Harvest 2017 has wrapped up, and with 95% of our crops in the bins, we can’t complain. It’s so much better than last year!

 

As usual, it has been a busy season. The early snow last year left us with some combining and piles of discing to do this spring. All the rain in May and June also made for stressful seeding but we made it through. Now with the wet harvest it looks like we’ll be in the same boat with some of the discing next spring, but that’s ok, at least our crops aren’t out under the snow this winter!

 

Now the focus is to haul bales, and move some grain. I am not much help with that this year. I like to write about the farm, our successes and failures, and what we’re up to. What I have been meaning to write about and just haven’t wanted to, is my health. But if this blog is about “Authentic Farming, Authentic Living,” then I think it’s time to talk more about the “Living.”

 

In the middle of harvest last year, I was in an accident on the highway and rolled my truck. I came out with some bruises and a mild concussion. I spent most of the winter recovering from what I thought at first was just shock and stress on my body from the accident, but things kept getting worse. In April of this year I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

 

Fibromyalgia is a central nervous system disorder. It’s characterized by widespread pain and fatigue. This pain can look like sore muscles, stiff joints, headaches, nerve pain, and skin pain (allodynia). Fibro can also cause sensitivities to certain foods, smells, and environments, as well as cognitive impairment, known as “fibrofog.” The exact cause is unknown, although recent studies have shown that it might be related to extra nerve fibres in the extremities of fibromyalgia patients, and it is the overactivity of these nerves that causes circulation issues and pain.

 

I could go on, but you get the picture. Basically, it’s been a rough year health-wise. In between farming and on rainy days, Nolan and I have been searching for some relief for my body, going to doctor appointments, naturopaths, physio, acupuncture, and even going to Edmonton for injections in the nerve bundles along my spine.

 

The nerve pain in my legs has been particularly debilitating for me, as it makes it difficult for me to operate the pedals on the tractors or trucks. Thus, my field-time this year has been limited to things that don’t involve too much use of pedals, like swathing and combining.

 

I am slowly learning to adjust my life around fibromyalgia, and with a lot of trial and error, I think I am starting to get somewhere. This, however, is not somewhere I ever thought I’d be. I never pictured myself having to stop combining to go soak my body in Epsom salts, or for that matter not being able to combine at all because I literally can’t climb the ladder.

 

The frustration and added stress that my illness has caused all of us is evident. I don’t recall any of us looking as tired at the end of harvest as we do this year. Therefore, my goals for this winter are to make educating myself and managing this illness my first priorities. The cold weather lately has made my symptoms worse, but I’m readjusting and my body will catch up soon. By the time spring work rolls around again, I want to ready to disc and harrow and have farming be my priority again. It’s hard to feel like a farmer when most days you are unable to actively farm. I try to stay involved by doing bookwork and little jobs that aren’t too physically demanding, but it just isn’t the same as being out there every day.

 

Being unable to work on the farm as much as I’d like to has given me a fresh perspective on how very lucky we are. How fortunate are farmers, to not only have a front-row seat, but to also be a stage-manager for growing healthy food? I think if we are the stage-managers, then nature is the director, deciding when it rains or shines, or how the wind blows. I’ll be happy when I’m back in the front row.

Informed & Organic

I have been reading a lot of articles lately on the whole pro-GMO/non-GMO debate. I won’t quote them or link them here, as some came from well-known agricultural publications that in my opinion could stand to take a slightly less-biased stance when writing these pieces. If you are interested in reading them, please feel free to email me and I can tell you where to find them. I myself won’t be giving those pages any more shares/views.

I will however, clear up a few things.

1. As an organic farmer and consumer, I actually do know what GMO/GEO/GM/ bio-technologically modified foods and seeds are. The articles I have come across tend to refer to organic and non-GMO supporters as being uneducated on the subject. The idea that organic consumers and producers are uneducated is insulting. If I consider myself a farmer who cares about my career at all (which I do) and a consumer who cares about her health and environment (which I do) then of course I have done my research (and yes, I realize this may not always be the case but as someone who personally knows plenty of non-gmo and organic advocates, they are anything but uninformed on the subject).

2. The biotech industry’s biggest argument right now is that consumers are uneducated as to what a GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) is, and that heritage seeds and selective breeding actually falls under this umbrella term. I find this interesting as more than a few reputable sources actually refer to Genetic Engineering and Genetic Modification as one in the same. The World Health Organization, for example, defines GMOs as:

“Organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.” 

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, defines them as organisms that do “not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.”   That is, they are created by unnatural DNA recombinant technology.

