Timing is everything — especially in farming

Storm rolling in a sunset over a soybean field

Dear September,

You sure weren’t yourself this year. The warm, sunny, dry, harvest days you usually provide happened ever so briefly the first week you were here. Then the rains, which we had longed for all spring and summer, came pouring down, bringing a sudden halt to harvest for the remainder of the month. What was up with that?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that we didn’t appreciate you bringing some much-needed moisture to our drought-stricken area of Manitoba. But you really threw us a curve-ball. Over 3 times the amount of rain we had all growing season – in your brief 30 days here — was, well…badly timed.

If only you could have relinquished, at least a portion of, those excessive rains to May, June and July. You must know those are the ever-important formative months of growth for plants.

Didn’t you see us watching the skies in dire hopelessness, praying for moisture, as our crops and hay-lands struggled to grow and thrive? It was heartbreaking to see them dry up from excessive heat and lack of moisture, creeks run dry and river levels at record lows. Not sure if you caught the news, but twelve municipalities across Manitoba declared an agriculture state of emergency as drought and grasshoppers hindered crops.

So September, you can understand our disappointment and frustration, when you come along and completely shut down what little harvest we had with your heavy rains, hail, and in some parts of the prairies — snow.

It’s not that we’re ungrateful to you for restoring soil moisture and bringing pastures back to life for livestock in drought-stricken areas, but you got a little carried away with the “2nd wettest September in 150 years”. And snow? That was just mean.

You’re right, you’re right. Not all farmers are in the same boat. Some of us did manage to get all, or most of, our wheat and canola in the bins. Yes, others, in parts of the prairies where rains were more timely during the growing season, had healthier crops and better yields. But do you have any idea how difficult it is to sit and watch a bountiful crop deteriorate in quality and value from too much rain and snow? Or be totally decimated in a hail storm?

It might be hard for you to understand, but our income is totally dependent on the weather. Every. Single. Year. The timing of weather events is crucial for our crops to thrive and be harvested. When one or several months don’t deliver what is required, the toll it takes on farmers, and their families, is financially, emotionally and even physically exhausting. And I’m sorry to say, September, but you added even more stress and anxiety, which we really didn’t expect. After all, you are normally the driest month.

To date, October is following your lead with cloudy, dreary days, albeit with a little less rain. And now snow? For potentially the next 5 days? But we still need at least a few weeks of warm, sunny, dry weather.

Just take a look around. Potato and vegetable growers are struggling in the mud trying to salvage their crop before frost hits and destroys them as happened last year. There’s a hay shortage. It’s critical for livestock producers to get their silage made, and secure any other available feed and straw to ensure they can care for their animals over the winter months. And surely you see the all the wheat, canola, soybeans, sunflowers, corn and many other crops still out there — wet conditions and muddy fields making it a challenge to get to them.

So much food, feed and even next year’s seed is waiting to be harvested across the prairies. Some of it deteriorating beyond the point of being salvaged. So many resources have gone into growing it all. You might not be able to see the stress and turmoil the caretakers of those crops are going through, but with each passing day, it grows.

I know. What’s done is done. You’re sorry you were off your usual harvest-weather game this year. So what do I want you do about it now?

Well, could you please pass on a message to October? Enough is enough. Stop with the rain and snow. Please send a long stretch of decent harvest weather. The farmers of western Canada could really use a break.


If you or someone you know is struggling with this challenging year, please reach out for help. 

Do More Ag – Resources:   www.domore.ag/resources/

Manitoba Farm, Rural and Northern Support Services:    www.supportline.ca

Calm in the Storm:    www.calminthestormapp.com

 

Community. Connection. Canola.

Food Day Canada is an annual celebration of Canadian food held on the first Saturday of August. It honours farmers, ranchers, fishers and processors by serving local and regional food and beverages.

But this year, I want to turn the tables to acknowledge, celebrate and thank a special community. A diverse, talented, inquisitive and caring community I would never had met without the Canola Eat Well team from the Manitoba Canola Growers.

Over the years they have organized farm tours, community summits, in-person and on-line food events. Opportunities for this prairie farm girl, and farmers from across Canada, to met chefs, registered dietitians, home economists, recipe developers, food writers/bloggers, scientists and media personnel from coast to coast.

It has provided the chance to share stories and have thoughtful, insightful conversations about food and farming. It has created friendships and meaningful connections.

Our #CanolaConnect community is a special one in many ways. The recent, thoughtful actions of those in it have inspired this post. Below is my thank you to them.


Flowering Canola

Dear Canola-Connect Community,

Since China banned Canadian canola exports, your support and concern for canola farmers has been phenomenal. Your response has emphasized the power and importance of connection and community.

