Lovely Lessons

16 Feb

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My Mom gets credit for making Valentine’s Day more than a “him and her” event but instead an “us” type of day. Ever since I was small I get chocolates from my parents—a little sweet token of their love—and now also a cute card, signed “Love Mom and Dad.” This still means so much because they don’t say “I love you” as much as they should. Not enough to each other, to me, to my brothers, and even to their siblings and parents.

And I’m just as guilty.

Day in and day out I get absorbed with my writing, with work, with barn chores, with bills, with life. So when Cupid comes calling I take the jab from his arrow as a little reminder to get off my derriere and do something special for those I love.

This year it was a dinner party for my family with delicious courses—of course—stirred, stewed and steamed by yours truly. I also hide those chocolate kisses around the house so as my family goes about their day they come across these sweet treats—a little kiss—that is bound to leave a smile on their lips.

Then there is showing love to all the pets that surround you and love you unconditionally. An extra treat for your dog, stopping for five minutes and giving your animal a pat without any interruptions, adding extra grain to the cows ration.

It’s not always easy and sometimes hard to keep up, but at least we get a reminder once a year whether we need it or not. And don’t be disheartened, after all, love and kindness are the hardest things to give away since they keep coming back.

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Missing Out

10 Feb

Growing up on a farm means you get to do a lot of things most kids don’t. You always have a pet or two, and most likely some cows, chickens, cats and a dog. Snow Days, Sick Days and Just Because Days meant that we didn’t have to go to school since our parents were always home and liked having us around. When we got older and my friends inched the car nervously around the paved perimeter of some parking lot I was finally given the keys to a real vehicle and graduated from driving just the tractor. When my friends were scouring the classifieds for their first afterschool job I already had one, afterschool, everyday, guaranteed—and it paid pretty well, too!

Growing up on a farm means you miss out on a lot of things that most kids get to do. When my friends’ were perfecting their softball pitch, I was working with a pitchfork. When they did swimming lessons I could sink my arms up to my elbows in the cows’ waterer before continuing on with the day. I had friends who took dance classes. The only jig I ever did was when I got shocked by the electric fence. When we got older, and my friends went to the gym, I ran along fence lines instead of on treadmills, lifted buckets instead of dumbbells, and practice resistance training when I lugged a stubborn calf across the yard with a halter.

I am finally taking those swimming classes that I missed out on, and while I learn how to do the front crawl, I am also practicing my gratitude since my friends can’t sign up to be a farm kid but I can for swimming lessons.

Going Against the Grain

2 Feb
Melanie Davidson, spokesperson for Ag More Than Ever

Melanie Davidson, spokesperson for Ag More Than Ever

Farmers are the best to poke honest fun at fellow farmers. Gather a bunch around a coffee table and one is bound to say:

“We love to complain, don’t we?” This will inevitably be followed with something like, “And how about this weather? Downright miserable.”

Thumb through certain farming newspapers and its page after page of bad news: markets crashing, too dry, too wet, dropping prices, doubling expenses. Apparently, it’s all doom and gloom. Of course, there is a silver lining around that rain cloud, snow cloud, or locust cloud—whatever might be contributing to today’s grim outlook. It is summed up in three words:

Farming is Fun.

Like any profession it isn’t always fun, not at 3 a.m and a cow is having a difficult calving. Then it’s hard and tiring. But farming can be a joy when making a breezy, three-minute commute to work, cuddling a barn cat, or driving out in a field mowing, raking, plowing—whatever you love to do—singing along with the radio. It can be a blast when you and your siblings’ race across a field on ATV’s, or catch-up on the latest celebrity gossip while feeding calves with your Mom and sister-in-law.

Such a simple word can get lost among those negative headlines and the constant stream of bills that must be paid. Also, whether you’re a farmer, a doctor or a student, it’s a lot easier to recognize what we don’t like to do than what we do. Having a great day doesn’t elicit as much sympathy as having a bad one. Like the old saying, misery loves company. Fun however is confident enough to stand by itself.

