Sad news

Last Thursday, one of my great inspirations and mentors, and one of the loveliest people that I knew, passed away suddenly. John van der Heyden was the husband and dad in the wonderful farm family at Wooler Dale Farm. As I’ve written before, that’s the farm where I worked and lived for 6 months in 2009, and who I continue to work for at farmers’ markets in Toronto. Although I haven’t seen John that much in the past few years since he didn’t do Toronto markets (he enjoyed the more relaxed pace at Peteborough Saturday markets), he continued (and still continues) to inspire me.

I often think about him when I’m working in my gardens, remembering how much I learned from all of them when I worked on the farm.  Especially when I get into weeding-meditation mode (yes, weeding can be almost medidtative), I think of how John would go out to weed the fields to relax. I didn’t get it at first, but now I totally do.

At his youngest daughter’s wedding last summer, John and I inevitably ended up talking farm-talk. There were a couple of chuckles from his family when they overheard us talking farming in the middle of the night while others were tearin’ up the dance floor, but talking farming with John was always interesting, inspirational, and well, occasionally time-consuming. (If you got him on the topic of tractors or organic certification, you could be there for hours.) He also always enjoyed hearing about what I’m doing with my school gardens, and I think he was pretty proud that I was putting what I’d learned on the farm to use, especially to teach kids.

Today was John’s funeral, and the first time it really sunk in for me that he’s gone. The most touching moment for me during the service was when John’s brothers carried a basket of Wooler Dale Farm vegetables to the altar. That moment captured John for me.

I have learned so much and been so inspired by John, as have countless others. His passion for organic farming, his wealth of knowledge, his farm inventions, his gentle soul, his superhuman weeding skills, and long chats about food policy and tractors on the front porch. I am so thankful that I found Wooler Dale Farm for a farm internship. They have become a second family to me.

John, you will be sorely missed.

John van der Heyden

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