Churchill 2015

 

 

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photo credit; Kea Narfason

 

In the past I have tried to keep my posts mostly focused on agriculture. A lot of the people who pop in to visit my page are involved in the industry and probably aren’t interested in family vacation photos and the like. This post is going to be a bit of an exception but hang in through the whole thing, I’ll get to the farming stuff eventually. I promise!

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I recently returned from a trip to Churchill, MB with the Wadena Composite School. The principal, Darin Faubert, does a fabulous job of organizing trips around Canada for the students to learn about this wonderful country we live in. My son Brayden was so excited about this one that I decided I better sign us up to go even though I knew it might be nip and tuck to finish harvest in time. The children were excited to see the polar bears and learn about the history of this northern community. Some of us farming parents were just as excited to see The Hudson Bay Port! But more on that later…….

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Rain, moons and sunsets. Beauty from the field.

With the early start to harvest this year, I had my heart set on finishing around (Canadian) Thanksgiving. With our harvesting time being stalled by over 14 days due to rain, things didn’t work out quite to my plan. In this industry you would think I would have learnt by now to never make plans!

I have numerous people that I need to say thank you to this fall. Without all the support received I would not have made it through. My Mother in Law came down to help a couple weekends with cooking and to hang with my boys, my friend Sara helped me in a pinch or two with my kids, as did my sisters Marsha and Melanie. Our neighbor, Lorraine, helped with meals for part of our harvest run. My kids who put up with a harried and stressed out Mother who seemed to forget almost everything. And of course all the guys that helped in the field. There is no way we could pull this off without you!

So again we are stopped because of rain. With only about 4 hours left on our last day that pesky rain cloud just wouldn’t wait for us to finish up. I am choosing to not let it bother me and popping onto my blog page to share some of the reasons I am convinced we live in the most beautiful place in the world. Here is a little piece of harvest 2015 on our farm. (Please excuse my new found love for prairie sunset pictures. You would think the effect would eventually wear off but I continue to be awed by the beauty of where I live)

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This sunset happened while harvesting our ‘home quarter’ which is the field around our house.

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Thanksgiving supper in the field, just as the rain started.

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One of my moose friends who hung out and watched us combine for a couple days. They were completely unbothered by all the activity.

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Moving to a new field. Stopping for a quick bite to eat while we wait for the rest of the crew.

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One of the many sets of rain clouds that rolled in.

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This was actually early on in the evening that the eclipse happened. I watched it all with my boys from the combine cab.

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Lots of rain this fall made harvest all around more difficult.

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My favorite picture from this fall. I waited for the combine (my hubby and my oldest were in this one) to keep traveling North until it was in front of the sun but the hopper got full and it turned around! This snapshot still gives you a good idea of the amazing sunsets we get to see from the field during harvest.

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Categories: Agvocacy, Family Farming, Farming, Harvest 2015, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

What do farmers do on their birthday?

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I know you hear it often; Farmers work hard. I think the reason we keep trying to tell the story of how hard we work is to get across the point that we really really care about what we do. Whether you are a livestock farmer, a grain farmer, or if you have orange trees in Florida – no one cares about the animals and the land more than us.

On our farm there are many ‘special’ days that we often do not celebrate. Birthdays, Mothers Day, Fathers Day, and Thanksgiving are a few of the ones that fall on very busy times for our operation. Because our work doesn’t wait, the celebrations have to. Sometimes we try to make the day up to one another months down the road when the work load is a little lighter, and sometimes it just gets forgotten. One more example of how agriculture is a lifestyle and not simply a job.

This year my farmer decided to take the morning of his birthday off. We spent the prior evening at the lake with family and I was planning on cooking him a birthday breakfast. That plan lasted until about 6 AM when the phone started ringing (as it seems to every day). This time some of our bison had gotten out of the fence. We jumped in the truck and headed out to start looking. Our area is very smoky because of forest fires and we had a hard time locating the herd of around 12 cows and 10 calves because of reduced visibility. Our two employees were out with quads and they had no trouble chasing the animals back in once we found them.

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So my farmer spent his birthday working this year, just like every other year. Because that’s just what farmers usually do.

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A Farmers Work Is Never Done.

About 2 weeks ago I started penning out a blog post about time management and why it is difficult for farmers and farm families.  Lo and behold I have not yet found time to finish it!   Life is slightly chaotic for farmers during planting season and things like sleep or meals (and blog posts) often fall to the bottom of the list.  This is one of the reasons there was panic on our farm when we lost a bison cow just after it gave birth. Now we had an orphaned calf and someone had to find the time to do something about it! After careful observation we could see that no other cow was going to take the calf on (bison are very different than cattle when calving – they will not let you assist them and you can not get close afterwards.  The mothers and other herd members are aggressive and protective making it dangerous to handle the young and difficult for veterinarians).

