This Is What Farm Stress Looks Like.

This is what farm stress looks like for us. An empty feedyard amidst a grass and forage production crisis.

This spring has been unlike any other in our decades of farming. Drought combined with late, hard frosts, has resulted in almost no grass and forage growth across the ranch.

We have had farming seasons before that turned us upside down. We have survived BSE – when a sick animal from a different farm in a difference province cause the bottom to fall out of the beef market – and the value of every animal on our farm dropped to pennies. We survived the early 2004 frost, when every acre of our grain farm froze in the fields. Those moments will be forever etched in our minds, as they will for many of our fellow farmers. We have survived floods, a lightning strike to our cattle herd, trade wars and more. We know and understand farm stress as well as anyone.

But this spring is different. Our ranch is built around forage production. Over the years, that has ranged from high to low, and everywhere in between, but we have NEVER experienced zero production, and it is weighing heavy on our shoulders.

More than the financial hit we are taking, more than the uncertainty of what the best course forward is, there is such a weight of responsibility on us. The responsibility of having living, breathing animals relying on our decisions is immense. Crushing. We need to know that we have enough feed to nourish the animals in our care for not only the summer, but also the looming winter months as well.

We are already selling off animals, so they can be shipped out of province to parts of the country that still have feed. While it hurts to sell at a financial loss, moving those animals off the farm will free up what little feed we have for the animals that are left.

So we will make the best decisions that we can. We will remind ourselves that the struggles of our past have made us better farmers. We will knuckle down and pray for rain. We will look for ways to manage our stress as best we can. But – that pit in our stomach, the strained smile on our faces, the sleepless nights and the grouchy attitudes – those will be with us for a while. This is what farm stress looks like.

A Mother Allows Her Children To Walk Into A GMO Field Sprayed With Glyphosate. You’ll Never Guess What Happened Next. 

It was a beautiful summer day, the perfect day for a family road trip to the lake cabin. A mother and her two children had packed the car, and hit the road for a weekend of fun. Along the way, they stopped on a quiet country road to picnic beside a field of beautiful yellow flowers. They snacked and frolicked without a care in the world. 

For those of you who know about Canadian agriculture, you will know that these yellow flowers are a crop called Canola, grown for it’s oil, much of which is GMO (Genetically Modified Organism), and sprayed with Glyphosate. 

So, as the children played, and smelled the beautiful flowers, and their mother looked on, what happened? 


Well, the simple answer is – absolutely nothing. 

You see, as a farmer herself, the mother understood that GMO plants held no risk to her children. Her university education and science background taught her that a field previously sprayed with Glyphosate held no more toxicity for her children than a field sprayed with salt water, which actually has a higher toxicity level. 

That mother knew that Glyphosate and GMO are scary sounding words, but science and research hold far more weight than any fearful scare tactic or headline she may see online. 

That mother, who loves her children more than anything on this planet, allowed them to smell those flowers with confidence in agriculture, confidence in science, and confidence in the farmer responsible for that particular field.

I am that mother. Those are my children. And I am thankful every single day for the science that allows farmers to grow bountiful, nutritious and delicious food that I can feed my children. 

Important Note: Never, ever enter a farmers field without permission. Not only are the crops in those fields their livelihoods, but only the farmer can tell you if it is safe to be in that particular field at that particular time. 

#OurFoodHasAStory Post 9 Adele Buettner: If My Kitchen Table Could Talk

Day 9 of Agriculture Month in Saskatchewan brings us a guest post from a good friend of mine, Adele Buettner. Adele is more than a friend, she is also an inspiration to me. She is a force to be reckoned with in an industry which hasn’t always embraced women in leadership roles. Through her company, Agribiz Communications, (see them here), she works with awesome organizations like Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan, helping farmers share their stories with the public.  Read Adele’s food story, and I am sure you will be inspired as well. 

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Growing up on a family farm minutes from Saskatoon, I had the best of both worlds. While it was relatively effortless to make the five-minute drive to the city to take part in extracurricular activities, meet up with friends or go shopping, I was also very fortunate to live, learn, work and play on a family farm. I grew up fully integrated in the two worlds.
At the farm, the pivotal gathering point was our kitchen table. Since my grandparents farmed with us and lived in the same yard site, it was never a sure thing where our evening meal would be.

