From a dream and no experience to a fulfilling retirement on the farm
Local Journalism Initiative
“We’re not poor, we just don’t have any money,” Linda Shattuck would tell her kids growing up on the family’s Bury farm during the early lean years.
In 1974-75, Linda and her partner David Cosman took jobs one winter in northern Manitoba to save money so they could buy a farm. They had met working at Classics bookstore in Montreal.
In 1977, each with $10,000 available for a deposit, they put $20,000 down on the purchase of a $37,000, 150-acre farm on Kirkpatrick Road. The sellers financed them for the $17,000 balance.
Now as Linda and David ease into retirement, their son Patrick has taken over what grew into a 975-acre farm with 40,000 taps and 25 head of Charolais and Simmental cattle.
It was a long, steep road for many of the years. After they bought, David would travel back to Montreal during the weeks to earn an income working carpentry. Linda managed the farm.
A year after buying, they had their first of three children, which meant Linda was also raising young children while handling farm duties—cattle, laying hens and meat birds, vegetable garden, hay, fencing, sugaring season. David also had their only vehicle for his work in Montreal.
“She had no car. She did all the chores. Fencing. Everything,” David said from the far corner of the room as I sat at the kitchen table in their farmhouse interviewing Linda last week.
“I just did it,” Linda said. “But I was so tired all the time.”
Linda remembers one summer having frost in the garden at least once every month—June, July, and August. Another year, the pipes froze in the cattle barn, which meant she hauled water to them all winter.
Why do it?
“That’s all I ever wanted to do, from the time I was little,” she said, even though she had not grown up on a farm or known anything about farming. The original dream included horses, of course, but reality stopped that plan.
“They’re too expensive and too much work. There’s no time when you’ve got little kids.
“But I got cows, and I love cows.” She names their first four for me, and David adds that they increased the herd to 17 their second year with them.
Linda was 29 years old when they bought; David 27. “It was late to be learning,” she said.
In 1985, David started selling sap to a neighbour, earning $250 for six weeks of work. He would pause his Montreal carpentry as much as possible during the haying and sugaring seasons. In 1986 and ’87, they increased to 6,000 taps on buckets, then dropped down to 4,000 until 1996, followed by a pipeline.
Then the sugar bush next door came up for sale, and neighbour Stuart Dougherty caringly insisted they buy it from him, even if Linda and David didn’t have the money. They did a business plan, borrowed the money, and started growing the farm further into the success that it’s become today.
“The beginning was very hard,” Linda remembered again.
“Now it’s just gravy,” David piped in, the two of them laughing heartily at the farmers’ inside joke.
And she still has her dreams for the place, while recognizing her own place within it.
“It’s Patrick’s now. I love the cows; I hope he can keep the cows.”
Also, “farmers always want to die on their farm.”
And, “to keep it going; that’s what every farmer wants.”
Scott Stevenson farms and writes at his home in Newport, Quebec. He reports on individual Townships’ farmers biweekly for Brome County News and reviews the farm news biweekly for The Record.