This situation weighed heavily on our conscience and my farmer decided to shut down the drill and take care of things before dark.  After I finished work my youngest son had ball practice, this is what I came home to at 7:30 PM last night:

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The Almighty Hobby Farm

The Almighty Hobby Farm.

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It Is Time To Stand Up For Agriculture

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Ahhhhh, Sunday morning.  The perfect time to sit down with a cup of coffee and actually open and read some of those links I’ve been eyeing up on twitter and facebook.  This week I started jotting down a few ideas for a couple blog posts and now I am searching social media to help with some thoughts to finish one.  I read through a few posts and news stories until I stumble upon a newly posted video of a TEDx talk by Robert Saik on GMOs.  Knowing Roberts company (AGRI-TREND) and his values, I figure that I should take the 20 minutes and listen, and I am really glad I did.

Our farm is not a customer of AGRI-TREND so there is no conflict of interest, this is not a paid post, and I am not ‘shilling’ in any way.  It is sad that these are statements that I feel I have to make when speaking up for biotechnology and agriculture, but the accusation of somehow being employed by “big Ag” (whatever ‘big Ag ‘means) is all too common.  Although we are not affiliated with AGRI-TREND in any way I really do admire what Robert has done with it.  A company that tackles the many different issues on a farm; finances, technology, and things like environmental responsibility.  It has seemingly endless resources to help a farmer balance the numerous consequences every decision on the farm can have while considering production costs and helping to ensure the land (and operation) is viable for years to come.  In this day and age of agriculture, farmers are not afraid to admit that sometimes we need help.  Depending on the day I know I would get good use out of a degree in commerce, agronomy, and human resources.  Not to mention a few courses in heavy duty mechanics, economics, marketing, and business.  But AGRI-TREND and balancing the decisions on a farm is another blog post for another day.

Anyone that knows me and follows my blog, twitter or facebook page may find some of this a bit of an echo.  You will know that one of my biggest pet peeves is the fear that is used in marketing.  Food fear is a growing problem in our society and it is becoming more evident with the growth of products sporting labels such as GMO FREE, GLUTEN FREE, NATURAL, HORMONE FREE, ORGANIC, and the like.  Because I am a farmer all of these things cause a bit of a reaction with me, but none so much as GMOs.   I am not a science communicator.  I find it very difficult to get across why this should be important to the average person because in truth most people don’t really care.  Here I am making a simplified list of why I think everyone should pay at least a little attention to this issue.

1) In my mind GMOs are safe.

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  This is not just my opinion.  This is the opinion I have come to after talking to those much more knowledgeable than me on the subject and studying their work.  If we are going to grow something on our farm, sell it, and eat it ourselves –  I want to make sure it is safe.  But don’t take my opinion as fact, listen to the experts.  There are over 2000 studies proving that GMOs are safe.  Over half of them are independent.  GMOs are tested more than any other plant breeding method and on average it takes more than 13 years and 130 million dollars of research and development to bring a GMO to market (the numbers vary slightly from crop to crop but regardless it is 10 to 50 times the level of testing vs. crops bred with other methods).  There has been trillion meal studies done, and we have been consuming GMOs for 20 years with no proven ill effects. The scientific consensus is “Genetically engineered crops currently available to the public pose no greater health risks or environmental concerns than their non-engineered counterparts.” – this opinion is held by; The American Medical Association, U.S Food and Drug Administration, World Health Organization, Health Canada, The Royal Society of Medicine, Union of German Academies of Sciences and Humanities, International Council for Science – just to name a few.  You can see a more complete list of the organizations around the world that agree, here.

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Better Late Than Never! A Look at 2014.

It has been way to long since I made a blog post.  Not because I have forgotten about all of you but because this time of year is always fairly hectic for me and blogging and fun stuff often takes a back seat.  Every farm has different preparation methods for year end but regardless of your approach or farm size it takes considerable time and effort.  This year a late harvest (paired with a bit of burn out and procrastination) has found me working overtime in Nov/Dec to catch up.  My hubby counts on me to have our books up to date to help with things like grain and equipment inventories, monthly cash flow, cash requirements (especially at year end), and we use these numbers when considering what to purchase, what to trade, even our crop plan in the upcoming year.  In order to have a successful operation someone should be spending a good portion of time in the office, and I am happy to do what I can to help in that area.

