Proud to be prairie on Canadian Ag Day (and every day)

Yesterday, I joined people from all over Alberta to take part in a long table dinner in a barn. Willow Lane Barn is a special events venue on the property of Ria and Ken Holgerson, just outside of Olds. It’s a very pretty barn, as you can see.

We were there to join others from various parts of the province to celebrate Canadian Agriculture Day (#CdnAgDay).

It was a coincidence, I thought, being reminded of how important agriculture is on the very day I had been on CBC radio gushing about Edmonton’s incredible food scene.

Without our farmers, we wouldn’t have an incredible food scene because we’d have no food. It’s that simple.

And in saying “farmers”, that doesn’t mean just the guys who drive the combines, it means the beekeepers, the dairy farmers, the bison and cattle ranchers, the pulse growers, the Hutterites, the potato growers, the mushroom cultivators, and the vegetable producers. And, by the way, 31% of farm operators are women—the second highest proportion in Canada, so when I say “the guys who drive the combines”, I don’t mean just men.

Did you know: A modern combine costs $1,000 per hour to run during harvest season?

Last night at the dinner, I sat beside a young grain farmer. In Western Canada, Alberta has the most farmers under 35. Those grain farmers grow wheat on 6.8 million acres in this province. That’s a lot of land, and a lot of wheat to make your bread, your pasta, your cereal and your vodka.

Vodka and gin are made from grain. So, buy local spirits and raise your glass to our farmers. (p.s. RAW Distillery in Canmore makes top notch spirits.)

I talked with a Hutterite farmer and learned how they raise chickens and cattle and pork and crops, and I sat beside a young woman who has a master’s degree in business and who specializes in farm consulting. She was raised on a ranch, looked young enough to be my daughter, and when she talked about ROI, yield, and production, she lit up like a prairie sunrise.  I was looking at the future of farming: modern practises, business acumen, youth, and a whole lot of heart.

That last trait is something that isn’t taught. Farmers are known for having “heart”. I was reminded of that this summer when I was part of the Prairie Grid Dinner Series, a travelling dinner party organized by Eat North co-founder, Dan Clapson. The dinners that took place in Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg featured ingredients sourced from prairie producers.  During the 10 day event, we used the hashtag “proudtobeprairie” on social media, and boy, were we ever.

This video shown last night at the Meet in the Middle dinner was produced by ATB to promote Canadian Ag Day. ATB has long been a supporter of agri-business. Watch it and you’ll be proud to be prairie, too.

I grew up on a farm and was asked, last night, if I had ever thought of becoming a farmer. Of course I have, still do sometimes, but then reality smacks me upside the head and I think, no way. Romantic notions of owning a horse, some dogs, raising a few chickens, watching sunsets, and breathing in that fresh air—those thoughts dissipate as soon as I think of how hard a farmer works. I  don’t have what it takes to be a farmer, but I have all the respect in the world for those who do lead that life. All the respect, and more.

Photo credit: albertabeef.org

Farmers are a vital part of our lives.

If you need proof, think about this: Our dairy farmers produce enough milk to make 2.5 billion litres of yogurt. Twelve billion bottles of beer are made annually from Alberta malt barley. Fifteen thousand tonnes of vegetables are produced here and in all, we have 50 miilion acres of farmland. Agriculture in Canada generates over $110 billion annually in related manufacturing.

Next time you see a farmer, thank her (or him). We need them to keep feeding us.

An Alberta food and drink collaborative effort provided snacks, appetizers, mains, and drinks. We were spoiled rotten. The good photos were taken by Dan Clapson, the horrible photos (as usual) are all mine.

Keep abreast of Alberta agriculture by following these people on social media. And if you want to include #proudtobeprairie on your posts that promote Alberta farmers, please do. Let’s spread the love.

Major thanks to ALL these fine folks.