Celebrating ‘My Circle’

For me, this year’s International Women’s Day is deeply personal. It is a celebration and acknowledgement of the amazing circle of women who inspire, encourage and support me.

Last fall depression came knocking on my door. I struggled, stumbled and fell. But instead of hiding, I spoke my truth.  The rally from my circle was overwhelming.  I was full of gratitude and awe. Friends and family, both in person and on-line, reached out to lift me up when I needed it most.

Looking back, the evolution was so natural, so subtle, that at first I wasn’t even aware of it forming. But through life’s experiences – education, work, recreational activities, conferences, meetings, travel, and even on-line connections – my circle has grown and is diverse, dynamic and robust.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more cognizant of what I admire, respect and value in the women around me, both personally and professionally.

Authenticity. Gratitude. Kindness. Joy. Compassion. Empathy. Humour. Positivity. Encouragement. Dedication. Fearlessness. Teamwork. Determination. Life-long learning.

I am fortunate to have so many phenomenal women who support me not only within my comfort zone, but also nudge – or sometimes pull me – beyond my safety net showing me how much more I am capable of accomplishing. They help me shine brightly when all I want to do is hide under the covers. They celebrate my successes and help me learn when things don’t go as planned.  They point me in the right direction when I’m feeling lost.  They laugh with me, dance with me, listen to and stand by me. They inspire me with their intentional lives, acts of kindness and bravery.  Their presence in my life has made me a better person.  Knowing they are there for me is both reassuring and empowering.

Allowing myself to be vulnerable and honest about my struggles last fall made me acutely aware of the expanse and depth of my circle. A reminder to continue to build, nurture and embrace it. A reminder to express my appreciation to the incredible women who inspire and support me.

This quote sums it up well. Here’s to my circle and to yours.  Happy International Women’s Day!

A circle of women may just be the most powerful force known to humanity. If you have one, embrace it. If you need one, seek it. If you find one, for the love of all that is good and holy, dive in. Hold on. Love it up. Get Naked. Let them see you. Let them hold you. Let your reluctant tears fall. Let yourself rise fierce and love gentle. You will be changed. The very fabric of your being will be altered by this, if you allow it. Please, please allow it.”
― Jeanette LeBlanc

 

 

Advertisements

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.”

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.

Show. Share. Connect.

2016-07-05-13-09-39

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.”

16387155_1362550283795226_3062305095032048118_n

“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.

16508794_1362550460461875_1897038152523407215_n

“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.

2016-06-30-20-29-34

Canola field at sunset

It’s Your Ladder

facebook_1483472934024

It’s Your Ladder

It’s your ladder.
Climb at your own pace,
pause to enjoy the view,
keep your footing firm.

It’s your ladder.
Trust in each step,
never fear going higher
or taking a step back.

It’s your ladder.
Let others help steady it,
when you’re wavering,
in need of support.

It’s your ladder.
Look up, look back, look around.
Each rung offers lessons,
meaning, significance.

It’s your ladder.
Make the pattern of ascent
unique to you, your dreams
your aspirations.

It’s your ladder.

Sandi Knight
© 2016

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. 

 

 

p1120655

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

p1080437

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

facebook_1473569210893

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

facebook_1473569225387

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

 

facebook_1473569195954

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. 

facebook_1473569178708

“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.

 

 

p1160941

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!

2016-09-05-15-19-00

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!

 

facebook_1473569165592

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.

facebook_1473569151427

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

p1170059

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

facebook_1473569135925

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.

facebook_1473569111253

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.

2016-09-10-19-04-58

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Collection

If we are fortunate, we have many circles of friendship, support and encouragement in our lives.  My writing group, “Prairie Pens”, is one such circle.  I wrote this in August 2008 as a tribute to them. Subsequently it was published in the introduction to our anthology, “From All Directions” in 2009.  

I’m not sure I would have had the courage and resolve to continue to put to paper without them. They have helped, and continue to help me, develop as a writer.  This craft is ever-evolving as we strive to hone and fine-tune the art of story-telling.  Their motivating and inspiring guidance over the last thirteen years will forever be appreciated. ♥


P1120443

Conversation, rippled with laughter, drifts out the screen windows toward the lake. A chickadee calls out from a nearby window branch, joining in the light-hearted banter.
Hummingbirds zip back and forth, drawn to blooms of scarlet geraniums and brilliant-blue salvia in overflowing window boxes. A flash of black and orange…yes, an oriole, heard earlier but seemingly reluctant to make an appearance. Elegant dragonflies float by; the hum of a cicada speaks to the heat of this perfect summer day.

Inside, simple plaques grace the walls – Wiggle Your Toes in the Sand; Life is Good at the Beach; and above the doorway, Home is Where Your Story Begins. How appropriate for this collection. They are comfortable, at ease, as they arrange themselves on rich chocolate-brown wicker topped with floral-green cushions. Soon the visiting ends as stories begin to pour out around the room. Emotions rise and fall; then advice freely flows.

The love of this art of etching words, simple words on paper, binds this group together. Women of all ages, different backgrounds, diverse life stories, offering each other support, encouragement, resolve – to imagine, to create, to write and keep writing.

One woman sits back for a moment, takes it all in – the surroundings, the setting, the vibrant group. Her eyes revert to the plaque Home is Where Your Story Begins. Yes, but it is here, with these women, where the courage is found to put pen to paper, to share words without fear. She glances out at the lake. Mid-day sun bounces off the water, sparkling as beautifully as the dynamic collection of writers surrounding her.

Practicing Appreciation

 “Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude.”                               Albert Schweitzer

Last month our community lost a very special person who worked at a local financial institution. She always had a smile, a kind word, genuinely cared and went above and beyond to help her customers. She was exceptional and made a difference in the lives of all those she touched.

After her sudden and unexpected passing, I wondered if she knew how much she was appreciated. I wondered if I had ever let her know how I enjoyed our brief interactions. She wasn’t a friend, yet she was a familiar, valued presence in my life.

We all know people like this – they work in stores, banks, schools, healthcare, at service stations or tire shops. They stand out from their peers. They are cheerful, helpful, efficient. They improve our daily lives with their positive outlook and leave us feeling valued and appreciated. But do we reciprocate that feeling often enough?

P1140059A simple thank you or word of encouragement can go a long way to making someone feel valued for doing their job. It isn’t difficult, time-consuming or costly. Serving the public can be trying, and often only the negative is conveyed. Positive feedback is always appreciated and often leaves us feeling better as well.

I have always made an effort to express thanks but this recent loss left me wondering if I had done enough. It reinforced my resolve to not take people for granted, to ensure I always convey my appreciation. After all, the difference-makers in our lives, who brighten our days, do so quite often without even knowing it.