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.

Smiles Post-Conference!

Last week, Nolan and I attended the Organic Alberta conference, in Olds, AB. What an exciting event, I am so glad we got to go! The speakers were all very knowledgable and enthusiastic, and the atmosphere was wonderfully positive and inspiring. I left with a pile of notes (that I have to copy out neatly sometime this week, since they are in my nearly-illegible-chicken-scratch handwriting) and even more excited than usual about everything organic!

When we first arrived at the opening, I was pleasantly surprised to see that a good number of those attending were around our age. We don’t know a lot of other young farmers so I was excited to meet some people with whom we might have some things in common. I was disappointed to find though, that when we went to the first few talks aimed towards grain farmers, we were some of the youngest people in the room.

Next generation family farming is something that I have thought about a lot since the conference. In one talk, called “Where Are All of the Young Farmers?” presented by Dana Penrice of Organic Alberta, I learned that 74% of Canadian farmers today say that they will sell their farm in the next 10 years. This is sad, but didn’t surprise me. What did come as a shock though, is that 68% of new farmers nowadays actually did not grow up with a farming background. The question arising from these stats is: Why aren’t “farm kids” returning to the family farm?

For me, if anyone had told me at the age of sixteen that I would return to the farm at age twenty-six and LOVE it, I would have laughed in their face (or maybe gave an exaggerated eye-roll –  I had quite an attitude at sixteen).  I did come back though, and it embarrasses me now when I think about how badly I wanted to get away from the farm as a teen. Of course, it was isolated and a lot of hard work, most teens wouldn’t be keen on staying. Now though, I wish I had learned to appreciate farm life sooner, and feel a little like I’m making up for lost time. I always thought that I just had a particularly bad attitude about the farm as a teenager, but learning these statistics really makes me wonder since obviously it is common for individuals to not return to the family farm – what with the trend in so many family farms being sold.

When I try to put myself back in that sixteen-year-old mindset (eye-rolls and all) I remember seeing my parents as overworked, worried, and exhausted. Not very attractive adjectives to someone deciding on a future career. When one thinks about farming as a career in general, I think it is commonly viewed as very difficult, stressful work, without a lot of benefits. How can we as farmers, and non-farmers who support agriculture, spread enthusiasm and respect for a career in farming?

One of the talks at the conference, presented by Becky Lipton, the Executive Director of Organic Alberta, explained a project called Organic 3.0. It was created by IFOAM Organics International and is basically meant to bring more people into organic farming, and help integrate it into society as a more commonplace practice in the future. As part of this presentation, Becky had the audience split into small groups and brainstorm ideas about Organic 3.0, one of the subjects being how we as individuals can contribute to this movement. At the time, I didn’t have a lot of ideas, but I have been pondering this idea over the past few days and came up with a very simple, small thing that I think could have a big impact:

From now on, when someone asks me about my farming career, I’m going to smile. I’m going to grin and talk about the best things about my job. I’m going to make it a goal to establish in myself a kind of contagious enthusiasm for organic agriculture. 

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2015 flax blooming 😀

A few days ago, someone asked me how my first year as a full-time farmer went. Without really thinking, I said “Well, there was a drought, and we lost some flax to elk damage. Next year should be better.”

I am appalled at myself that by default, I just talked about the hardships instead of all the good things in our first year farming. I didn’t mention the excitement I felt as I dug my hands into the soil searching for flax seeds when our first-ever crop started germinating. I didn’t tell them about one of the late nights during harvest when we shut down the combines and just stood staring up at the sky, watching the Northern Lights dance like I’d never seen before. I can’t quite believe that after just one year farming, I’ve been talking like a cranky old farmer!?  I’m frustrated that I’ve been letting this negativity to come out of my mouth when truthfully, I am full of pride and a powerful sense of accomplishment over our first year as farmers, despite the challenges.

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Spring cultivating, I love the smell of freshly worked soil!

It is easy for so many of us (in all different careers and life situations) to focus too much on the negative. I think we need to be especially conscious of what we focus on when it comes to agriculture, since it is such a challenging profession, and one that so desperately needs the interest and involvement of the younger generation.

As long as I’m farming, I’m going to keep smiling, because there’s so much to smile about!

    There has already been a shift in creating a more positive dialogue around agriculture in Canada. The Agriculture More Than Ever cause is one of them, as well as groups like the Young Agrarians and the National New Farmers Coalition. Check them out, and whether you’ve been farming for decades, are just starting out, wish you could, or maybe wouldn’t set foot on a farm in a million years. . . the next time the subject of farming comes up in conversation, smile!!! 🙂
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A beautiful evening baling.