Regardless of which of the two kitchen tables we ate at or which meal of the day it was, we were fortunate to always enjoy an abundance of beautifully prepared homemade foods. We were taught that mealtime was family time. We all ate at the table together. Conversations, debates, storytelling, sibling rivalry, laughter and sometimes tears, all took place around the kitchen table.

Family gathered at my Grandparents table.


As farmers, much of what we ate came from the labour of our own hands. Going out for supper was a rare treat and we hardly ever ate food from a can or a package. Rather, the bulk of our vegetables came from our garden and our meat came from our barn or pasture. As with the foods grown on our farm today, the food on our table when I was growing up was produced with care and respect for both the land and animals.

Washing cattle for the regional 4H show.


The kitchen table also served as a focal point when neighbours would stop by. They would sit around the table visiting, drinking coffee and enjoying an endless selection of open-faced egg salad sandwiches on Mom’s freshly baked buns and an infinite selection of homemade sweets, which I always found delicious fresh or frozen! The kitchen table also provided untold hours of enjoyment for all the card games and board games we played with family and friends. And every evening, the kitchen transformed to a library, as after a day of hard work, my parents would have a coffee and read the daily paper while sitting around the kitchen table.

Our table was also the office. As computers were not yet a household must-have, a notebook and pencil were essential to planning for the next growing season. It was at the same table where we enjoyed the goodness of homegrown food that my parents would discuss what they were going to seed for the next year, what genetics they are going to introduce into their cattle herd, what equipment they should look at upgrading or what horse show we would attend the following weekend. The very place where the food was shared with family and friends is the same table where the cycle of what to grow was decided.

Adele and her daughter at Canadian Quarter Horse Nationals.


Growing up, I was expected to help with chores like cleaning barns (chicken and horse), gathering eggs, and feeding horses. My mom also taught me how to process cucumbers, make homemade soup and how to cook without relying on a can opener. My parents taught me the how to grow good food and to celebrate family and the blessings of good friends.

My mother pickling cucumbers.


Today when friends and family gather at my home, the kitchen table is also the gathering spot. I cook with good ingredients that come from farms in Saskatchewan, across the country and around the world. I was fortunate to learn my way around the kitchen from a mother and grandmother that could have given the Top Chef Canada winners a run for their title. Card games, board games, visiting, counseling, laughing, crying, storytelling and memory building—these are all regular occurrences around my kitchen table.


Saskatchewan is Canada’s only province that dedicates a whole month to agriculture, which is fitting because farming and ranching are so important to our economy, our people and our culture. I certainly relate to the tag line “Our Food Has a Story”. For me, the centre of my food story is the kitchen table where good food is shared, stories are told and memories are made.


 
Adele Buettner owns AgriBiz Communications, which for 25 years has helped ag related organizations, including Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan, with management, marketing and communications services. Adele is a passionate foodie, family supporter and volunteer. While she lives and works in Saskatoon, she maintains involvement in the family farm and remains to this day a farm girl at heart.
 
 

#OurFoodHasAStory Post 8 Donna Stone: Why I Love Gardens

Donna Stone is our guest author for day 8 of Agriculture Month in Saskatchewan. Donna and her family grain farm near Davidson. I love her story of the garden and the peace it brings her. I completely understand…. every part except the weeds! Ha! 

Stay tuned later in the month to hear from her husband Rob and his food story. 

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Hauling weeds


From as far back as I can remember, I have loved gardening. The smell of the freshly tilled soil, watching those tine seeds grow into beautiful plants and reaping the delicious rewards the garden produces. I even find pulling weeds relaxing and therapeutic. I love it all!

Canning Tomatoes


​I have learned a lot through gardening. Family stories and history were shared while I shelled peas with grandma or picked raspberries with grandpa. Plenty of “life lesson lectures” happened while my brother and I pulled weeds with mom. Through watching and helping, I also learned how to preserve and store the wonderful fruits and vegetables our gardens provided.  

Hauling potatoes farm kid style


​I have tried to pass my love of gardening on to my kids, and I think it’s working. They love helping from planting to harvest. Like I did, they are also making fond memories of gardening with their parents and grandparents. They’re learning that the best tasting food is the food you grow yourself and I hope someday the traditions and knowledge are passed on to their kids.

