World Soil Day

Man, despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication and his many accomplishments, owes his existence to a 6-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains. – Anonymous


Surveying a wheat field which has had the straw incorporated back into the soil after harvest.

World Soil Day is held annually on December 5th to focus attention on the importance of healthy soil and advocate for sustainable management practices.  With all the food grown to feed the world produced on only 1/32nd of the planet, it’s easy to understand why our land resources deserve recognition.

Straw left behind after wheat harvest to be tilled back into the soil to add organic matter.

As farmers, this awareness is second nature and we continually strive for sustainability of this finite resource. Caring for our soils is crucial and the key to our viability as well as those who will farm our land in the future. Incorporating organic matter back into the soil and minimal tillage are an integral part of our farm’s management to obtain optimal soil health and structure. Reducing soil erosion and loss of nutrients are priorities.

Summerfallow used to be a commonplace practice on the prairies, and on our farm. But over time, it was learned long-term use of summerfallow actually degraded soil quality and was not sustainable, so the practice was discontinued.

Soil scientists, agronomists and farmers work together to create and keep our soils healthy. Soil testing, field mapping and GPS technology create maps and ‘prescriptions’ for fertilizer, ensuring it is being applied efficiently and only in amounts needed. Less tillage and efficient placement of fertilizer means less use of resources and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Education is ongoing and when we know better, we do better. Farmers have a deep connection to the land and the environment. Our workplace is also our home. The love of the our environment and growing food runs deep. We will continue to be stewards of the land and do our very best to care for the soil that sustains us all.

Soil Facts from The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

  • 95% of food is produced on our soils
  • There are more living organisms in a tablespoon of soil than there are people on earth
  • It can take up to 1000 years to form 1 centimeter of top soil
  • Most of the well-known antibiotics originated from soil bacteria, including penicillin
  • Healthy soils with a high organic matter content can store large amounts of water
  • More than 10 million people have abandoned their homelands due to drought, soil erosion, desertification and deforestation.
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When the sun called…

“I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as the autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne


“There is a muscular energy in sunlight corresponding to the spiritual energy of the wind.” — Annie Dillard

Winter arrived just before Halloween in Manitoba this year. But in 2016, fall lingered long into November before giving way to the cold and snow. Photo memories  of November 26th took me back to that incredibly gorgeous day when the sun called.

Cloud-cover had reigned for over a week and I was in sunshine withdrawal. So as I sat having my Saturday morning coffee, watching the sky brighten to the east through the trees, I knew my plans for the day would change. Even my second cup of coffee would have to wait.

I didn’t hesitate to set aside my long ‘to-do’ list. The dog and I headed out into the crisp, quiet morning air and walked to the end of our lane to catch those first beautiful rays of sun. This day was meant to be embraced and enjoyed — outside, not in the house.

“The poetry of the earth is never dead.” – John Keats

 

As we strolled though the yard, I was reminded why I am always reluctant to pull out my flowers once they are past their prime. Their beauty evolves with an elegant melancholy as the growing season draws to an end.

 

Everything glistened and seemed to come to life as the morning sun glinted off the light dusting of frost which had ‘painted’ the landscape overnight.

 

But as the temperature rose, the frost dissipated. The winds were calm and the sky oh so blue! Country roads were calling and I wasn’t about to decline the offer of taking in the beauty right out my backdoor.

 

Willow branches were vibrant against the bright blue sky.

Wild rosehips added a punch of colour in the ditches.

Nature’s art is everywhere! A milkweed seed-head looking rather duck-like!

Who doesn’t love a lone tree in the middle of the prairie?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A lone Hawthorne tree on the edge of our old cattle pasture. Can you tell the prevailing winds are from the west? And is it just me or does the outline of the branches appear to form a heart?

‘Hay’, check out that sky!

My trusty side-kick, game to wander through the old pasture.

Sunset through the trees along our lane.

That sunny Saturday ended up being our final farewell to fall last year.  A balmy, unseasonal +8 Celsius day that ended as striking and beautiful as it started.  A day I’m grateful I stopped to enjoy.  A day which reminds me to always listen when the sun calls…

 

Outdoor Treadmill

Outdoor Treadmill

No fees, set hours, restraints on time — 
my outdoor treadmill suits me fine .  

Prairie snow provides vast retreat,
 with snowshoes strapped beneath my feet.

Crunching of snow the only sound
as I walk atop frozen ground.

Crisp, cold air upon my face
heightens senses, worries – erased.

Bright sun reflecting on the snow
gives icy crystals sparkling glow.

Deer, rabbits, fox may happen by,  
or owl glide across the sky.