So on Food Day Canada, I want to celebrate you – the chefs, registered dietitians, home economists, recipe developers, food writers/bloggers and media personnel. Your voices as food communicators are valued and important.

In the recent months, you have called on Canadians to include canola oil when they ‘support local’. You have highlighted not only the versatility and nutritional value of our made-in-Canada oil, but the impact of exports to farmers, the industry and our economy.

As I’ve watched you on your television spots or Facebook lives, read your blogs or social media posts, I’ve often had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Your shout-outs, your recipes, your unwavering support, really make a difference to me.

It may not change trade disputes or the outcome of this year’s crop, but it makes it easier to deal with the difficulties. Knowing someone cares. Knowing someone supports you. Knowing someone appreciates what you grow.

Using your talents and passion for what you do to share our stories with your audience makes my heart sing. Every time you make a shout-out to farmers, Canadian food, give the facts behind canola oil and food in general, I’m cheering from the sidelines!

Whether we have met in person at Harvest Camp, Canola Summit, cooking demos or on-line through #canolaconnect, I want to express my gratitude and appreciation. Thank you for your curiousity, interest and desire to learn. For connecting with farmers and understanding the complexities of food production. For appreciating where our food comes from as well as the risks and challenges associated with it.

As Ellen Pruden, Canola Eat Well Director, so wisely stated, “Acts of support are like acts of kindness. They do something to lift people up and make a difference.”

Jennifer Dyck photo


#CanolaConnect Blog Posts

Canada’s Crop: Why I Choose Canola

We Support Canadian Farmers

Opinion: A love letter to you

 

 

 

 

 

Grandma’s Berry Patch

In the cool morning air, the sun’s dappled light plays through towering trees near Grandma’s raspberry patch. A light breeze keeps mosquitoes at bay. Glistening dew on succulent red berries makes them irresistible.  As we start to pick the lucious fruit, my cousins and I declare, “One for the bucket, two to taste-test!”  Aunts and mothers scold us; uncles and fathers simply smile and wink as they pop berries into their mouths. 

This vivid memory always comes back to me this time of year. The family gathering on my grandparent’s farm to pick raspberries, visit and reconnect.

Adults headed down the long rows of raspberries first, children behind them to pick lower berries the older generation missed. Following the men seemed to ensure more fruit was left behind. They always appeared more intent on visiting than gleaning every berry in front of them.

Light-hearted conversations were interspersed with laughter and teasing as the adults caught up on each others’ lives.

Some years, picking would come to a momentary halt when a bird’s nest would be found cleverly built within the canes — usually robins. Sometimes the nest held only small blue eggs but we loved it best when the eggs were hatched, and baby birds eagerly opened their beaks looking for food.

Once pails were filled to the brim, the bounty was taken back to Grandma’s kitchen. The men would visit on the porch while the women carefully poured the fruit onto cookie sheets to hasten the cleaning process. Tiny twigs, leaves and bugs would be expertly removed, comments made about the abundant debris found in some of the buckets. The males of the clan often declared themselves the quickest berry-pickers, but that didn’t necessarily mean they were the most efficient.

Regardless, bowls of delicious berries would be readied for everyone, covered with cream from that morning’s milking. No matter how many we’d consumed while picking, we’d happily gather with the adults in the shade to enjoy more.

A pail or two were set aside for each family to take home. The remainder quickly processed into jam, or canned for later use. Sometimes Grandma would make pies. No matter how hot it was outside, she preferred to use the wood stove, claiming the crust and flavour were far superior to baking in the electric range. We couldn’t disagree — her pies were fabulous!

For Grandma, this summer ritual was about gathering food you’d grown, not letting anything go to waste and sharing with family. I doubt if she knew she was preserving far more than berries — she was preserving memories. Memories which would carry on long after she was gone. Memories which return without fail every year when raspberry season comes around. Memories I will always cherish.

Waiting on the weather…

An early evening storm rolled along Highway 16. The heat of the +33 Celcius day dissipated as a much-needed rain began to fall. A rainbow arched across the sky ahead of me, beckoning me home from my road trip to a nearby town.

As I turned on the windshield wipers, I let hope slip in for the ride. Maybe, just maybe, the storm would reach our farm. But the closer I got to home, the lighter the rain became. The showy rainbow held out, but only a mere 3 millimeters* of precipitation fell. We needed 10–15 times that much. Crops suffering from lack of moisture, dry pastures and haylands in our area, would get no relief that night.

