August 11, 2021

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A day on the farm

Open Farm Days is an exciting annual event for me.

My first Open Farm Days experience was a guided bus tour organized by Community Futures St. Paul/Smoky Lake in 2019. It was an amazing day discovering the many ways of growing, raising, and preparing food products.

(And not just food—it’s important to have something to wash it down with. Thank you, Lakeland Brewing!) 

Last year I drove to some of the M.D. of Bonnyville venues that opened in a limited capacity within the pandemic guidelines. Again, it was a beautiful day touring the countryside, looking and learning, trying and tasting. 

I’m excited to be making the rounds again on Saturday.

I get a lot of benefit from the experience. In addition to publishing Respect, I freelance as an ag writer—primarily for the beef industry. But my background is as a writer, not a rancher, so even after 10 years on the beef beat I have a lot to learn. Open Farm Days gets me out onto the farms, and gives me an opportunity to have a casual, informative chat with all kinds of food producers, not just beef.

On a somewhat related note, I took a little holiday last week. I drove to Winnipeg to visit my Mom for the first time in two years. She’s as beautiful as ever, and doing very well in her mid-90s.

Along the way, I visited Ed and Charlotte Bothner, who operate a ranch near Beechy, Saskatchewan. They were recently awarded The Environmental Stewardship Award for their care of the native prairie grasslands where they raise their cattle.

I’ll spare you my soap-box lectures about the importance of our disappearing unbroken native prairie; about how important it is for carbon sequestration, and how it’s the habitat of last refuge for most of Canada’s species at risk; how grazing is necessary for preserving the ecosystem; and how active the ranching sector has been in protecting it.

Instead, I’ll tell you my intended one-hour visit turned into a four-hour tour of some of the most beautiful natural landscape I have ever seen. It’s been a painfully dry year, and the grass shows it. But the old prairie has seen drought cycles before, and can tough it out.

For all that though, the land is extremely fragile. The Bothners, like other ranchers, are sensitive to anything that might disrupt the natural balance of soil, plants, and water. Over thousands of acres of pasture, they travel only on established trails; they are keenly aware of any invasive plant species; they carefully marshal natural water resources for their cattle.

It was a beautiful, hot prairie afternoon when I visited. I was entranced by the natural landscape. I wish I had brought Don and Elaine Cassidy along with me to help me identify the many birds I had never seen before. 

In typical Saskatchewan fashion, our drive along the flat pasture led to an astonishing sight where two deep coulees appeared out of nowhere, converging into a ravine that flowed into Lake Diefenbaker. Charlotte said “funny we haven’t seen any deer,” and then magically two bucks appeared across the coulee, springing along the horizon.

We’ve all driven past farms in our highway travels, and we may think there isn’t much to see. But if you’re a town-dweller like me, the learning opportunities are endless. From small market gardens to sprawling ranches, the story of our food is amazing, and producers are proud to tell it.

If you’re looking for a fantastic day out in the country, with plenty to see and do and lots of great food to eat (and something to wash it down with, responsibly), plan your route for Open Farm Days on Saturday.