With all of this hanging over my head I have neglected to take some time to blog about our 2014 harvest!  I will try not to bore you with too many details but here is a quick overview of what happened on our operation this year.

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The 2014 harvest was a challenging one.  Every season comes with its own hurdles but for us this one seemed to have a few extra.  It started in the spring with a cool wet beginning to the growing season which put our crops behind.  Excess rain stressed the crops and put them at risk for disease.  This carried through to the fall and gave us a late start to harvest.  We had some equipment changes on our operation which left us with an extra swather (aka windrower) and using one less combine than the year before.  This situation would have worked just fine if the weather would have cooperated but periodic rain and snow throughout the fall ended up causing us many issues.  As winter threatened, tensions rose and the importance of equipment performance rose along with them.  Breakdowns can’t be completely avoided but some days it is considerably less convenient than others if they do happen.  At one point, within 20 minutes of starting up, we had 2 combines down and one combine stuck (none of it was my fault!)  Because we were trying to beat the rain in the forecast, that day seemed to be a little higher up on the anxiety scale.  Luckily we had some great help this year and, as always, are thankful for those who work tirelessly beside us.  After many long stressful days (and nights) we made it through, as we do every year, with a few more lessons learned.

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When crops are just starting out they like moisture, but not this much!  Many farmers around our area had yield losses due to ‘drown out acres’ this year.

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We had the strange misfortune of breaking 3 windows, at 3 different times, in equipment very early on in the season.  This one was my job to clean up.

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Got Questions? We Have Answers!

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This post is one I have been rolling around in my head for weeks.  It is important for me to write it, and do a good job, because it is the main reason I decided to get involved as an advocate for agriculture and start my own blog.  It is a post that talks about the issue of COMMUNICATION.  This is a weighty subject and I think I might have to do a follow up in the future because I have already edited about 5 times for length!

Our population has been growing at an increasing rate every year.  Years ago those employed in agriculture and the agriculture industry (think; farmers, scientists, companies like Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, John Deere, Case IH, etc.) saw what was coming and where agriculture needed to be to meet the needs of a growing global populace.  They put their heads down and worked feverishly at improving the system.  Together they have done a great job; “A Canadian farmer could only feed 10 people a century ago, but can now feed over 120 today.  Farming productivity has jumped by 300 per cent since the 1950s – and at the same time, we’re using fewer resources, less land and newer, better technologies to produce more food.”  http://www.farmfoodcare.org/news/2-farm-food-care/37-dirt-on-farming

What we have all failed miserably at is communicating to the rest of the world what we are doing and why.  In a world where every generation is becoming further and further removed from the farm life, we mistakenly assumed people would understand why these things had to be done, and that changes were being made in a safe and sustainable way.

A world in 1950 where around 2 billion people woke up every morning was vastly different from today where the population is over 7 billion, and 2050 when the population is expected to hit 9.5 billion (requiring an increase in global food production of around 70%) source: UN, Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2013). World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision.

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About 21,000 people die every day from starvation or hunger related causes, without the agricultural advances of the last 50 to 60 years that number would be a lot larger.  I have been told, more than once, that agriculture needs to go back to the way it was 50 years ago.  This is clearly a mindset that comes from not understanding our global situation.

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Faster and Easier Meatballs Than Your Mom Made!

IMG_0844 And so it begins; the early mornings, late nights, running in circles, making breakfast lunches and supper all before 10 AM, laundry, dishes, after school activities, trying to get homework done after field work, and basically just chaos in general.  The leaves are turning and the dust is flying.  We took our first load of wheat off yesterday so harvest 2014 has officially started.  Many days during harvest I help out with the field work by delivering fuel, driving for parts or operating equipment.  Once the combines get rolling I often don’t have time to be in the kitchen so my supper has to be prepped (and sometimes cooked) early in the morning.  Cooking for 5 to 10 men (some with allergies) plus my kids is sometimes challenging especially when I have ground beef out, my kids won’t eat meatloaf, shepherd’s pie or lasagna!!  Meatballs used to be a favorite meal that I would only make when I had tons of time to shape 3 to 4 lbs of beef into tiny little balls (the way my kids liked them).  Now they are a common occurrence even when I am in a hurry thanks to this quick and easy recipe.