And unfortunately, not much in the weeks since. The heat is intense, temperatures about 10 degrees above normal. It feels like August, yet it is only the end of June.

We are still waiting on the weather, longing and hoping for a significant rainfall. We’re not saying the ‘D’ word (drought) out loud yet, but it’s in the back of our minds.

Last year was tough. Rains were spotty and more often than not, they missed our farm. It was a long, hot, dry, dusty summer. Harvest was discouraging with below-average yields. There were no celebratory moments. It was a year of trudging through, filled with worry, concern and disappointment. When the rains finally came in the midst of harvest, there was a bit of relief — at least soil moisture was building for next year.

Now here we are, looking at a seemingly carbon-copy of last year — possibly worse. It’s difficult to remain positive and hopeful for the growing season ahead.

As a result, I find myself reluctant to share our farming story. Even writing, which usually flows easily for me, has become a challenge. I want to be open and transparent, to convey an understanding of what we do and the crops we grow. But right now, concern outweighs good news. There is no joy in photographing crops that aren’t lush and healthy. And how do you talk about tough times without sounding like you’re complaining? After all, this is our chosen field of work.

A friend gently reminded me, as I was deflecting worry and not doing a good job at trying to be upbeat, it is perfectly normal to be concerned about your livelihood. Farming isn’t easy. Being authentic means being honest about tough times as well. Even if it makes us feel vulnerable.

So truth be told, the worry and weight of farming last year, and again now, is a tough slog. Watching the sky, chasing rainbows and counting raindrops takes an emotional toll. For me, gratitude is a daily practice. I strive to find the beauty in every day and share optomistic, encouraging moments. But even the most positive attitude can’t shift the weather. And as much as I try to push worry away, it still sits on my shoulders, jostling for position with hope.

The weather always determines the outcome, and our income. Every. Single. Year. You would think, after 30 years of farmlife, I’d be used to it. But that 100% reliance on Mother Nature is the most difficult reality of farming.

I’m not sharing this for sympathy, but rather empathy and understanding — for farmers everywhere. Imagine if the weather determined your paycheck. You work the equal amount of time every year, your living costs remain the same, or may even go up, but if it rains too much or too little, your take-home pay is cut — perhaps by 25% – 50%, or possibly more.

So if farmers appear to be obsessing or complaining about the weather, it’s because that connection ultimately decides the results of their labours — even when they’ve done everything within their control, to the best of their ability.

Lack of rain is causing stress and anxiety in our area of the prairies. Eastern Canada has struggled with excessive rains and flooding, wreaking havoc with planting. Cutting hay for livestock feed has been extremely challenging. The excitement and optimism a new growing season generally brings has been dashed for many.

So if you know a farmer, reach out – ask how they are really doing. Listen to concerns. Get together for a coffee, a meal, a movie. It won’t change the reality of too little or too much rain, but it always makes a difference knowing someone else cares. Often simply sharing our worries out loud, lightens the emotional load.

As for me, you’ll still see those positive posts and gorgeous prairie sunsets, but I’ll strive to be more open about the difficulties and disappointments as well. For now, it’s still eyes to the sky, waiting on the weather and a desperately-needed rain.

 

 


*Millimeter to inch conversion:    25 mm = 1 inch

Not as strong as I think I am

Originally published in the Manitoba Co-operator August 2, 2018


I thought I was doing fine. Not too worried or concerned. I kept telling myself, it would all work out, and if it didn’t we’d be okay.

We’ve always had a crop. We would this year too. It wouldn’t be a bumper crop. Not even an average one, but after being married to a farmer for 29 years, I knew the risks. Only two years ago, we’d struggled with the reverse — three months of excessive rain. Weather challenges are not a shock nor surprise. Disappointing, yes, but I know worrying doesn’t change it, or help me in any way.

So I tucked my worries away, concerned for the pressure my farmer was feeling, but confident I was dealing well with the lack of rain. I kept busy, focused on other things, took advantages of get-togethers with friends and carried on.

Then on June 29th it rained! Such relief! We woke to 13.4 mm in the rain gauge! The most substantial rainfall we’d had all spring. The crops looked so much better that day.

But I noticed something else. I felt happier, lighter. There was a spring in my step I hadn’t had for a while. I was smiling more. Despite believing I was dealing well with the drought-like conditions, it was still a weight I carried on my shoulders. I wasn’t immune to worry. Damn. Not as strong as I think I am.

I talked to a couple of other farming friends who could relate. It was a reminder to be aware, to look out not only for our farming partners in times of stress, but also to look after ourselves. To talk about what’s going on if we need to, even if we don’t want to be seen as that person complaining about the weather — again, despite those concerns being valid.

