic: you take these little seeds that look like nothing, put them in a pot, then next thing it’s like “WOW.” Once you start simple and start growing things, and once you start gardening and trying different things, there will be so many surprises. I grow all kinds of flowers, anything you can imagine.
*Joyce showed the interviewers one of her plants
Well, this isn’t a spectacular plant, but when you look close at the yellow flowers, they are actually canaries, little yellow flowers shaped like the birds. I got into collecting my own seeds from annuals and things too. If you get into that, seeds are fascinating because each one has its own unique way of propelling itself into the world. They are all different. It is interesting and magical.
Q: How do you feel about the title of the Pye Centre for Northern and Boreal Food Systems?
A: I’m so glad you kept his name on it. I was so grateful that you kept his name on it.
Q: Just saying “The Pye Farm” is so great. People think of pies at first, but I think it’s an awesome name.
A: We also grew pie pumpkins as well as Jack O’Lantern pumpkins. One day at the community market, which is a wonderful thing, I had a sign on my counter saying pie pumpkins. A lady came up and said, “I’ll have two of those pies,” and I laughed and said, “Read the sign again. I’m not selling pies. I’m selling pumpkins.”
“One day at the community market, I had a sign on my counter saying ‘Pie Pumpkins.’ A lady came up and said, ‘I’ll have two of those pies,’ and I laughed and said, ‘Read the sign again. I’m not selling pies. I’m selling pumpkins.’”