Karma Reid’s best memories of 4-H are of the exhibitions.
“The big competitions we used to go to,” she says. “Every county at provincial shows put in a tug-of-war team and usually the semi-finals and finals are in the evening. If it’s your county team, you’re cheering so we used to come home from pro show hoarse. You’re a club team so you’re cheering for your club at a county event but when you go to a provincial show, you’re cheering for your county. That’s why you go home hoarse.”
Karma, who lives in Pugwash with her husband Wayne, their dog Kobe, and a son who returns to university in Fredericton this fall, says those competitions were all about coming together as the big 4-H family.
“You go to those shows every year so you see someone you met from the valley and so you have these friendships,” she explains. “I remember when I ended up going to agriculture college, so many of the people I met I’d been in 4-H with at one competition or another across the province. It’s a network. It takes you places across the province.”
Karma was so devoted to 4-H, she went to the Agriculture College to study Agriculture Business with the idea of being a 4-H representative, which is now called a regional coordinator.
“Because I had all this 4-H background and absolutely loved the program, I thought it would be great. But after my first year, I was looking at job postings and it was that transitional time when you needed a degree instead of a diploma.”
Once she decided she’d had enough of school, Karma began working on dairy farms as a herdsperson, work she’d grown up doing.
“It’s not unusual to have a female herdsperson,” she says. “Especially in the milking management part of it. Women are detailed people and have that gentle touch. Are the cow’s ears down? Is her nose wet?”
Her work took her away from home but also returned her to her birth place. Karma was born in Ontario and lived there until she was six, when her parents decided to move to Nova Scotia. (Karma’s mother, in fact, is originally from this area.)
“It was just a small farm [in Ontario], not really a great acreage, so I think they wanted to expand because they were starting a family,” Karma says. “They came here and there was land and a farm for sale.”
That farm became Holdanca Farm in Wallace Bay.
“We started with a cream quota but the cream industry was on its way out,” Karma says, “and it seems to me you could switch over and do milk quota so that’s when they got into milk.”
When Karma headed to Ontario to work on a dairy farm north of Toronto, her first challenge was the cows themselves.
“It was a Guernsey farm and I’d never worked with Guernseys; we were always Holstein people. I had to humble myself!” she laughs.
But her job in Ontario provided her with the one experience she’d never achieved through 4-H.
“I had never qualified as a 4-Her here to take my calf up to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair,” she says. “So I asked [my boss] who he was going to take to clip the cattle and he said, ‘You are going.’ I had clipped a cow for Exhibition and provincial show but I’d never clipped a string. I’d never taken a string of cattle, you know, one in each age category, and going to the Royal was really a neat experience. We did it and won some ribbons.”
So of course Karma has no regrets about spending several years in Ontario when she was in her twenties nor does she think she missed out on anything by returning to Nova Scotia.
“I was ready to leave,” she explains. “My young fella says to me, ‘I can’t wait to get out of here.’ He wants to go and he’s ready to go and I was that way too. I enjoyed it but as a young person, you make it a fast-paced lifestyle especially being in and around Toronto. And my job following that one was extremely fast-paced so when I finally had a chance to come home, I realized this pace of life and the smell of the ocean... It was time,” she says of returning home. “I’d done my young thing and had that busyness and saw what I thought there was of the world out there to see. I think it’s partly in the mind; you have to leave in order to appreciate where you live. Coming back, I realized the quality of life and the pace of life was what I wanted.”
Of her son, who has returned home to work on the family farm this summer, Karma says, “This likely will be his last summer here. But it’s his time, you know? I miss him terribly but to hold him here – I see so much of myself in him. It’s time for him to go and experience everything.”
Karma herself is in a period of transition. After many years of being a 4-H general leader for the Bay Vista Conns Mills club, she is stepping down to make time for other interests.
“It’s time for a change,” she says. “Change is good, it’s good to get new ideas.”
She acknowledges that it can be difficult finding leaders for 4-H programs because of the image that 4-H takes a lot of time and is just for farm kids.
“I have a lot of kids doing self-directed projects. I give them the guidelines then check in with them throughout the year. I know there would be so much more value to having somebody lead them. I know people are really busy but every project has an outline for it,” says Karma. “It really isn’t a huge time commitment, it’s more just wrapping your head around what you have to offer.”
She says there’s never been a leader for a computer project and a lot of kids are interested in website design.
“It would be great to have someone lead that.”
Karma keeps brainstorming and thinks of the value of members of the first aid project attending a training session for a group like search and rescue.
“So many of our adult organizations need to have young people come in and see what they do. They’ll say, ‘How do you get people into things?’ Well, you approach them when they’re young,” Karma says.