Celebrating Canada’s Agriculture Day with Farm Photos

Originally published in the Manitoba Co-operator February 7, 2020


February  11th, Canada’s Agriculture Day, is intended to showcase all the amazing things happening in our industry. It’s a time to create a closer connection between consumers, our food and the people who produce it. Sharing what you love about Canadian agriculture can be as simple as posting a photo.

For me, a social media “10-day farming-family photo challenge” last year was a great exercise in putting this into practice. Every day I was to, “Select an image from a day in the life of farming that has had an impact on me, post it without a single explanation and nominate someone else to take the challenge —10 days, 10 farming photos, 10 nominations, and 0 explanations.”

But with less than 2% of our population farming, it seemed like pictures without explanations would be a missed opportunity to share our farm-to-food story — to make a connection with the other 98%, to create a welcoming forum for asking questions, addressing concerns and virtually inviting others onto our family farm.

These are my choices — the photos that affected me, stirred my emotions, made me pause and reflect on 30 years of life on our family farm.  They’re ones I will share again on Canada’s Agriculture Day, along with others taken over the course of this past year.

What pictures would you choose and which stories would you share?


‘Home’ — Day 1

Across that golden field of blooming canola, within the bluff of trees, is our family farm. My husband’s great-grandparents and their family came from Scotland and settled here over 90 years ago.

June 2019 marked thirty years of it being my home. Thirty years of marriage and farm life. Thirty years of learning and adapting. Thirty years of challenges and rewards. I fell in love with my farmer and this vast, beautiful prairie landscape. We raised our two children here, cultivating values which have enabled them to follow their dreams.

I pulled over one day last summer on my way home to take this photo. I’ve taken many pictures in and around our yard, but never from this distance or perspective. This photo evokes many memories and emotions. Among them — gratitude and pride in being part of a family farm, caring for the land entrusted to us by our ancestors, growing food for Canadians and people around the world, all while making a living on the land we love.


‘Down to earth’ — Day 2

Some people see dirt, but this is soil — a living, dynamic ecosystem. The foundation of farming. Caring for it is crucial for growing healthy crops, now and into the future. Farmers work with agronomists and soil scientists to make decisions that will create and keep our land healthy. We are continually learning how to best do this by testing our soils, choosing proper tillage techniques, rotating the crops we grow, incorporating organic matter, reducing compaction and loss of nutrients. Education is ongoing and when we know better, we do better. Soil type, texture, structure and density vary from field to field and farm to farm, so techniques to care for it will also vary. But ultimately farmers strive to be stewards of the land and do their very best to care for the soil that sustains us all.


‘Hopper Full of Gold’ — Day 3

Harvest is the ‘red-carpet’ event of farming, and the combine (harvester) is the ‘star’. Those trucking grain from the field to storage bins, or going for parts when there is a breakdown, or making meals, play supporting roles.

It’s an exciting time as you reap the rewards of a full year of planning, working and hoping the weather is favourable. Not only to grow healthy crops that yield well, but also weather which allows you to quickly and efficiently harvest those crops in top condition.

This photo captures both the beauty and significance of harvest. The setting sun is over top of the “hopper”, (the part of the combine where the harvested seeds collect after they have been separated from the stems and leaves of the plants). One of my favourite harvest shots to date.


‘Food in Progress’ — Day 4

Wheat in the early stages, months before it turns into the iconic waving fields of gold many people envision when they think of this crop. 

As farmers we do all we can to ensure that our crops stay healthy and flourish over the growing season. But despite our best efforts, we also need faith, hope and optimism. Ultimately, Mother Nature holds the key. The right amount of rain and sunshine are beyond our control, as are hail, frost or other adverse weather conditions that can damage or destroy our crops.

But at this point, I choose to see the potential of this ‘food in progress’. I like to envision a healthy crop of wheat being harvested, then finding its way to flour mills around Canada and the world. A small portion is always reserved for my pantry, to be used in the cookies, cakes and muffins I like to bake.


