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Meet your neighbours: the Coates farm

Julia Coates is looking after her parents Codroy vegetable farm while they take their first vacation in 20 years – © Rosalyn Roy

From big city Toronto to a hobby farm in the Codroy Valley isn’t that long a trip for Julia Coates. She’s been coming here since she was a baby and her parents, Judy and Harry Coates, were still living and working in Corner Brook. This summer she’s come back to work the farm for six or seven weeks so that her parents can take their first real vacation in roughly 20 years, and she loves it enough that she’s already decided to retire nearby.

“I work for an IT company,” says Julia. “I just sit on computers all day long.”

Now that she’s working her parents farm, she only does that in the afternoon. In the morning she’s out weeding or picking, and she takes care of the little produce stand near the end of the driveway. She greets neighbours and passersby who stop to buy fresh goods, recording the sales in a notebook and taking phone numbers for a specific order if she runs out of the day’s offering.

Today she’s got the stand loaded with zucchini, fat and foot long and fresh from the garden. There’s also pumpkin, cucumber and snow peas left, but she’s run out of beets because someone already bought the whole lot.

Her parents run the stand on an honour system. They’ve slotted a hole in the top of a cleaned out cottage cheese container, listed prices on a child’s drawing board, and trust that anyone who grabs some of their vegetables will leave the money.

“I love it,” says Julia. “You know you actually accomplish something? I sit in conference calls all day long and it gets monotonous.”

She says she’s learned to tend the crops in the morning, and how to properly harvest them, but there’s more yet she still wants to learn. Julia has been coming here every summer for at least the last 10 years.

“I cry when I go home.”

She straps on headphones in the morning while she plucks weeds from the multiple gardens, and she’s also brought help from Toronto. As if on cue, her boyfriend wanders out of the house, jumps in the ATV and heads across the road to tend to the fields.

Julia says it’s good for the soul.

The couple are already planning to build their own house on the hillside behind her parents two-storey farmhouse in a couple of years. They haven’t started construction yet, but they’ve got it all figured out. Julia plans to help her mother with the farm full time.

Harry and Judy retired about 20 years ago, and after touring Europe and North America realized they wanted to retire to their Codroy Valley farm. That’s when they committed to remodelling the farmhouse and restarting the garden.

In addition to the vegetables on the stand, Harry and Judy also grow pears, apples, corn, onions, potatoes, cabbage, turnip and carrots. Some years there is also cauliflower. Because that apparently doesn’t keep her busy enough, Judy is also the organist for the Anglican church in Codroy.

Julia says her mother always wanted to retire to a place with a garden.

Judy’s garden is on the larger side. She’s even got a bright, colourful flower garden in full bloom in front of the house. On a sign not far from the stand there’s a sign recognizing the farm for its commitment to sustainable agriculture. Currently the farmers are working to design a drip irrigation system for the farm.

Harry used to work for the school board as a superintendent in charge of bussing and that came in handy when he tore the windows out of some old school buses to build two greenhouses. He even tore the windows out of an old bus left to rot nearby and repurposed those into his greenhouse too. One of them has a fishing net thrown across its roof, and on the outside of the other there’s still a legible emergency exit. Both are filled with and surrounded by various plants, including lettuce, canola, parsnips and tomatoes.

“That’s the only way you’re going to grow tomatoes around here,” offers Julia. “Dad doesn’t throw anything away. I’ve seen him undo a twist tie on some of the beets to use on a trellis for the raspberries.”

Judy likes to turn the raspberries into jam. Julia figures she’s picking about four cups a day of the tasty berry. Another customer drives up and Julia says that it’s pretty steady on the weekend.

“We’re knocking it out of the park.”

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