All of  this,  just out my door –
nature’s gym, yet so much more…

Grateful to have waiting for me,
such splendor and tranquility.

 

Sandi Knight
© 2017

Building Community – One Bag of Potatoes at a Time

Mark & Yanara Peters – Certified Seed Potato Growers

Is it possible to give away 35,000 lbs of potatoes in just under 5 hours? Why yes,      it is.  And growers, Mark and Yanara Peters were thrilled to make it a reality.  On October 14 they hauled in their potato trucks and a conveyor, from their farm 12 miles northwest of Portage la Prairie, and made it happen.

 

  Despite the cool Saturday morning, people were already lined up by 8:30 – a half hour before the Portage Community Potato Give-Away was slated to start. They came pushing strollers, riding bikes, walking and  on scooters, as well as by car and truck. Many heard about the event on local media or on-line, while others just happened by and wondered what all the fuss was about.

Well, the ‘fuss’ was about sharing a bountiful crop, building community, listening and sharing stories. It would be much simpler to take produce directly to a food bank or soup kitchen to distribute, but last fall at their first community give-away, the Peters discovered the magic in the one-on-one interaction. They don’t consider or mention the effort, time or cost that this intentional act of giving requires.  But they do remember and appreciate how generous people were with them as young adults and simply want to pay it forward.

Gathering spuds along the 36-foot conveyor

With the help of a few volunteers, people gathered around the conveyor – some approaching cautiously, unsure of what to do and/or in disbelief that could they take as many potatoes as they needed. As bags and boxes were filled, they opened up about their lives, and those of others whom they were helping. Grandmothers spoke of the after-school meals they make in their homes for children in their community. They are not only nourishing bodies, but souls and passing on their cooking skills to another generation.

 

Those who live alone took small bags for themselves, but many knew of families in need or shut-ins who would also appreciate the farm-fresh produce. Immigrants spoke of the gratitude they have for living in Canada and the joy in being reunited family members as they arrive. Some people were there to collect potatoes for perogy fundraisers or church dinners — supporting other needs in the community.

Food memories were shared — how family-favourite soups were made, preferred methods for cooking up spuds, whether it be fried, mashed or baked, which spices they like to use and if butter or gravy was the best. One young mom was taking the potatoes home to make Irish Potato Bread. She described how her grandmother, now living in a care home, had taught her to make it — her pride in carrying on tradition was evident.

Those who had excess garden produce — tomatoes, beets, carrots — brought it by to share with the crowd. Others dropped off bags and boxes to ensure those who didn’t have containers had something to cart their potatoes home in. One young family stopped by to get their spuds, then stayed to help others gather theirs.

Inadvertently, the event also offered an opportunity to agvocate (advocate for agriculture) and engage in farm to food discussions. The young ones in the crowd often opened up the best conversations. “Why are the potatoes dirty?” “How come there are so many different shapes and sizes” “Why are you giving them away?”        So discussions ensued on food waste, what happens to produce before you find it on your store shelves, and why it feels good to give back when you can.

Mark & Yanara Peters pausing for a photo as their Community Potato Give-Away drew to a close.

After last year’s giveaway, there was no doubt in the Peters’ minds that if given a successful crop, they would share again. This year, my husband and I were fortunate to be able to help and found out first-hand just why. Besides the stories, memories and agvocating, the gratitude expressed by those who came by was truly heart-warming. While some merely thanked you with a shy smile, others wanted to shake the farmer’s hand. Coffee and snacks were dropped off. One gentleman pressed a few coins into Peters hand, insisting he buy himself a coffee despite Peters repeating it was not necessary.

But the most touching moment for me was a grandmother, who put her hand on her heart,              looked Mark in the eye and expressed her deep appreciation, saying, “You don’t know what this means to us.” Then she reached across the conveyor and embraced Yanara in a hug.

If you’re going to build community, this is way to do it, face-to-face and heart-to-heart.

A voice at the table

Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

Minister Morneau,

Our family lives, farms and does business in south-central Manitoba. Like many who live in rural Canada, we strongly believe in supporting local businesses and professionals in our communities. Why? Not only because they are our neighbours, but because they support us.

They provide jobs for those who need off-farm income, for students and many others in our small towns. The service they give often goes above and beyond, because they know us so well. Local businesses and professionals support sports teams, school music programs, local fund-raising projects and refugee families; provide scholarships and bursaries to graduates; donate to community and hospital foundations and numerous charities. When a fellow citizen is in need they step up to the plate to help in whatever way they can. As with farmers, giving back is not done because it is expected but because it fills needs, builds a stronger community and many will say, “Because it is the right thing to do.”

