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A life on the farm

David Dickinson walks among the maple trees on his West Brook family farm. He was inducted into the Atlantic Agricultural Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the Dalhousie Agricultural Campus in Truro on Oct. 19.
David Dickinson walks among the maple trees on his West Brook family farm. He was inducted into the Atlantic Agricultural Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the Dalhousie Agricultural Campus in Truro on Oct. 19.

Dickinson inducted into Atlantic Agricultural Hall of Fame

WEST BROOK – When David Dickinson graduated from college in 1965, there were only three or four graduates who went back to work on their family farm. He was one of them.

Most of the others went on to careers in agricultural sales or research work. Others went to work for fertilizer companies, chemical companies or feed companies.

“At that time, there were three or four jobs waiting for everybody who graduated,” said Dickinson, who still operates Dickinson Brothers Farm, more than 50 years later.

So why didn’t he follow the career paths of so many of his classmates? One simple reason.

“I didn’t want to,” he said. “I grew up here on the farm, so I wanted to come back to the farm.”

He did just that, becoming the fifth generation of his family on the farm. He was inducted into the Atlantic Agricultural Hall of Fame on Oct. 19.

Over the years, Dickinson he has carried on the strategy of diversified farming employed by his father Seymour and uncle Karl, succeeding with crops such as blueberries and strawberries, as well as the maple industry and selective logging.

“I like doing different things all the time,” he said. “If there’s something you don’t like doing, then it’s not very long until you’re doing something else. Compared to assembly line jobs… I don’t think I could hack that.”

The Dickinson farm might be known for its diversity, but Dickinson the farmer is known far and wide for his commitment to the wild blueberry industry, which his family farm has been involved with since 1927.

Not just a grower, he has also been an advocate for the industry, and was one of the founding organizers of the Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia. He has served in various roles in that organization, including chair, and continues to serve on the board of directors and its committees.

He also credits much of his farm’s success to blueberries.

“It’s one of the crops here that did really well,” said Dickinson. “I know things have gone bad in the last two or three years, but up to that it was a really good crop, and anyone with any amount of blueberries has made a good living.”

His willingness to try new things has also provided benefits. To improve his blueberry harvest, he implemented a two-year harvest cycle to eliminate the production costs of weed control. For maple production, he introduced a plastic piping system he had discovered during his university days in Quebec.

He also tried growing ginseng in the 1990s, but learned it does not fare well in the heavy clay soils of this area, and is also susceptible to forms of root rot.

There have been things that didn’t work, but he has no regrets.

“I guess at one time, even before my time, we could have bought up more blueberry ground,” said Dickinson. “But I’m not a gambler or a speculator, so I don’t really have any regrets.”

He is also not one for being in the limelight, so the recent Hall of Fame induction is not something he was prepared for. He admitted he probably would have objected to it, had it not been kept a secret.

“I didn’t know anything about it until I got the letter saying I was chosen,” said Dickinson, looking over the list of past winners and pointing out the many farmers he has known over the years. “It’s a real honour to go down and accept that, although I’m not one for making speeches or anything.”

Now 74, Dickinson still gets out and works on his farm very day, although he said he does not put in the long hours that he used to. He said he would continue to do it as long as he is able.

“I still get up in the morning and, if my name’s not in the obituaries, that’s a good start to the day,” he said. “I’ve slowed down, but as long as I don’t slow to a stop, I’ll keep doing it. It’s still interesting, with new things to develop all the time.

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