3. These biased articles are a direct attack at the organic movement. Not that I feel it’s threatened. If they are arguing semantics of terminology and grasping at opportunities to call organic supporters uneducated and uninformed, then they are obviously running out of ideas.

4. Whatever they decide to call it or not call it, I, as an organic producer and consumer, am not doing what I do to fight against some silly term. It’s much bigger than the wording (whatever that ends up being). If I can no longer say that I am “non-gmo” then I will instead say that “I am against the unnatural alteration of genetic material in our food using DNA isolation and recombinant technology. I support selective breeding which is a very different and quite natural process, and is a type of biotechnology that has been used for millennia by farmers and growers that care about what they are producing/eating.”

If you are interested in reading more about GMOs, or want to be clearer on the terminology, here are some great links to get you started – and to share with friends! The misconception is that organic advocates are uninformed. Let’s change that.

The World Health Organization (WHO) – Frequently Asked Questions on Genetically Modified Foods

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) – Descriptions and Definitions

Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) – GMO Basics

Organic Consumers Association – Genetic Engineering: What you need to know

You aren’t alone.

I just finished reading my last post, “Organic Inspection is Done!!” and the last paragraph had Nolan and I both giggling and shaking our heads:

“This year’s tour was very enjoyable since our inspector was so enthusiastic, he even said our crops are the best he’s seen this year so far! We are pretty pleased with them too, the rain was timed perfectly with our seeding this year and some of our rotation decisions are working out great! Everything is a beautiful deep green, which means there’s lots of nitrogen in the soil. Things are also maturing early, which means a nice early harvest!”

Oh how naive we were! The phrase, “a nice early harvest” seems especially innocent now.

It is now the second week of November, and harvest is still nowhere near complete. Like so many farmers in Western Canada this year, we have had a wet, snowy, frustrating autumn. Anything that we have managed to combine so far has had to be run through the grain dryer before going into storage, and we have only had a handful of days where the weather conditions were good and we weren’t dealing with breakdowns.

Going into this, I knew that farming would be a tough career at times. I prepared myself for that. However, when I was looking out on our field of wheat (beautiful wheat, that we were so proud of) covered in 3 inches of wet snow . . . I have no words to describe that feeling.

The ground has been so wet at the farm that it’s been nearly three weeks since we’ve been able to do any significant amount of field work. Even discing hasn’t been possible most days, it’s just too muddy. We’ve been busying ourselves with drying grain and maintenance and marketing, ready to jump back on the combines the moment conditions are better.

We are hopeful yet, the past several days we’ve had a lovely chinook blowing through, melting snow and drying things out a little. If it keeps blowing like this, or else gets really cold without snow, then we still have a chance at getting the crops off.

Sometimes when I talk about weather now, I feel like a particularly finicky customer at a restaurant: “I’ll take a week of sun and warm winds for an appetizer, followed by a large helping of very cold, hard frost and breezy evenings, perfect for freezing the muddy fields and finishing combining. Please HOLD THE SNOW!”  

Talk about picky! If I don’t get exactly what I ordered, we still have options for harvest. We are researching winter combining, and if worst comes to worst, we still may be able to combine in the spring. If we are unable to finish discing because of the mud and snow, then we can work those fields in the spring and plant some later crops next year with a shorter growing season (probably barley, and perhaps hemp – I’m researching that possibility this week). Some of these solutions aren’t the most ideal, but it helps a lot to talk about our options. I worry less.

This post has been a long time coming. I have been putting it off and wondering what to say, because I so want to keep a positive dialogue going when I talk about farming. I still want to smile when I talk about my career, and I want to communicate to people how beautiful I think a life in agriculture can be. This season though, I am disappointed that I have found it hard to find that silver lining.

I thought about only writing about the positive things in this post, but decided that just wouldn’t be real or helpful to anyone. When I think about what has brought comfort to me lately, the biggest thing has been remembering that we’re not alone.

When Mother Nature threatens your pay cheques for the entire year, it somehow helps to know that you’re not the only person she’s picking on!

The morale of our fellow farmers in the Peace Country is low, too. With only 50-60% of crops harvested in the area, we aren’t the only ones feeling frustrated. I do notice though, a lovely sense of camaraderie among the farmers that I talk to. We all feel for each other and know that each of us is doing our very best.

Thus, this post is my part in supporting other farmers who may be struggling this year. Especially new farmers, like us, who don’t have a few tough harvests under their belts yet. I’m going to say what I’ve been hearing, and wanting to hear all season:

“We get it, it sucks, you’re not the only ones, and you still have options. Don’t give up!” 

Here’s hoping we get what we ordered weather-wise, and that we’ll remember there is always another farmer across the table.