(the purpose of this post is to show you the method I use, not so much the recipe as any recipe can be used. The one I have included is my go to ‘all purpose’ recipe that I serve with many different sauces or gravies, although I do tend to cook like my grandma and add a little something different every time)

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4H and Raising the Next Generation

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As I write this, I am sitting in my vehicle while my oldest son Brayden is playing ball in the rain at a ball camp.  In this rare moment of silence I find myself reflecting on our busy week which included Brayden’s very first achievement day for grain 4H.  Being only one of 2 grain 4H clubs in Saskatchewan it really was a learning experience for everyone in the group.  In light of recent events where a farm family was investigated for having minors (their own children) working in the family’s farm processing business (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/saskatchewan-farmers-cry-foul-over-child-labour-investigation-1.2729781), I can’t help but wonder about the decisions we are making as parents and a society in raising the next generation.  This train of thought has led me to appreciate the valuable lessons that the 4H club teaches children from a very young age.

I spend a lot of time helping my father in law at his farm equipment dealership and quite honestly when a younger person applies for work, if they have been raised on a farm, it is almost a no brainer.  Children of agricultural families tend to have respect, appreciation, and a strong work ethic.  Why is this attitude so prominent in farm kids?  There are a lot of reasons.  They experience from a young age that a life in agriculture requires personal sacrifice to pay the bills.  You can’t always make that sporting event, community fundraiser, or social gathering if there is work to be done.  Another reason is the lessons they are taught if they choose to participate in a 4H club. 

4H is one of Canada’s longest running youth organizations and is almost 100 years old.  Although it originated in the United States, the program globally is essentially the same.  ‘4H operates with the mission of “engaging youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development”.  Though typically thought of as an agriculturally focused organization as a result of history, 4H today focuses on citizenship, healthy living, science, engineering, and technology programs.  The foundations of 4-H began around the start of the 20th century with the desire to make public school education more connected to rural life.  Researchers saw that adults in the farming community did not readily accept new agricultural discoveries, but educators found that youth would experiment with these new ideas and then share their experiences and successes with the adults.  So rural youth programs became a way to introduce new agriculture technology to the adults”  – Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4-H#History)

4H is not a program for the faint of heart.  Our leaders; Nevin Morrow and Clint Sutter wisely decided to adapt the program to fit our very young club, making modifications to increase the level of learning for the members who were as young as 6.  Even with these adaptations Brayden spent hours planting, weeding, and checking his crop. While his younger brother (who did not participate this year in the program) watched TV or played video games –  Brayden was out in his plot pulling weeds by hand in the hot sun.  There were times when we would be away for a few days only to come back to many changes in the stages of the plants.  One time we were packing to leave and Brayden said ‘if we are gone how will I know what day my wheat heads out?’  My hubby just gave me a knowing smile.  The lessons that 4H have taught my son about farming were evident in his workbook answers.  When asked what he learnt he wrote ‘I learnt it is hard for farmers to go the lake’.  When asked if he would do this project again he wrote ‘maybe, I liked it but I didn’t like the paperwork.’  I know many farmers who would say the same thing! 

During achievement day at the end of the project year, many stories of hardship and learning were shared by the kids.  Carter Novak had soil that was very compact and his crops didn’t grow very tall because of that and a lack of sunlight, Morgan Elmy had weeds that grew fast and large having full sunlight on her plot and she had an almost insurmountable task in weeding, Logan and Owen Robinson planted very close to the trees and lost some moisture due to tree roots, Brody and Danika Morrow had trouble with the spacing of their rows but also learnt how corn anchores itself for strong winds, Davin and Karissa Sutter learnt that even a slight drift in glyphosate can cause damage to nearby plants, and everyone learnt that if you try to hold the neighbor’s chickens on achievement day you might get pooped on! 

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The common theme throughout the day was learning especially with Evan Rorquist, local agronomist with Kenzie Seeds, acting as show judge.  Even the adults came away from the day a little smarter with demonstrations and discussions on blackleg, sclerotinia, fusarium, the differences between oat and barley stands, corn roots, among many other things!

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I have taken enough postsecondary education to know that learning is hard work, but I also grew up on a farm and I know that hard work is learning.  Every time our children get dirt under their fingernails they are gaining valuable lessons about life, and I am thankful for a wonderful program like 4H that encourages that type of learning.  I must add that I am also thankful to those who selflessly volunteer their time to teaching our kids within the program.  All the parents of course, but namely Clint Sutter and Nevin Morrow who took on the task of starting a brand new club, and Evan Rorquist our show judge.  On achievement day all 3 gave up time from their own farms and their own work to invest in the education of our children. 

Currently we are working on learning the 4H pledge at our house.  Hopefully my boys will be able to learn it, live it and will uphold the reputation of farm kids everywhere when they start applying for jobs of their own. 

“I pledge my head to clearer thinking,

My heart to greater loyalty,

My hands to larger service,

and my health to better living,

for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”

 

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