#OurFoodHasAStory Post 6 Avery Ens: Farmer from Scratch

I first met Avery where I have met many of my friends – at a horse show. She was the photographer taking awesome shots of my daughter and her horse. I know how hard it is to make a start at farming. I couldn’t even imagine how much harder it would be without farming with family. Have a read of Avery’s food story! 

Check out her Take Aim Photography on her FaceBook page here

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My husband and I have a small mixed farm in the Nipawin area. We started seriously farming about three years ago by baling hay and straw, and raising pigs. As the years have progressed, we have added both forage acres and animals – beef cattle, turkeys, butcher chickens, and laying hens. What originally started as a way to feed our own family has grown into feeding other people’s families as well.

Our goal from the beginning has been to raise quality products. We want clients to feel comfortable knowing that they are purchasing healthy animals and fresh forages. If we wouldn’t put it on our own table (or feed it to our own animals), then we won’t sell it! 

While starting a farm from scratch has had its share of challenges, it has most definitely been rewarding. We have had the opportunity to cultivate relationships with clients, and meet many new people. Connecting with fellow farmers has allowed us to exchange ideas and discuss the challenges facing the agriculture industry. But the best part of farming has been the lifestyle – being able to farm together, and having a great place to raise our family!

Avery Ens

JAE Farms

Codette, SK

#OurFoodHasAStory Post 5 Kali Cortus: Mother Gardener

Kali Cortus is a great family friend. Her and her family live in my hometown, and her husband helps my family’s farm during harvest. You can learn more about her financial work here. I love her story of how her son has not only connected with food himself, but helped her as well! 

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I have always been a townie and so have our kids. We have never grown a crop or had a garden. Fortunately, we haven’t been deprived of fresh garden food as there is always someone who grew too much and are willing to share!This year our 12 year decide he wanted to grow a garden in the back corner of our yard where the swing set and sand box used to be. We thought why not, something needs to be done to that empty space anyway. He chose the vegetables he wanted, which included purple potatoes, that’s his favorite colour.


He was always out there checking for new growth from the time the plants were just starting to pop out of the ground. It kept him interested every single day. Although weeding wasn’t his forte, picking the fresh food was rewarding.

I even cooked a full meal for a certain farm family and their harvest crew using only the veggies from the garden…..even the meat was provided by our own hunters.

Is My Corporate Farm Evil? The New Era of Family Farms

Yes, I admit it. My farm is a corporate farm. It is complete with a detailed share structure, profit sharing agreement and board meetings. We have detailed budgets for separate product lines. We have payroll and employee benefits. We do not sell our products at local shops or farmers markets. It is a big business. 

 I bet right now you are forming a picture in your head, and it’s not an especially nice one. Anyone that has been following the Food Movement that has been happening over the past decade knows that corporate farming is bad business. Bad for the environment, bad for a healthy food supply, bad for you. 

But then there is this:

My farm is a family farm. It is 100% owned by myself, my husband and his two parents. Our board meetings alternate between our two kitchen tables, and budgets are prepared in between  hockey practices and after the kids go to bed. We have two full time hired men, and sometimes their greatest benefit is being able to bring their kids to work with them. We love everything about agriculture with a fierce passion. We have never, ever, sold a product that we wouldn’t happily serve to our children. Every decision on the farm takes more than just finances into consideration. Our number one goal is to leave a farm to our children that is both environmentally and economically viable. We are self-proclaimed “dirt nerds”, who routinely take measurements of the health of our soil. 

While it may be hard to reconcile the two, both descriptions are honest depictions of our farm. Although some may consider us “Big Agri”, and you can’t buy our beef or grain at farmers markets – we work with our hands in the dirt everyday, using only the technology that makes the most sense to us. We could not be more proud of the delicious fruits of our labour. 

Our farm (and most farms) are Incorporated for two simple reasons: 

  1. No one wants to pay more tax than they have to; and
  2. Passing the farm from generation to generation is difficult without such a structure. 

In Canada, even though many are considered corporations, 98% of farms are family owned and operated. If you want to talk about being big, 98% is a BIG number. One that I am proud that my corporate farm is part of. 

So next time you click “like” or “share” when you see that MonSatan and Corporate Farms are taking over agriculture and control of the food supply, please remember what corporate farming really looks like: My husband and I, buying some land, and trying to make a go at farming.