The business of producing food has many rewards, but it isn’t easy dealing with the weather-dependent aspect of farming. We can do absolutely everything to the best of our ability but ultimately Mother Nature holds the cards, determines the outcome — and our income. Every. Single. Year. I’m not sure it’s a risk you ever get used to, so finding ways to cope is important.

Building a support system helps. Personally I have friends — farming and non-farming — who truly understand and are always there for me. I met with a counselor last winter whose door is always open any time I need to talk. As well, there are many resources available at Manitoba Farm, Rural and Northern Support Services.

More recently, the Do More Ag Foundation was founded by a group of people passionate about mental health in agriculture. They are not only creating awareness, educating and breaking the stigma, but are also creating a community for people to connect and find the resources they need — national, provincial and territorial — in times of stress and anxiety.

Through their website I discovered there’s even an app for that. Calm in the Storm is a free app, created by mental health professionals in Manitoba, launched in December 2014. The easy to use app and website are designed to reduce, manage, and learn about stress in your life using clinically proven information and strategies. Features include guided audio meditations, tools for assessing your stress with ways to customize and track your experience and even create a personalized safety plan.

A helpful tool for anyone and one I will be exploring as our crops continue to struggle with lack of rain. The recent heat wave has taken its toll on our farm and those around us. Other areas have been hit hard with storms and hail. With farming we rarely get the perfect year, but the extremes are especially challenging. The hold the weather has on our lives and livelihoods can, at times, be tiring.

A friend recently posted a picture of a canola field damaged by hail, stating, “Farmers are proud to share the good stories but suffer silently with the bad ones.” So true. It is much easier to share our successes than our hardships. But the culture is slowly shifting, for the better. There is more openness, increased awareness and many resources available for our mental well-being. No need to suffer silently in times of stress. Strength is being redefined. It no longer means carrying the load on your own.


Links:

Do More Ag – Resources:   www.domore.ag/resources/

Manitoba Farm, Rural and Northern Support Services:    www.supportline.ca

Calm in the Storm:    www.calminthestormapp.com

 

 

Precision Plant Breeding – Clarifying ‘What’s in a name?’

Originally published April 26, 2018 in the The Manitoba Cooperator 


Canola Blossoms

Science has always led the way in agriculture, and continues to do so today. Yet advances in plant breeding are being met with skepticism, fear and vehement opposition by many consumers.

Perhaps we aren’t listening closely enough to their concerns. Because we understand the science, we assumed they would too. We’ve failed in telling our story, or at least to the right people. Farmers are great at connecting with other farmers but we need to go beyond our online echo chambers and ensure we’re reaching the end-users.

While we’ve lagged behind, fear-based marketing campaigns have swayed consumers while activists continue to stand in the way of efficient, leading-edge plant breeding methods.

We’re frustrated, but we shouldn’t be surprised.

At medical appointments when doctors use confusing terminology, we stop and ask them to explain in terms we can understand. The same can be said for any expert – they know the technical terms and acronyms specific to their fields, but if they’re trying to convey a message, layman’s terms are needed.

Yet in agriculture we continue to use terms such as GMO, GE, GM, transgenic, CRISPR, TALEN, genome/gene editing and biotech crops. No wonder there is apprehension and confusion. Even when people do not know what a GMO is, they believe it something that should be feared and avoided. See “What’s a GMO?” for Jimmy Kimmel’s take on the subject. He sent a camera crew to a farmers’ market near his studio to ask people what they thought GMO meant.

GMO is now a widely recognized, often misused and misunderstood term. It’s used extensively by media and marketers alike. We can’t abandon it, but we can shift to clearer, all-encompassing terminology which covers all the latest advances.

No matter the type of plant breeding used over the last 10,000 years, the goal has always been the same – genetic improvement. Make the plants better – disease and insect resistant, improved qualities and yields. With newer technologies now available, the process has become extremely precise and efficient. “Precision plant breeding” covers it all in clear, concise and understandable language.

The term is a welcoming, open door to further the conversation as to the benefits on our farms, to the environment, the consumer and those in developing countries.

Precision plant breeding is one of the tools available to help feed our ever-growing world and adapt to changes in the environment. It offers solutions to famine, malnutrition, drought, flooding and disease.

We can’t expect unequivocal acceptance without explanation. We need to effectively communicate to the masses the what, when, why, where and how.

Clearer language is a positive step forward in taking down fences of fear and building bridges of understanding.

Not everyone will be on the same page. But hopefully there will be enough consensus to lead the world to the ultimate goal – abundant, safe, affordable food for all.

