Agvocating through Experience

 

Originally published in the Manitoba Co-operator October 18, 2018


Tracy Wood & Taralea Simpson

Tracy Wood and Taralea Simpson knew they found the perfect spot when they discovered a 95-acre wooded river lot just outside of Portage la Prairie was for sale.

Having long dreamt of owning their own farm-stay, bed and breakfast business, the sisters officially opened “Farm Away Retreat” last month.

With their roots deeply embedded in agriculture, advocating for the industry was an integral part of their business model.

“Agriculture is who we are, it’s what shaped us, it’s what we do now for jobs, it’s where we spend our volunteer hours at — from 4-H to fair board to educating kids at the school level to 4R nutrient management promotion,” said Wood. “We want to bring our knowledge, first-hand experience and love of agriculture to those who are eager to learn more. Plus, there is really no place exactly like this anywhere nearby.”

The sisters grew up on a farm south of Portage la Prairie. Both furthered their education at the University of Manitoba — Wood with a Diploma in Agriculture and Simpson with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture Degree.

Wood and her husband, along with their two sons, operate a 250-head cow-calf operation. She obtained Equine Assisted Learning Certification in 2014 and began her business, “Touch of Equine”. Currently, she is also General Manager for the Portage Industrial Exhibition Association.

Simpson has worked as agrologist for the last 25 years, and runs a 50-head cow-calf operation with her daughter and husband.

With their busy schedules, assistance from family and friends was crucial.

“Honestly, it’s a bit hectic at times. Our new business is like an extension of our existing family farms. Through the help of family and some great friends we are able to make it work. It takes organization, teamwork and communication,” Simpson acknowledged. “I think all those things are skills we have learned from 4-H, our farms, our jobs etc. Our ultimate goal is to transition to Farm Away full time as soon as it can support itself independently.”

Wood extensively researched both bed & breakfast and care farm (the use of farming practices for providing or promoting mental or physical healing, social or education services) before the sisters decided on how they would run their farm-stay business. Bridging the ever-growing urban-rural divide was one of their main goals.

“We want people to come and immerse themselves in agriculture and nature, to experience it first hand. Ask questions and hopefully leave feeling they understand more about where their food comes from,” explained Wood.

They see a wide variety of opportunities to do this, with their motto, “Gather – Learn – Stay” guiding the way.

Pasture tours are complimentary to anyone who stays and offer the opportunity to discuss hay processing, pasture and land management. Calving dates for the various family herds are September/October, February/March and April/May. Winter provides the experience of feeding and bedding for the cattle.

Horses, sheep and chickens are on-site with ‘guest appearances’ from occasional cows, calves and pigs. Lambing takes place throughout the year and Equine Assisted Learning runs from spring to late fall.

While the farm experience is an integral part of Farm Away, it also offers the opportunity to simply relax and enjoy the peace and quiet of country life. It’s a perfect spot for photo shoots. The house is surrounded by meticulously, manicured gardens. An outdoor pool provides a place to cool off on a hot summer day. Trails and walking paths are abundant. You can wander through an old farmhouse filled with antique decor.

Wood and Simpson are quick to acknowledge the previous owners for the love and care they put into the property which perfectly suited their vision. Serendipity played a part as it only took two weeks to find once they decided to pursue their dream together.

Financing a new business is always a challenge, but the sisters admit the first and toughest hurdle they faced was believing they could do it. “It’s daunting to step out of the familiar and into something new, admitted Simpson. “Putting the plan into place and how to make it happen was challenging.”

The biggest rewards to date has been the enthusiasm of others – those who have visited the property or checked out the website are cheering them on, supporting and encouraging them in their venture.

Knowledge is nothing unless you share it with others. These two passionate agvocates are taking that message to heart. They hope the first-hand experiences they are offering at Farm Away will leave a lasting impact and better understanding of agriculture with each and every guest.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” ― Benjamin Franklin

Their advice to anyone wanting to follow their agvocating through experience model: Do your research, talk to people to get ideas. Don’t be afraid to take a chance. Do something you are passionate about.


 

For more information visit www.farmawayretreat.com

E-mail:  hello@farmawayretreat.com

Phone: 1-204-870-1564 or 1-204-857-1910

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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

 

 

So much more than ‘just potatoes’…

                        Originally published in The Manitoba Co-operator November 16, 2017                              “Building their community one potato at a time”


How does it feel to give away 35,000 lbs of potatoes in just under 5 hours?

“It was awesome…a lot of fun,” recalls farmer Mark Peters with a wide smile. Peters and his wife Yanara, of Spruce Drive Farms, grow certified seed potatoes 12 miles northwest of Portage la Prairie.

On Saturday, October 14, 2017 they brought in two potato trucks and a conveyor to a vacant lot in Portage and set up for their second Community Potato Give-Away.

Gathering spuds along the 36-foot conveyor

Word about the event spread throughout the week and people were already lined up by 8:30 — a half hour before the give-away was slated to start. While many had driven, others walked, pushed strollers, rode bikes or scooters. As the potatoes were unloaded from the truck onto the 36-foot conveyor, folks gathered around filling bags, boxes, containers of all sizes and even backpacks.

Volunteers worked alongside the Peters, helping load and carry the spuds as well as encouraging those who were unsure of what to do to find a place along the conveyor and help themselves. The atmosphere was light and jovial. It didn’t matter who you were, or where you came from, everyone was welcome to as many potatoes as they wanted.

