"This lamb was born yesterday," says Bill Stearman, leading me to a dimly lit pen where a white curly-haired youngster circles around her mother, looking for milk. Malibu and 60 other lambs will begin their lives this year at the Willow Garden Shetland Sheep Farm.
Bill is one of the growing number of LGBT farmers, artists, and business people settling in Prince Edward County. They're drawn by the greenery, the century homes just begging for a designer's touch, the vineyards and the open-minded rural culture.
Bill has been raising sheep here for seven years; he's found a new way of life, as a farmer who happens to be gay.
"In the city, most of my friends were gay and most of what I did centred around that. Here, most of what I do centres around sheep farming."
Being single in the country is different, but not worse. "There isn't the same pressure as in the city. I wouldn't be sitting here in my overalls: in the city, you have to be perfect. If you walk down Church St. you have to wear the right clothes and have the right body from the right gym. Here, you can just be you. I have gay and straight friends, I have family; I'm not lonely."
Bill grabs his pails of grain and we go to the open-air dining area.
"Sheep! Sheep!" he calls, and dozens of woolly puffballs on legs come running. Older lambs jostle with ewes and rams – the food disappears in minutes.
Bill says he's seen more homophobia in cities such as Toronto and Belleville. "It's comfortable here and you don't have to worry. There's a person with a beard and breasts who happily walks down the main street in Picton and nobody cares."
Carlyn Moulton, who co-owns the Oeno Gallery nearby, calls it the "So-What Factor," and says people are bonded much more by things other than sexual orientation.
Carlyn and her partner attend a couple of potluck dinners every month, something they never did in the city. They've helped organize a potluck dinner party (there is no other kind, apparently) for me to meet some gay and lesbian community members.
When we gather, at a sumptuously renovated Greek Revival century home, the conversation quickly veers away from anything related to being gay or lesbian. It seems the more significant social identities have to do with how you feel about ATVs running amok on county roads, an issue that was hotly debated in a town-hall meeting in Picton a few days ago.
Bruno François and Jens Korberg moved from Toronto in 2005, and are hoping to get their first commercial harvest from their vineyard this year (Welcome to The Old Third Vineyard
"We have a better social life here and we go out more often, to potlucks and dances," says Bruno. "We have more friends than we did in the city and our friends are more varied." Jens says they're going square-dancing tomorrow night. "We went a month ago and it was so much fun."
Pat Hacker and Marie Frye own the Slickers Ice Cream shop (Slickers All Natural Homemade Ice Cream
) on Bloomfield's Main Street, and they're aware that some locals have difficulty defining their relationship.
"But anyone would pull us out of a ditch, anytime," says Marie. They're more renowned for their ice cream, which comes in flavours like rhubarb ginger and basil.
The topic of food keeps coming up; it's clearly a countywide obsession. Local restaurants and supermarkets are supporting regional farming and food production with spectacular results for the visitor. During my short stay I taste local rainbow trout, maple syrup, lavender goat cheese, and chipotle pepper chocolate bark. Local wines are growing in reputation and the county is a new Designated Viticultural Area, allowing vintners to label local wines as "VQA Prince Edward County."
I opt for herbal tea when I drop in to the B and B owned by Kenneth Noble and Gary Vickers. It's a carefully restored Victorian mansion in Bloomfield with antiques and flowery wallpaper (Renlea House Bed & Breakfast, Bloomfield, Bed and Breakfast Accommodation
). Ken and Gary are fiercely in favour of the kind of social integration I heard about at the dinner party. Only about 5 per cent of their guests are gay or lesbian and they don't approve of all-gay guest houses. Their relationship has never been an issue, but they know of gay folks who are not so well accepted, usually because they don't get involved in the community.
"I'm quite mouthy," admits Gary. "If they'll accept me, they'll accept anybody."