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

 

 

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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

A Country Halloween

Halloween. It’s a celebration people either love or hate. Their view of this spooky evening may depend on where they live. For people who reside in towns or cities, the night can be hectic and exhausting.

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For those of us in the country, it is generally a much-anticipated night —  a family affair, a chance  to reconnect with neighbours. One parent may stay at home to hand out treats while the other drives the youngsters to all the usual stops in the area. Many take their children to the same houses they went to when they were young. Patience is essential — not necessarily for the drive from house to house, but for the visiting at each stop.

20151031_173533However, the pay-off is worth it. The hand-outs are generous as country homes have so few visitors. “Halloween Bags” are filled with a variety of treats. Some people set the table with a wide assortment of goodies and novelties; youngsters are invited in to choose what they like. Apples and home baking are still acceptable as Halloween treats – safety is not a concern.

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When children decide they are too old to go trick-or-treating, treats are sent home for them with their younger siblings. Even parents get in on the act, their pockets filled at the end of the evening, at the neighbours’ insistence, of course.

If both parents accompany the trick-or-treaters, bags or bowls of goodies are left at their own home for the neighbourhood children to help themselves. Trust is not an issue.

pumpkins-backdoorHalloween displays are always drawing cards. Even if fewer than a dozen youngsters come to the door, many still enjoy decorating. Scarecrows greet you at the end of lanes. Pumpkins and gourds are set amidst bales and cornstalks; ghosts hang from trees. Witches sit in rocking chairs carefully guarding the door. Rigged doorbells or knockers cause Halloween creatures to shake or elicit ghostly laughter. Jack o’ lanterns of all shapes and sizes line driveways and doorsteps. Children return year after year  just to see their favourite Halloween haunts.

witchSome adults never outgrow this night of pranks. Many dress in costume to greet their young guests. Others wait until they are sure no more trick-or-treaters will be stopping by, then rummage through their ‘tickle trunks’, pick out appropriate attire, and head out to stir up a bit of fun with the neighbours.

carlee-catThankfully, a country Halloween is still enjoyable. It brings back fond childhood memories. Parents  drive down gravel roads through mud, rain, sleet or snow. Manners are important. “Trick-or-Treat” is always followed by a thank you. Tricks, if played, are neither harmful nor destructive. It is an evening of reminiscing and laughter. And when the doorbell rings, children are greeted with an enthusiasm. “It’s so good to see you! Thanks for stopping by!”

Happy Halloween!

 

Weathering the Rain

Originally published in the Manitoba Cooperator October 6, 2016 

Reflections on the seemingly endless rains this past growing season. For many across western Canada, snow was added to the mix in early October and harvest continues to be an ongoing challenge for far too farmers.  Thinking of those who are struggling to get their crops from the field to bin and hoping everyone will soon be done with #Harvest16.  


facebook_1474855006708I used to be that girl, the one who would joyfully head outside when it rained. I loved everything about it. The rhythmic sound on rooftops. The patterns it made as it rolled down windows. The feel of rain on my cheeks. The way it would it soak through and soften my wild, curly hair. If the rain was coming down fast and furious, I was content to sit under the cover of the front porch and watch. But the best rains were gentle, light, perfect for walking. The air so fresh, the streets quiet and still. Those rains offered a refuge from troubles and worries. I can still see my younger self soaking in the peace and serenity of those walks.

Yet there I sat, staring at the computer screen, tears instead of raindrops, slowly rolling down my cheeks. A friend was embracing and enjoying that night’s rain. Her post on social media read, “Jammies, slippers, hoodie, book, veranda, rain! Wonderful combination. .oh yes..glass of wine.”  She was doing exactly what I believe in and strive for — embracing the moment. But instead of being happy for her, I was jealous. Not of what she had, or what she was doing, but of that feeling, that freedom, that joyful connection to the rain.

I had the comfy clothes, books and wine, maybe not the veranda to relax in; that wasn’t the issue. What really got to me was the fact that she was enjoying the rain — and I wasn’t. In fact, after almost 3 months of excessive rains, I was cursing yet another downpour that was downgrading our wheat and delaying the start of harvest.