“What I loved about it, is that we’re not just targeting one sector of our community. We had people of all ages, all income brackets and walks of life stop by,” said Mark. Many people on fixed incomes and social assistance came up to him to express just how much this was helping them out, shake his hand and thank him. Others stopped by out of curiosity or because they knew the Peters. Some didn’t even need the potatoes but just thought it was a cool idea.

For Yanara, the feeling of community was incredibly gratifying.

“Discovering how people are there for each other, like those taking potatoes for perogy fundraisers to support other needs in our area. Or the grandmothers who cook extra meals for the children in their community,” she said. “We’re all the same and we all have a story.”

“You had people that come back two or three times,” Mark added. “But they’re not coming back for themselves. They’re coming back for their neighbours, their friends, their families.” And that is exactly what the event is all about. The inspiration to reach out and help others. Filling a need. Building and extending community.

Inadvertently it also bridges the farmer-consumer gap. 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?” Many 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.

The inaugural event in 2016 was a result of circumstance. Seed potato production standards are very precise. That year, some of the Peters’ crop did not meet seed specifications but was perfectly suitable for the consumer market. However, without a contract to sell consumer potatoes, there was place for those spuds to go. They could have left them in the field and avoided incurring any more costs, but that type of waste didn’t sit well with the Peters. They opted to dig the crop and the “Community Potato Give-Away” was born.

Being cognizant of local vegetable fundraisers in the community, they waited until those were over before proceeding. The event was a success, in more ways than the Peters could have imagined. The heartfelt gratitude and connections made were powerful and lasting.

“It was always on my heart,” said Mark. “I really I wanted to do that again.”

However, this past summer rains eluded his area. Only the smaller of his two potato fields had access to irrigation. The potatoes in the larger field suffered under the intense summer heat, not looking healthy at all. Peters worried, unsure if he would even have enough to fill his seed contracts.

Once harvest was underway, those worries slowly receded. Whether it was divine intervention or answered prayers, that field with little to no rain, produced amazingly well. On the last day of harvest, Peters had a good idea of what was left in the field and didn’t think it could all fit in his storage bin. The give-away would happen.

He set up a sizer to separate the larger potatoes (less desirable for seed) as they were unloaded. One and half truck loads were set aside for donation. Along with the Portage la Prairie event, six 2,000-pound totes were filled to be delivered to remote reserves across the province. The fact that the Peters don’t even mention the effort, cost and time that goes into this, speaks volumes.

Many asked if this will be an annual event. When it comes to farming, it all depends on the year and success of the crop. The Peters remember and appreciate how generous people were with them when they were young adults, so when they are in a position to give back, they definitely will.

“It’s only potatoes, but it just brought so much to the community,” Mark said. “It’s a great opportunity to interact with people and hear their stories. The most basic need is being met with most basic vegetable.”

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…

 

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.

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.”

Show. Share. Connect.

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Canola in bloom east of our farmyard

Recently I had the opportunity to host the Manitoba Canola Growers booth at an Ag Awareness Expo. Not having done this before, I was a little nervous. But I was advised to, “Be you. Be authentic. Listen for common ground.”

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“It’s what in the inside that counts”

As people stopped by, conversations began to flow and it wasn’t long before nervousness transformed into enjoyment and ultimately, gratitude.  Parents watched and listened as their children exuberantly ‘crushed canola’ and saw for themselves how it’s possible for those tiny black seeds to make clear yellow canola oil.

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“Shaken not stirred”

Youngsters and adults alike enjoyed picking out ingredients to create and customize salad dressing following the simple 2:1:1 ratio – 2 parts canola oil, 1 part acid (vinegar or citrus), 1 part emulsifier (mustard or honey), adding herbs if they wanted to kick the flavour up a notch.

These hands-on activities led to a variety of discussions on food and farming:

  1.   p1170714The patience a farmer needs to wait for the canola to ripen.
  2.  Bees – how they love canola and so many of us love honey.
  3. Half your Plate– how kids custom-creating their own dressings can lead to trying and consuming more salads and veggies.
  4. Canola meal – how the ‘leftovers’ after the oil are crushed and used in livestock feed, and help dairy cows produce more milk.
  5. Baking and cooking – using canola oil to make cakes, cookies, fries or even grilled-cheese.
  6. Ag in the Classroom – some students had done one or both of our activities at their school though AITC but were either anxious to repeat and/or encourage their sibling or parent to do the same.
  7. The variety of Made-In-Manitoba products and booths around us – using honey, jam or beet juice in a dressing. How quinoa can be used instead of greens for a salad and how lucky we are to have so many prairie fruits to add to flavour to our salads in the summer.

ag-expo-portageThe majority who stopped by were genuinely interested in conversation, with many sharing how they use canola oil in their kitchens. This gave me the opportunity to say, “Thank you,” and, “As a canola grower, I appreciate you using a product we grow on our farm.” Something happened in this moment.  A connection was made. Many did a double take, perhaps surprised. When our crops are sold directly to a grain company or processor, there is no contact with the end-user. I’m not sure I’ve ever had the opportunity to directly thank a consumer, but it felt good.

While hosting this booth was a little out of my comfort zone, I’m glad I accepted the opportunity to show, share and connect. It was enjoyable, gratifying and a reminder to express thanks whenever the opportunity presents itself. While I truly value the sentiment behind “Thank a farmer”, appreciation should flow both ways.

So whether you’re a home cook, chef, baker, dietitian or home economist who chooses canola oil, from our farm to your kitchen – thank you.

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Canola field at sunset