By Connor Lynch
NAPANEE — By all rights, 57-year-old Napanee-area grain farmer and barn builder Ken Tulloch should be dead. Doctors predicted he’d never walk again and gave him the moniker “miracle boy” when he did. These days, Tulloch is not only walking but adamant he’ll farm again someday.
He doesn’t remember how it happened. Nobody knows. Perhaps the fabric roof came loose and knocked him over. Maybe he lost his balance or tripped.
It was the summer of 2018 and he was working in Prince Edward County on the Sea Cadets building, an 18-year-old fabric structure that needed a new roof. Tulloch was on the flat roof above the office, about eight ft. off the ground. The last thing he remembers was that he was going to undo the lacing of the fabric. He landed on top of two propane heaters and a pile of chairs. His head hit the cement. One of his four employees found him and thought he was dead until he rolled Tulloch’s comatose form over to get the blood out of his mouth and heard a gasp for air. Tulloch doesn’t remember that or being rushed to Kingston hospital or his crew finishing one of their contracted barns. He doesn’t even remember coming out of his coma a few weeks later.
He remembers waking up seven months after the accident in a hospital bed. The damage was extensive: His head had been split open and he had brain damage. Among the broken limbs: His left jaw, his right collarbone, his spine in three places and four ribs.
He left the hospital in February of 2019 for home care from a nurse and his wife, Janelle. His voice was relegated to a shallow whisper until the winter. He’s lost a third of his vision and can no longer read, went deaf in one ear and couldn’t eat solid foods. He had a tube inserted directly into his stomach until he transitioned to soup, then ice cream, he said. These days he can eat three-quarters of the foods he was used to. He still has to be very careful: If he doesn’t drink enough to flush his food down he can choke.
The community has rallied behind him: 250 people turned out for a community fundraiser when he was in the hospital. Just last month, there was another event in his honour.
About 150 people turned out at the Elgin Lion’s Club on Jan. 8 for a roast pork dinner and to award Tulloch a $500 bursary. It was the first time Tulloch had eaten pork in two years. I asked him how it was. “Ohhhhh.” He breathed a rich sigh. “Just great.”
The bursary was created in honour of 32-year-old Richmond dairy farmer Andrew Schouten, who died tragically in a car accident last year coming home from a friend’s wedding.
Renfrew County crop farmer Jennifer Doelman helped organize the bursary. Schouten was a Grain Farmers of Ontario delegate for district 13, Doelman’s district. The award is for farmers who’ve suffered through accident or tragedy to help them through and show them the community is behind them, and to honour Schouten and “remember his love of agriculture, his community service and his resiliency.”
Said Tulloch: “I was very overwhelmed with the generosity. I can’t say the words right now. Just the thought that people thought of me as a good candidate, was overwhelming for me. Blew me right out of the water.”
Tulloch said he planned to put a basic GPS unit in his tractor with the cash.
It seems like nothing came easy to Tulloch, who has lived through a series of trials. He lives on a farm that’s been in his family since 1832. He was born into dairy farming, which he took to readily. He was very involved by the time he was 17 and went to Kemptville College. He’s been involved with Junior Farmers and 4-H for years. He spent some time in an exchange program on a dairy farm in PEI. They wanted him to stick around. He decided to come home. He wanted a good, profitable farm. He was ambitious but grounded: “I just wanted to get a good stand of cows, with good protein and butterfat content, with a very good bacteria count, and to be proud of what I had.”
But dairy farming was not to be. The farm suffered through three barn fires, and three barn and herd rebuilds. To make a living on milking 28 cows, Tulloch supplemented his income with carpentry work and cheese making. He’d learned from his father, who was also a plumber, accompanying him on weekend calls and soaking up knowledge and meeting people. Through his teens and into his early 20s young Tulloch was a DJ, playing community events and weddings, and was in a couple of country bands.
When NAFTA discussions began in the 1980s, there was talk of ending supply management. Tulloch decided to sell the herd and the quota and focus on grain farming and carpentry. His side-hustle expanded when he started his construction company, Ken Tulloch Construction Ltd., in 1987. Then it was just him and his dad. They’d built up a client base over the years and word got round that the two were handy. A farmer wanted him to rebuild after a fire. So he did. Then another farmer heard about it and Tulloch built him a barn too. Things snowballed from there.
Tulloch cemented his legacy for craftsmanship. An OMAFRA engineer was so impressed with one of Tulloch’s first barns – built on flat rock — that he came out to take pictures to implement the design into the Ontario Building Code.
Tulloch still owns both of the farms that were in his family. One he rents out, since he can’t drive anymore. He’s still busy with physiotherapy these days, but he’s kept the one farm going with help from family and friends. “I can’t let my land go to weeds. I wanted to keep a crop on it and keep it flourishing.” His son planted and took off a crop of soybeans for him this year; he’s hoping his son will take over the farm.
Tulloch had to sell his construction business; his accident pushed him into retirement. “I still have my low times,” he said. “I just have to look straight ahead.”
Miracle man: Farmer broke his spine in a fall and was in a coma for three weeks but lived
By Connor Lynch