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Mar 10, 2021

The Rundown

In this episode, you’ll hear the remarkable story of the Farmerettes, a brigade of young Ontario women who saved the crops of Southern Ontario during World War II. You may not have heard of the Farmerettes, I know I hadn’t until prepared for this interview, but it’s a story you won’t forget. 

Next up our intergenerational gardening gurus Mark and Ben Cullen give us some tips on why waiting for May 24 to plant is a mug’s game. So two stories about getting back into the good earth.

By the way, if you want to read Harrowsmith Magazine instead of listening to it you can subscribe to the print version online at and you can find Harrowsmith Magazine on selected newsstands across Canada. But for now, settle in for the next half hour of Harrowsmith Radio.

The Farmerettes

In 1939 the stain of the Second World War spread across The Atlantic to Canada, pulling Canadian men and women overseas to fight. In Southern Ontario that meant fertile farmlands and orchards would be soon would soon be swollen and laden with fruits and vegetables that would rot while able farmhands were fighting Germany. Fortunately, that summer and until 1952 over 20,000 high school girls from Ontario and Quebec enlisted in a homegrown brigade called the Farmerettes. Lured with a promise of sunshine, adventure, and exclusion from final exams, they left their homes and took trains, boats, and bicycles to become newly minted farmers in the fields of gold and green. They stayed in converted sheds and barns, become close friends, smoked corncob pipes, fell in love, and even fell in with good-natured motorcycle gangs. And, they saved the crops and fed the troops. Bonnie Sitter and Shirleyan English have documented the story of the Farmerettes in a wonderful book called “Onion Skins and Peach Fuzz - Memories of Ontario Farmerettes". The book contains letters the Farmerettes sent home to anxious parents and is packed with evocative black and white photographs. And, it was a photograph that Bonnie Sitter found in her late husband’s photo album that started her on her path to harvest Farmerettes tales. 

You can buy a copy of the book here.

Early Planting with the Cullens    

You might think in the earliest days of spring, that you’ve got plenty of time before you have to turn your hand to gardening. But, you would be wrong. Yes, May 24 may seem a long way off but there is plenty you can do now, and score early garden bounty in the process. And, here to give us the details are those early birds Mark and Ben Cullen. Get more great gardening advice from this duo at

End Notes
Want more Harrowsmith? No problem. Visit our website. You can find Harrowsmith magazine at selected newsstands across Canada. Or, you can order subscriptions online at

By the way, the music in the podcast? It's by good ol' Canadian singer, composer, and friend of the 'cast, David Archibald. You can find more of his music at his website,