Will your government step in to fill the void when their contributions are no longer possible because of your proposed 73% crippling tax rate, and an inability, or desire, to take on the risk of owning a business?  Your government committed to providing new opportunities for small business to grow. Please explain how that will be accomplished with your “Tax Planning Using Private Corporations”?

In Canada, 85% of businesses are small to mid-size, and of those, 55% are incorporated. Many do so for the same reasons as our family farm – succession planning, building a retirement, paying down debt and saving to grow our business. We are not using loopholes. We are following the existing set tax structure and rules. In order to survive, and have lending institutions provide us with financing, we must make a profit, which in turn fuels the local economy. We cannot succeed on a perpetual and ever-growing deficit.

Operating a business, making that decision to be your own boss and employ others, requires significant financial investment, time commitment, grit and determination. Like farmers, self-employed entrepreneurs have no employee benefits (employment insurance, retirement plans, sick or vacation pay, vacation pay, maternity/paternity leave etc). Their businesses too, are often passed on from generation to generation. Others may mentor employees, who are interested in taking over the reins, to ensure that business stays in the community.

But if your proposal goes through, why would anyone want to take the risk? It would be simpler and more advantageous to be a wage-earning employee. But who will provide employment? How does this new tax structure encourage the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs to stay in Canada? And who will be left to support our communities?

Minister Morneau, with your proposed tax changes, I am not only concerned for the viability and future for our family farm, but also for that of the business owners and professionals in my community. We are not the wealthy 1%. We are the hard-working, dedicated, middle-class — the very ones your government claims to be ‘protecting’. But double taxation, changes to capital gains, income splitting, passive income and estate taxes (up to 90%) will dramatically increase our overall tax burden. We are not against taxation, but believe it should be reasonable and the tax dollars you collect from us spent responsibly.

The changes you are proposing are the most sweeping to business taxes in 50 years, yet you are only allowing a brief 75 day consultation period, which ends October 2nd.

Chambers of commerce and agriculture organizations, along with a host of individuals across the country are requesting an extension. Why not let them have a voice at the table? Clarify what the changes entail. If we are misinformed, and our certified profession accountants and their firms are misinterpreting the intent of your reform, why not extend the deadline? Let’s have a broader, thoughtful discussion with everyone concerned. Closely examine at the short and long-term implications for individuals, families, businesses, professionals, their communities and our country.

 

We need to talk…

Minister MacAulay,

Thank you for taking time to sit down for an interview with Kelvin Heppner from Real Agriculture to address concerns regarding your government’s proposed tax changes — many say the most sweeping to business taxes in 50 years.

To be honest, your replies left me perplexed. Since farm organizations, farmers and accounting firms became aware of Finance Minister Morneau’s “Tax Planning Using Private Corporations” proposal, they’ve been raising concerns.

And as our industry was not consulted prior to the announcement, which coincidentally was during our busiest season, we’re asking for an extension on the incredibly short July 18th – October 2nd consultation period. Farmers have made time during harvest to reach out to you, Minister Morneau, Prime Minister Trudeau and other Members of Parliament with letters, phone calls, petitions and on social media. Yet when asked if you would speak up on our behalf, you state, “The fact is there’s really nothing to speak up against yet.” Have not heard our collective voices?

As farmers we take a significant risk every spring when we put a crop in the ground. We rely on Mother Nature to cooperate and hope for a decent harvest to recoup our investment in the fall. And then, we hope commodity prices reach the point to give us a decent return. We cannot demand an increase in the markets when our expenses go up, or our crops fail. Along with the financial risk, we have no employee benefits — vacation pay, pension plans, maternity/paternity leave etc. So how can you fairly compare our income to a wage-earning employee?

There is a major discrepancy between what you and the Finance Minister are saying and what accounting firms (BDOMNP) and certified professional accounts are telling us regarding the dramatic, negative impact on our businesses. Your reply, “What is the discrepancy, I’d have to ask,” , and “I would have to know what changes.”

The discrepancies include capital gains, income splitting, reasonableness tests, passive income (i.e. saving to upgrade/repair/expand to avoid deficit spending & keep debt load manageable), estate taxes and overall tax burden.

In regards to intergenerational transfers you state, “I’m not sure what the accountants are referring to,” and question “In what way?” (will it be more expensive.)

Many farms have, or are in the process of, incorporating in order simplify succession planning, make it financially viable for parents to retire while allowing their children to carry on the farm operation.  Only 16% of young people are coming back to the family farm and now it will cost up to three times more to pass it onto them than to sell to an outside entity. How can that be? And how will we maintain family farms that so many Canadians value and trust?