The best thing about having fun, in farming or whatever it is you do, is that it isn’t scientific or complex. You don’t need a degree. It’s lighthearted and refreshing. Once you’ve made the conscious decision to enjoy the day it’s as simple as talking about it. Call yourself an ‘agvocate’ and speak positively about agriculture. People are going to listen because it’s something different. Misery may love fickle, fleeting company but positivity welcomes and keeps good company.

I was in such company on Friday when I volunteered with other ‘agvocates’ (farmers and non-farmers alike) at an Ag More Than Ever booth at a trade show. Our purpose was to speak positively about agriculture. It wasn’t hard to do because feeding families, caring for animals and doing honest work is easy to talk about. It was however, an unusual experience. It was odd to have t-shirts printed with lighthearted sayings like ‘Kiss Me I’m a Farmer,’ or ‘100% Farm Raised’ on them. Attendees were eager but surprised that we wanted to talk about what agriculture was doing right, while handing out ‘I Heart Ag’ stickers. We took pictures of visitors holding speech bubbles that read ‘I’m Keeping it Rural,’ ‘Future Farmer’ and ‘I’d Rather be Farming’ and they loved it as much as we did.

Those pessimistic headlines won’t go away—we sometimes need them to stay abreast of what’s going on—and the anti-ag protestors won’t drop their banners anytime soon but instead of griping about them we can use it as a reminder about the importance of having fun, especially when times are tough.

Wear your corny, but funny, t-shirt, snap a ‘felfie’ (farmer selfie) and share it on social media. Having fun is contagious and it’s time more communities and farmers caught on.

Interested? Check out http://www.agriculturemorethanever.ca/ to get ‘agvocating.’ 🙂

In the Barn

26 Jan

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Yesterday morning a terrible tragedy took an unforgiving swipe at our neighbours, also a farming family. Today and for the rest of their lives this young couple must learn how to cope, and eventually live, with one child less. It isn’t fair and it’s even harder to believe.

If that isn’t already a cruel twist, Life does something even worse: it goes on. Life continues forward when all we want to do is hit rewind, or at the very least press pause and try to pick up the pieces.

This is when farming is a blessing and a curse. There will always be chores to do. The cows don’t hold their milk in sympathy, the calves won’t crack the seal on the milk tank and feed themselves. The barn cats can feed themselves, but they’ll still expect their bagged cat food. New feed must be mixed and the old feed pushed away. Pens have to be forked clean and gates repaired. If there is any place more evident that life must go on it’s in the barn.

Farmers can’t take a break—not indefinitely and that’s a career and life choice. Not on Christmas Day, or Easter, or after the loss of a loved one. There are family, friends and employees who can do a job, take on an extra chore, but eventually we’ll have to wrap our fingers around the familiar handles of the wheelbarrow and lift.

When we want to stay in bed, in the dark, and try not to hurt so much we can’t. We have to get up at four, maybe five, or six in the morning and go to the barn. There’s a routine. We witness the sun rise and realize that it is another day, and we see the sun set knowing we’ve endured another day.

In the barn we can still work alongside our cows and although everything has changed they don’t push the point. They don’t ask questions, or apologize profusely for something that was out of their control (even if we are mad). They still offer a sturdy shoulder to lean or cry on but otherwise don’t treat us any different.

In the barn we don’t have to explain to our boss why we’re quiet and slower than usual—we are the boss and are trying very hard to understand.

In the barn there are plenty of places to sit when we’ve become emotionally and physically exhausted but can’t sleep. A hay bale, the milking parlour steps, a tractor seat. Sometimes these spots can seem as sacred as a pew.

Then one day, while in the barn, we’ll feel the morning sun on our back, or be able to marvel at the green fields outside, or scratch our favourite cow behind her ear and begin to feel okay.

But that isn’t today—not yet—and we must still go to the barn.

And the Oscar goes to…

17 Jan

A leading farmer in an Outstanding Role!

Award season is upon us: the Golden Globes were last weekend, warming the stage and the media for Oscar’s big night in early March. The Screen Actor Guild Awards are two days from now and today was the BC and Yukon Outstanding Young Farmer’s (BC OYF) Luncheon. Not familiar? Let me introduce to agriculture’s Golden Globes.

