New Brunswick now feels like home for German farm family

by Joan LeBlanc
Acres of plants hanging low with clusters of bulging fresh grapes are a welcome sight this year at a produce farm based in Shemogue, N.B.
Maic (pronounced “Mike”) and Silke Jakob brought their family of four young boys – Silas, Bill, Joris, and Luka – to Canada five years ago to start a new chapter in their lives as produce growers.
“I was born and raised on a hobby farm in the Black Forest in Germany,” said Silke. “Maic is from a town near Stuttgart. That’s where we lived with our family. But there is not enough land there. We wanted to have a big farm so we came to Canada.”
The couple arrived in Shemogue in 2012. They purchased an old established farm and began to launch their produce operation while getting their boys settled in new schools.
“Maic was a full-time (grape) grower (with) a company,” said Silke. “It was his dream to have a farm, but (in Germany) it was not enough to live on. There was not enough land to expand. After we decided to come (to Canada), it took us around two years to do everything. It has always been Maic’s dream to have enough land to grow produce, grapes. When we came here, he had 20 years’ experience working in a vineyard.”
And while getting the farm established and profitable was tough going at first, the boys seemed to fit in well in their new home.
“The boys have done well in school, making friends,” said Silke. “They were young enough – six to 12 years – it’s easier for children to make changes. But for us, with the farm, the first three years were hard. We just put so much into the farm, you put back, put back, put back … so much money … and work. It was a hard time, but now it pays back.”
Maic worked off the farm for a couple of years to help make ends meet. But now, with the farm much more established, he doesn’t have time to work anywhere but on his own land.
The Jakobs purchased a 50-acre plot of land about five kilometres away in Petit-Cap, along the shores of the Northumberland Strait, and today they’re growing 26 acres of grapes in that plot’s sandy loam soil. The crop is sold to a winery in the Moncton area. With the dry conditions this year, they were forced to irrigate throughout the summer. Fortunately, being close to the strait helps prevent early frost damage.
“There we grow Marquette, L’Acadie blanc, Osceola muscat, St. Croix, and Sabrevois, and this year it’s been a very good harvest,” said Silke. “We’d like to be able to grow the grapes on our land in Shemogue, but the soil there is too much clay.”
Earlier this year, they also purchased a noisemaker. The loud recorded calls of predator birds now keep crows and other pest birds from ravaging the grape plants.
For the past three years, the Jakobs have harvested their grapes by hand, with all of the family working in the vineyard whenever possible. A recently purchased machine harvester has proven invaluable.
“When you’re just starting, you know it’s hard to have everything you want,” said Silke. “But now it’s good to have the harvester.”
The Jakobs also grow a variety of crops on the 50 acres of land where their house and barns sit –potatoes, tomatoes, corn, peppers, onions, strawberries, and more. Much of the produce is either sold at the gate in their small farm market or to other local vegetable producers who are part of a local weekend farmers’ market.
They planted string beans for the first time this year. And although the beans grew well, much of the unpicked crop was plowed under. “This year, the market was flooded with beans coming in from Quebec, so we didn’t have much of a market for them,” said Silke.
The family also produces several acres of sunflowers each year – providing a distinctive landscape panorama throughout the summer and fall months – some of which are sold at the farm gate. The remaining sunflower crop is plowed under each year for soil enrichment. Commercial fertilizers and crop rotation are also components of the crop production plan.
“Maic especially loves the sunflowers and so do I,” said Silke.
They also raise turkeys and meat rabbits, and recently got a few calves. It seems they are always on the lookout for new farm projects. The family is never without something to do and all four Jakob boys have their particular interests around the farm.
“Silas is now 17 and he wanted to get a (portable) mill and since then the boys have been milling some logs that they cut on our land,” said Silke. “You always need lumber on the farm. Luka is 11 and he’s the mechanic, he keeps the machines running. You know what he always wants for Christmas? An old lawn mower. He always wants a broken one that he can fix. Now we have four or five here. Joris and Bill have their favourite parts of the farm too; we may be raising some pigs next year.”
Silke added with a grin, “You know, if you keep four boys busy, there won’t be so much troubles.”
It’s never dull around the Jakobs’ farm. Looking to the future, Maic and Silke are considering the addition of their own winery. But that’s a big step and a huge investment, and one that may or may not come to fruition. Every day, the family makes time to have their main meal together when everyone talks about their day and their plans for the farm and for the future – in what is now their Canadian home.
For the most part, the Jakobs are happy with their decision to settle in Canada.
“The first winter here was awful,” said Silke. “There was so much snow and it went on for months. In Canada, there’s no spring. It’s just winter, then summer. Not like we had been used to. But we’re getting used to it and it’s not so bad now. We miss our families – it was hard leaving them. But you know, if we were doing it all again, we would do it all again. This is home.”