I look at our farm, and those around us — we are not the wealthy 1%. We are middle class — the very ones your government claims to be ‘protecting’. Come visit our homes, tour our farms, sit at our kitchen tables and see for yourself our perceived ‘tax shelters’.

You admit, “Perhaps there are problems. If there are, be sure we know. That’s why we have a discussion paper, to make sure we address the issues as well as we possibly can.” Yet, if the draft legislation is enacted, some measures are to be retroactively effective July 18, 2017.

Well Minister MacAulay, we are trying our best to convey our concerns — as are farm organizations, chambers of commerce and so many others. So please, speak up on our behalf. Extend the 75-day consultation period. Give all those impacted a chance to voice their concerns. Fully examine the effects these changes will have on agriculture, small businesses and our communities.

We work hard and take enormous risk in farming. That should not be punished and undermined by unfair taxation. If it is truly the wealthy you are after, revamp taxes accordingly.


To contact Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay:

E-mail: lawrence.macaulay@parl.gc.ca

Twitter: @L_MacAulay

Phone:  613-995-9325   Fax: 613-995-2754  (Ottawa,ON)
Phone:  902-838-4139   Fax: 902-838-3790  (Montague, PEI)

 

I want you to laugh

It has been a week since the Final Farewell and celebration of life for my dear friend, Claire. Our friendship, cultivated over 30 years, was rich with laughter, joy and a touch of mischief. We didn’t allow cancer to steal that and continued to celebrate life, share laughter and lattes, and create memories which will always make me smile. 💞

But grief is difficult to navigate, and at times overwhelming.  So often when someone dies the message we hear is, “Rest in Peace”.  I have never liked that phrase, and even less so, the acronym “RIP”.  So instead, I penned and posted this letter.  The response was overwhelming. We all need to find a way to carry our grief, and this has helped me, as well as others who loved her. 

Dear Claire,

You know me, always the rebel…I don’t want you to rest in peace. I know…can you believe it?

I want you to laugh. I want you to breathe and move with ease. Free of pain at last, I want you to golf, garden, walk and ride your bike. I want you to cruise in the ’66, windows down, music blasting. I want you to have shopping, lunch and movie dates. I want you to wander through your flower garden as you sip your morning coffee. I want you to enjoy a glass of wine, or two, as you watch sunsets from your favourite balcony in Maui.

I want you to look others in the eye and truthfully say, “I’m fine,” or better yet, “I’m fabulous!” I want your treasured moments of solitude to be free of worry and concern. I want you to sleep only because you are tired from a day well spent.

All those things cancer stole from you, I want you to have back. No resting easy for you my friend.  I want you to be joyful, content and happy. I want you to do whatever you damn well please, whenever you want. And just maybe you can find a friend or two, to stir up trouble with…but only the good kind, of course! 😉

Always with much love and laughter,

 Sandi

xoxoxoxo

Agvocating through art

Originally published in the July 13, 2017  issue of the Manitoba Cooperator


As farmers we don’t often have the opportunity to celebrate and showcase the crops we grow. So, when the opportunity arises, why not take it?

Earlier this year, our local arts centre asked for exhibit ideas for their boardroom gallery. Considering 2017 is canola’s 50th anniversary, I suggested a display of pictures, products and facts to celebrate. It was built around a blog post from last July entitled, Simply Canola, and inspired by the Canadian Agriculture and Food Museum in Ottawa. The museum is commemorating Canada’s 150th birthday and Canola’s 50th anniversary with a nation-wide travelling exhibition, “Canola: A Canadian Story of Innovation” as well as an on-site exhibit, “Canola! Seeds of Innovation.”

Leanne Campbell photo

By far, canola is one of the most recognized crops we grow. There is no doubt it is the shining star of agriculture across western Canada every summer when it blooms. It isn’t unusual to see people stopping alongside the road to snap a picture, or take a ‘selfie’ against its gorgeous sea of yellow. Even those of us who grow it, are taken in by the allure of those bright and beautiful blossoms. Case in point – my extensive collection of photos from 2016.

With less than two percent of Canadians living on farms, there is a huge disconnect between food producers and consumers. Surveys show consumers want to learn more. We’ve been advised to tell our story, our way. So why not tell it through art? Especially when you can celebrate a crop many people are familiar with on a visual level.

Simply Canola is a pictorial diary of the canola we grew on our farm last year. Twenty-six photos, displayed in date order, give a tour from emergence to harvest, from close-ups to landscapes to sunsets. I’m hoping they convey the pride we take in growing this iconic prairie crop. A display case with canola, a sample of products made from it and bright yellow note cards with canola facts add an element of education to the display.