The room is crowded with nominees, sponsors, family, reporters (yours truly) and the likes, murmuring over lunch and coffee. For some of us this is the one time a year we can get together. However, all our chatting goes quiet as one of the judge’s makes her way up the microphone. She is a OYF alumnus—in true award show fashion—and has her own angular trophy at home and her name embellished on the large silver cup sitting offside. Her name is on one of the many small, thumb-sized shields adorning the cup’s stacked wood base. She has, at one time, hoisted the cup above her head—a winner—but today someone else will get that chance.

“All the nominees are deserving of this award,” says the judge, “but there is only one award and it goes to…”

I imagine her cracking the seal of an envelope. She watches the crowd and announces the name with the same careful, deliberation the judges used all morning in determining the regional winner.

“Lydia Ryall of Cropthorne Farm.”

The room erupts into a thunderous cheer. Ryall is slight, but mighty to have come this far—and run a certified organic farm on her own. She makes her way to the front of the room and graciously accepts her trophy and a bouquet of flowers all flushed cheeks and smiling.

Ryall will be attending the Canadian Outstanding Young Farmers Event later on this year—competing nationally, with fellow winners from each region. This time however they’re trying-out for agriculture’s Oscar. Being dubbed Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmer.

As with Hollywood’s awards, there are categories. Nominees are marked on the progress they’ve made during their farming career (like the Lifetime—so far—Achievement Award), their sustainable environmental practices (similar to Visual Effects), crop and livestock production (Actors and Actresses in a Supporting Role), financial and management practices (Film Editing) and contributions to the community, province and nation (Production Design). But unlike in Hollywood, these farmers need to measure-up in each category, and winner takes all.

I think this would even make Meryl Streep sweat.

And what do farmers say in their acceptance speeches? Mostly what the celebrities do. They thank Mom and Dad for their mentorship; give a loving shout-out to spouses and kids. Maybe mention their favourite cow, or vegetable, or fruit. Sometimes they forget to thank someone and might jumble a word or two. But mostly, they look very, very happy.

So what’s one difference with Agriculture’s Night Out and, say, the Oscars?

Instead of zipping through In-N-Out Burger per Hollywood tradition these winners and nominees go back to the farm to raise the beef, harvest the wheat and grow the veggies that make-up those burgers and fill the rest of our supermarket shelves. And they get to do what they’re passionate about 365 days of the year.

Talk about a big win.

The Ups and Downs of 2013

8 Jan

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Last year there were some run-ins…

Before Christmas one of our best milking cows, Magoe, fell down in the barn. Some fellow Holstein—who definitely ended up on Santa’s naughty list—had ruthlessly knocked her down. We closed off the alley, coaxed her up with grain, and she shakily walked out of the barn into a temporary pen for some special care and attention.

There was the usual hard work and then the extra hard work…

After those first trembling steps, she wouldn’t stand. Her feed had to be forked over, water carried in buckets (she could drink five one-gallon pails in a sitting) and pen forked clean daily. My Dad and brother knotted together a basic sling, looping it around her stocky frame so she could be lifted up—but her front legs were limp.

Then there were difficult decisions…

Each morning when we came out to the barn so had flopped onto her side liked a knocked over bowling pin, kicking her rear legs furiously and making disgruntled snow angles in the sawdust. We would sit her up, then lift her up, and watch those front legs, limp and lifeless, with knots in our stomachs. They say where there is a will, there is way, but we were all loosing will—Magoe included—and could only see one way: we would need to call the vet to put her to sleep.

Some days required a lot of hope…

The New Year dawned, sunny and bright, and Magoe viewed it rolled on her side, looking up at the barn rafters with red, bleary eyes. For a cow that couldn’t stand up she sure could roll-over. My Dad and brother lifted her yet again, two weeks since her fall, and she took a nervous step, her front legs shaking. She stumbled and fell with a grunt. This happened repeatedly—as did our forking of her feed, carrying of the water buckets, and encouraging behind-the-ear scratches.

But most of all, we love a happy ending…

So how did it end? If this is a clue, the picture of this post is of Magoe. I took it two days ago. She stands on her own, is eating like a horse (or is that a cow?) and will join the herd in another week or two.

Happy New Year and, like Magoe, let’s take it in stride!