You would think after 27 years of farming, I would be used to it, but that night the dismal weather really weighed me down. I missed being that girl and my past laissez-faire relationship with the weather.

When your income is dependent on Mother Nature, your relationship with the sun and rain becomes fickle.  Excess amounts of either, especially at critical times during the growing season, can cause anything but joy and relaxation. The hold the weather has on our lives, can at times, be tiring.

I’m rather embarrassed by my feelings that night; jealousy is not an admirable trait. And being jealous of a feeling — well, that borders on absurd. I confessed to my friend. She totally understood, but we agreed the next time that happens, I am to join her.

rainbowI spoke to another woman, who has long since retired from farming and asked her if concern for the weather ever goes away. She laughed, “No.” So I guess I’ll have to be content with my memories of that girl. Look back on her fondly and smile. Even when we no longer work the land, concern for farmers will always be there, and I will be that little old lady who politely asks, “So, was that a good rain?”

 


It helps to talk to someone who listens and understands. No matter the issue, you can contact the Manitoba Farm, Rural & Northern Support Services. They offer free, confidential information and non-judgmental support, for anyone who lives on farm, rural or northern community. Call Toll-Free 1-866-367-3276 Monday – Friday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. After hours 1-888-322-3016

A list of nationwide resources in Canada can be found here

 

 

 

From My Corner of the Prairies – Canada In A Day

September 10, 2016 was Canada In A Day. We were asked to film our lives — whether it be a special occasion or a simple moment. The resulting video compilation will be used to celebrate Canada’s 150th Birthday next July.

Instead of a film, my story is one of pictures, reflections and simple gratitude for being a Canadian who has the privilege of living and farming on the vast and beautiful prairies.

Life is made great by the million little things that piece together our days and weave into their way into the tapestry of our lives.

Here are the pieces which made #CanadaInADay special to me.

Waking up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee, pouring a cup and enjoying this view.

 

Wandering through my yard, taking time to notice the little things, like the bees enjoying my sunflowers.

Wandering through my yard, taking time to notice the little things, like bees on the towering sunflowers in my garden. 

 

 

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The satisfying job of chopping garden-fresh tomatoes, peppers, onions and celery, followed by aroma of simmering salsa wafting through the kitchen .

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Listening to the consistent ‘snapping’ on the jars of the finished product, knowing they are properly sealed and preserved for the months ahead.

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Having the combine come out of the shed to finally resume harvest after a week of rainy weather.

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Enjoying the delicious, fresh, crisp crunch of a B.C. Honey Crisp apple for a snack.

 

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A leisurely afternoon walk with our dog.  She stopped briefly by this freshly cultivated wheat field.  We work the straw into the soil to improve organic matter and soil health. 

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“Pure joy! ” Watching my  trusty side-kick , having a blast running through a wheat field. Here the straw has been baled to be used as bedding for cattle this winter.

 

 

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Appreciating that I can walk for miles on quiet country back roads without seeing a soul.  It doesn’t  necessarily mean my presence isn’t noticed though…The dog and I obviously piqued the interest of the neighbour’s cattle!

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Seeing these hives is a reminder that a delivery of fresh honey will soon arrive at our door.  A fellow farmer keeps bees in the shelter of an old yard-site on our farmland. The bees love the canola and alfalfa we grow, and we love the honey they produce!

 

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Walking to the marsh that borders part of our farm and capturing the beauty of the bulrushes and wildflowers blowing in the wind.  The marsh provides a unique and diverse ecosystem for a wide variety of plants, animals and birds.

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Riding alongside my husband in the combine, enjoying his company and the view as he harvests a field of canola.

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Taste-testing the fresh-made salsa for an appetizer. So good!

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Watching this bald eagle overlook the field we were harvesting. They aren’t usually this close to our yard, but hunting was easy as rodents scurried away as the canola swaths were picked up.

