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Five Winters: Two Conscientious Objectors Find Struggle and Salvation in Their 1970s Move Back to the Land

| 10/2/2019 9:55:00 AM

Introduction by Kerridwen Harvey

In 1969, Jocelyn “Josh” Harvey, born in the American Midwest, moved to a farm outside of Barry's Bay, Ontario, with her husband, David Harvey, who, ever the punster, dubbed the farm Gopherwood, and their one-year-old daughter Kerridwen.  There, the two former full-time English professors who taught in upstate New York, embarked on a politically motivated project of "living off the land" — or attempting to do so.

Conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War, although too old to be draft dodgers, they left well-paying academic jobs and the comforts they provided, to establish themselves as subsistence farmers, never having farmed themselves, on a hilly, 100-acre rock-encrusted farm. They had hoped to sell an anthology of American poetry to help support themselves, but they did not find any takers, so they were grateful for the generosity of an elderly relative who allowed them to survive those years.

They lasted "five winters" on the farm, as Josh characterized it. This piece, written by Josh just after they left the farm to look for jobs in Ottawa, tells of how they managed to eat in this inhospitable environment. Never returning to academia, Josh went on to become an accomplished arts administrator and advocate, working for many years at the Canada Council for the Arts. The family would visit the farm on occasional weekends and at Christmas until David passed away in1990.

Josh sold the farm in the late 1990s and the octagonal house Dave built while they lived there since collapsed. Josh visited the farm, now much grown over, with her daughter only 11 days before she passed away in August 2019. Seeing the farm after all that time gave her great pleasure. Josh remained politically engaged throughout her life and the Jocelyn Harvey Legacy Fund was established following her death to encourage democratic engagement.

Note the language of the piece is of its time (“mod cons”, Eskimo, etc) but has not been altered, because it speaks to a space and a time. That said, many of the themes resonate today with our society’s growing interest in local food, sustainability, and health-conscious diets.

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