As soon as I begin my interview with Glenn Roberts in the lounge of the Guelph Public Library (he’s come from Grand Valley to meet with me), he unexpectedly gifts me, a person he’s never met, with a jar of his summer wildflower honey and a dozen of the largest, heaviest chicken eggs I’ve ever encountered.
This is a man in love with his new life and he wants to share it!
“I guess my story starts with me and my family,” he recounts. “I have three kids and a wife. We used to live in Georgetown. We lived there for 25 years just in a regular house. I started thinking in my work [he’s a packaging designer] that I was spending an awful lot of time on the computer and not an awful lot of time outside. I wondered how I could get more engaged."
In 2012, that pondering led Glenn to explore bee-keeping because it didn’t require a full-time commitment. He started with two hives, which he set up on a farm close to Georgetown that belonged to his wife’s relatives. “I really enjoyed it,” he says. “Having beehives gets you outside and forces you to look and see what they are feeding on, what they are bringing back to the hive. You see that there is a great big world out there… Two wasn’t enough, so the next year I wanted four, and then eight.”
As Glenn’s desire to expand grew, he began looking at other properties. “We ended up deciding to move,” he says, slightly bewildered. “We really didn’t have any idea what we were looking for, but we ended up with a ten-acre property, which is way more than I ever imagined!” His son’s interest in having chickens also contributed to the family’s decision to relocate in 2014, a move that literally changed their lives. Glenn now manages twenty hives. “That’s all I can manage because I still work in a regular desk- job,” he says (he is seriously excited about retirement).
Shortly after the move, he saw an ad for a workshop on pork butchery that was being held by the Minga Skill Building Hub. He and his youngest (teenaged) son took the course. “It was really cool to do that, engaging and doing a new skill,” he says. At the time, the family was already taking care of fifteen laying hens, but his son was also interested in raising birds for meat, and the pig butchery workshop helped to make the butchery of the chickens more manageable.
He’s clearly aware how sensitive this issue is, since he ponders on his experience without my prompting (I did not ask questions around the ethics of raising and butchering animals, because I generally support small-scale producers regardless of the product). “It was awkward at first, but if not by my hand, then by whose?” he asks. “You see it from start to finish. How does that make me feel? Well, they had the best life they could have. The end is swift and painless. That’s all you can hope for, I think.”
After that initial workshop, Glenn and his family were hooked. He pulls out a piece of paper with a substantial list of courses and activities that he, his wife, and two sons have participated in since then, including making sausages, brewing beer and cider, making wine and mead, building tiny houses, gardening, and cultivating mushrooms. Taking an introductory course on permaculture led to Glenn’s interest in planting herb spirals and composting with worms. During a Rural Romp farm visit (a Taste Real initiative), the family picked up a Tamworth hog and they continue to raise pigs (they also pasture lambs). He is also hoping to learn how to prune fruit trees and plants a few trees every year in preparation.
He likes the forgiving nature of Minga workshops, as well as the mix of people attending. “The people that typically show up [at Minga workshops] are people that have tried doing it before and people who haven’t,” he says. “And the ones that come back, that have done it before, learn from their mistakes. It’s a good group of like-minded people with various levels of experience.”
What does this new life mean to him and his family? “Between visiting farms and what Minga is offering in how-to, we’ve been able to expand so much of what we do. Taking things into our own hands is really empowering. It’s changed the way we are. My kids are a lot more engaged with the property too. They’re happy to come home and be around us. They love and miss the animals and the goings-on.” And the clincher: “Right now, at the age where I am with my kids, I’ve never been happier. I’m so excited about the future. I now have a vision.”
“It’s a new chapter,” he says of his inspiring new life. “And what a great chapter.”