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Being thankful for a south wind that kept the moisture at bay as clouds rolled in later in the day.  Once the grass is wet with dew in the evening, it often makes the crops too ‘tough’ to harvest. Here the combine is unloading canola onto a grain truck so it can be hauled to our farmyard and put in a storage bin.

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Taking the time to savour this view at the end of our farmyard as the sun set. The end my tribute to #CanadaInAday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harvest Meals – Tips and Tricks

Originally published on Canola Eat Well  blog on August 31, 2015 

Harvest is now underway, albeit in fits and spurts in many areas of the country as wet weather continues to hamper efforts.  Here are a few tips to help ease the stress when it comes to meals to the field. 


Preparing and taking meals to the field during harvest can be a challenge. Some people make it look effortless, but they will be the first to tell you lessons learned along the way helped them hone their skills. They also advise it isn’t always the idyllic picture of everyone sitting around the makeshift table on the tailgate of a truck, a beautiful array of food spread out, light breeze blowing, everyone happy, relaxed — and that’s okay. Here are a few pointers from the voices of experience.

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Harvesting  wheat – view from the combine cab    (P. Knight photo)

Food:
  • Become friends with your slow-cooker. Embrace stews, chili and casseroles. All-in-one-meals can incorporate each food group and are easy to transport.
  • Have a good supply of clean vegetables and fruit in the fridge for quick preparation.
  •  Take advantage of rainy days to bake or make freezer-friendly meals.
Leaving Home: 
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Photo Courtesy of Roberta Galbraith

  • Make a checklist, especially if you are travelling to a field several miles away. Food, drink, utensils, chairs etc.
  • Have a storage caddy filled with cutlery, napkins, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, cups and plates. Camping dishes are ideal to use if you have them.
  •  Old towels make great insulators for keeping food warm. They absorb any spills and are easy to wash.
Getting There:
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Harvesting Canola

  • Ensure communication is clear. Exactly which field are they working in? Especially critical if it is early in your marriage when you aren’t familiar with each field’s ‘name‘.  “We’re on Bill’s”, or “At the McLeod farm”, may be meaningless to you, especially if Bill or the McLeods haven’t owned that land for several decades…                                                                                                                                   Cell phones and road numbers have definitely aided in alleviating navigational struggles.
  •  When swarms of mosquitoes and flies are abundant, it may seem genius to borrow your in-laws motor home to deliver supper. However, ensure you park on stable ground as getting said ‘kitchen-on-wheels’ stuck is more a hindrance than help to harvest progress.
No Time to Stop:
  • Small coolers which hold both food and drink, makes for a quick and easy hand-off and eliminates spills. 
  •  Sandwiches and wraps are perfect for on-the-go eating. Just remember to advise if you have used toothpicks to help hold them together…
  • Quiche works too, either hot or cold, with a side of raw veggies and a bun or biscuit. “Real men don’t eat quiche,” they say? Why argue when a simple name change will do? Who can resist “Bacon & Egg Pie”? 😉

A little preparation, communication, flexibility and sense of humour all help at this busy time of year. May your harvest meals be made and delivered with ease, and any memorable moments shared and treasured for years to come.  Wishing you a safe and abundant harvest, from our farm to yours.

Simply Canola

There is no denying  canola has been the shining star of agriculture across western Canada this past month — as it is every summer when in bloom.  It isn’t unusual to see people stopping alongside the road to snap a picture, or take a selfie against the gorgeous sea of yellow this crop provides. 

Even those of us who grow it, are taken in by the allure of those bright and beautiful blossoms and have been know to take a picture, or two, perhaps more… I’ll admit I may have gotten carried away this year, but the opportunity was irresistible and right out my backdoor. 

We are proud to be one of the over 43,000 Canadian farmers producing this heart-healthy, versatile, edible oil. These are a few of my favourite shots taken on our farm from June 22nd to July 18th. I hope you enjoy my 2016 canola pictorial diary.  

*Click on the pictures for additional description and information.