‘Sunset Check’ — Day 5

Hands down, one of my favourite farm pics to date.

Like the majority of my photos, I just happened to be in the right place, at the right time. I was out for an evening walk with our dog, and as the sun was setting, my husband stopped to make sure he had enough canola seed and fertilizer in the seeder (planter) to finish the field he was working in that night.

The light was magical, the cool spring air was still and rich with the scent of freshly worked soil. This photo evokes so much emotion. It speaks to the dedication and determination it takes to farm. To the advancements we are fortunate to have compared with our ancestors. To how my life has been enriched by living here, being a part of our family farm and this amazing industry.


‘Remember when’ — Day 6

Up until 10 years ago, cattle were a part of our family farm. Our herd was small, only 30 to 40 cows and calves. This time of year would be filled with the excitement and challenges of cows giving birth.

But there came a time when it no longer made financial sense to keep our small herd. We either had to acquire more animals, which meant a large investment in them, shelter, equipment and more pasture, or sell our herd and focus solely on the grain and oilseed part of our operation.

Economically, it was an easy decision. Emotionally it was difficult. Cattle had been on our farm for generations. It requires dedication and a love for animals to work with them. And there are always those extra special animals who form an exceptional bond with you. There were many mixed emotions the day they left our farm.


‘Patiently waiting’ — Day 7

Our dog, Sage, sitting attentively in the truck, waiting for the tractor and seeder (planter) in the distance to come around the field to where we are parked. We had brought lunch out to the field for my farmer. Sage knows he’s in there, and also knows there’s a good chance he’ll share a bit of that lunch with her!

She is our second dog — both were city-dogs who came from owners who were moving and looking for a good home for their much-loved pets. Both adapted to farm life well — lots of space to run and play, long walks and even tractor rides.

A wonderful transition for them, but so much more for us. Yes, they warn us when someone comes into our farmyard, but they also provide companionship. And when things go wrong — whether it’s machinery breaking down at a critical time or crops being damaged from drought, hail or flooding — our farm dog plays the role of counsellor. Either with a goofy smile and playful greeting, or simply sitting silently beside you, guiding your hand to the top of their head. That, along with unconditional love and joy they bring into our lives makes them an invaluable member of our farm family.


‘Late night harvest memories’ — Day 8

This photo was taken during harvest, September 2013. My farmer was hauling wheat from the field into the farmyard for storage. He needed a hand. Our daughter, 18-yrs-old at the time, was helping. They’re pausing here, discussing something, as they keep an eye on the equipment working to unload the wheat. It wasn’t the first, or the last time she helped, but it’s the only time I had my camera to capture the memory, and for me it has #allthefeels.


‘After the rain’ — Day 9

No pot of gold here, but hopefully a sign of just the right amount of rain for the growing season. And ultimately, an abundant harvest which ensures those white storage bins in our farmyard will be filled with grain.

We can do absolutely everything to the best of our ability, but 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, but it’s a reality of farming. The reason we’re so acutely concerned with the weather. The reason many farmers have traits of optimism and resilience to deal with those challenges and keep going year after year.


‘Where it all began’ — Day 10

This old black and white aerial photo shows our farmyard four generations ago.

My husband’s great-grandparents settled here in 1926, a second move after immigrating from Scotland in 1922. They wanted a farm with trees, good drinking water and soil without stones. This site fit the criteria to make living and farming here better.

Much has changed since then, but reminders of our past remain with some of the buildings repurposed or repaired. Old steel wheels and pieces of harrow bar grace my flower beds and garden. Picture frames have been made from discarded barn windows. Our kitchen table and chairs are crafted from wooden barn beams.

It’s important to remember our history. To look back with gratitude on the hard work, determination and resilience of our ancestors which ensured we too could farm, make a life and a living here.


 

 

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.”

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