Jennifer Dyck photo

Canola is so much more than a pretty backdrop on the prairie landscape under the summer sun. The impact it has had in Canada and around the world in just 50 years is astounding. As the world’s only “Made in Canada” crop, I’m pleased to have the opportunity to agvocate and celebrate it with my photography in our local community. To date feedback has been positive and encouraging, both from consumers and those in the ag industry.

If you are in Portage la Prairie, please stop by and enjoy our farm’s views and vistas of Simply Canola. The exhibit is on display at the Portage and Districts Centre (11 2 St NE, Portage la Prairie, MB) from June 20th – August 5th in the Boardroom.

Gallery Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 11:00am to 5:00pm     Click here for directions.      (Note: Boardroom Gallery closed Wednesdays 12:30pm-3:30pm)  


Comments on “Simply Canola” 

“Who knew? Well done!”

“Beautiful, picturesque and educational.”

“Thank you – for this great contribution to the industry.”

“Excellent way to capture beauty and education.”

“I learned so much about canola!”

“Beautiful memories of home.”

“Lovely…and educational.”

Let him fly…

Let him fly…

Swirls of wispy clouds dance
in stunning summer sky.
Lush green grass cools
bare toes and feet.
Laughter bubbles as he runs,
arms outstretched,
swerving, turning, circling –
“Look Mom, I’m an airplane!”
I join in,
follow his lead
’til we collapse,
giggling, smiling, cuddling…
enchanting moment of pure joy…

I look up at the nurse,
tears streaming down my face,
holding his tiny hand in mine.
“Okay,” I whisper, “let him fly…”
Monitors go silent,
all is still and quiet,
except my breaking heart…

Sandi Knight
© 2012

Roasted Sweet Potato & Garlic Hummus

I’ll admit, the first time I tried hummus I wasn’t impressed.  It very dry, over-powered with garlic and rather unpalatable — not a recipe I felt obliged to try! But after sampling a few store bought varieties  — roasted red pepper, caramelized onion — I thought maybe hummus wasn’t so bad after all.  Then I found a recipe for Sweet Potato Hummus at Alaska from Scratch  which converted me to the ‘pulse side’ of snacking!  I adapted it to use heart-healthy canola oil and incorporated a few great tips from a Roasted Butternut Squash Hummus recipe at Nita at Carrots & Cake. The result — a family favourite, kid-approved, delicious, addictive, smooth and creamy hummus! 

Roasted Sweet Potato & Garlic Hummus

Main Ingredients:

  • 1 medium sweet potato (approx 1 lb or 500 grams), drizzle of canola oil
  • 1 – 19 oz (540 ml) can chickpeas, drained & rinsed
  • 3 cloves *roasted garlic or 1 raw garlic clove
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 lemon, juiced (about 3 tbsp)
  • 1/4 cup hemp hearts (optional)

Spice Mixture:

  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • pinch of nutmeg

Garnish options:

  • Parsley
  • Green onions
  • Hemp hearts
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Grated or ground nutmeg
  • Paprika
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Cinnamon
  • Lemon rind

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Scrub the sweet potato & dry thoroughly. Pierce the skin 2-3 times with a knife or fork and lightly coat with a drizzle of canola oil.
  3. Place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake 45 min — 1 hour, until tender.
  4. Let cool, peel off skin, cut off any dark spots and cut into 4 —5 cm pieces.
  5. *If roasting garlic, toss cloves with a bit of canola oil, wrap in foil & place on baking sheet with the sweet potato. Garlic will take less time to roast so remove from oven after about 30 minutes.
  6. Drain & thoroughly rinse chickpeas.
  7. Toss chickpeas, sweet potato, garlic, canola oil, lemon juice, hemp hearts (if desired) & spice mixture into blender or food processor
  8. . Blend well, scraping down as needed. If it isn’t as smooth & creamy as you’d like, add more canola oil (or water), a tablespoon at a time, until it reaches desired consistency.

To serve, drizzle with canola oil and top with your choice of garnishes. Serve with crackers & raw veggies. This also makes a wonderful spread for sandwiches or wraps. Basically this hummus is so good, you will get very creative in finding ways to use it, other than just eating it ‘straight-up’ with a spoon — which, by the way, is totally acceptable!

Notes:

  • Roasted garlic is sweeter & less overpowering than raw garlic, hence only use 1 clove if opting for raw.  My family loves it either way!
  • Hemp hearts will add a nutty flavour & slightly change the consistency of the hummus, but they also add protein, fibre & healthy fats.
  • Encourage creativity in the kitchen by letting the kids help. They love to personalize their snack by choosing their own garnishes, crackers & veggies.

Storage:

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 -5 days, if it lasts that long…