No longer a silent “D”

Slowly, silently, stealthily it snuck up on me. Going about my day-to-day activities, I had no idea it was approaching and ready to swallow me. Then one day, I couldn’t stop crying. I didn’t know why. I had everything I needed and more. Two beautiful, healthy young children. A wonderful husband who loved me unconditionally. Amazing, supportive, loving family and friends. My health. My home. Life was better than I ever imagined it could be, yet the overwhelming sadness and despair won’t leave.

I tried to fight through it, shake it off, tell myself to smarten up, get over it. I was strong, capable, determined – or at least I used to be… Now I was so tired, spent, useless. But the more I slept, the more exhausted I became. I wanted to be alone. I couldn’t think clearly. I couldn’t focus. The simplest tasks took all my energy. I just didn’t care anymore. I was confused, but above all else – I was really scared. I had no idea what was happening to me.

That was 1995. After confessing my feelings to family, I went for counselling and eventually group therapy for — depression. I hated the “D” word and all that it represented. Beyond a couple of trusted family members, I told no one. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. Admitting I was depressed made me feel weak. I should have been able to deal with ‘it’ on my own.

My counsellor was kind, understanding, compassionate and made me see otherwise. She had me write down what had happened in my life during the last year. The first 6 months were rather uneventful, but then my mother died. Followed by the deaths of my husband’s grandfather and his great aunt. On the heels of those losses was the birth of our second child, a beautiful baby girl. Shortly after I met my biological father, whom I hadn’t seen since I was 2 years old.

After learning of this chain of events, my counselor replied, “And you’re wondering why you’re struggling?” I responded, “But not everything’s been sad – look at the birth of my daughter and meeting my dad. Other people have so much worse going on in their lives.”

Growing up, no matter what happened, we’d always been told how lucky we were, how so many others were worse off than us, to not complain, to be grateful. Her reply, “That doesn’t take away your right to grieve.”

Grieve? I thought I had done that, but looking back, so much emotion was shoved aside as I ‘got on with it’ and did what needed to be done, or what I perceived was required of me. I didn’t realize that grieving also involved ‘what might have been’ if I my biological father had been part of my life. Postpartum depression was likely also part of the equation although I do not remember it being the focus. It took several months, but eventually I felt healthy, strong and vibrant again. I can’t remember if medication was ever discussed, but for me,  counselling worked. Afterwards I quietly tucked that part of my life away.

It took years before I ever mentioned my depression to anyone, and then only to trusted sources or someone who spoke to me about their struggles. The response 99% of the time was, “You? Depressed? But you’re always so upbeat and happy!”

Actually, not always. And when you live and work on the farm, it is easy to ‘hide’. If you can, you avoid going out in public. When you must go, you quickly learn the best times to avoid seeing too many people. You arrive late and leave early. You find ways to deflect other’s asking, “How are you?”

This past summer, depression came slowly creeping back again. I didn’t recognize it at first. But by late fall, the feelings of overwhelming sadness, fatigue and inability to concentrate seemed all too familiar. I had been avoiding ‘peopling’ whenever possible for fear of tears uncontrollably flowing. I could feel myself spiraling downward but I didn’t want to hit bottom. I didn’t want to return the dark place I was in 1995. I wanted to grab a lifeline. So I did.

I started by being honest with everyone around me. When asked how I was doing (and I knew they genuinely wanted to know), I told them. I made an appointment with my doctor. Without hesitation, he discussed possible solutions including medication and counselling. I chose the latter but knew if I needed more help, it was only a phone call away. I was able to see my counsellor within a couple of weeks. In the meantime I continued on with yoga and bootcamp classes even though being in public was difficult and uncomfortable. I recognized physical activity benefited my mental state. And I walked…and walked. If I accomplished nothing else in a day, I was okay with that. Self-care became priority.

What a difference 22 years has made.

Depression didn’t make me feel weak, ashamed or afraid. I was disappointed to see it overtake me again but was grateful I recognized it. I knew how to reach for help and it wasn’t hard to find. And I realized that being honest and open doesn’t make us vulnerable, it just makes us human.


Need help or someone to talk to? Consulting with your healthcare provider or another trusted professional is always a great start.  Click on the links below for lists of places to call, text or chat across the country. 

Manitoba Farm, Rural & Northern Support Services 1-866-367-3276

Farm Stress Line – Saskatchewan 1-800-667-4442

Alberta Health Services 1-877-303-2642

Canadian Crisis Centres

Crisis Services Canada 1-833-456-4566

Bell Let’s Talk 

Mental Health in Farm Language 

 

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.

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…

 

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.