I've long thought that farming is the biggest gamble going. As a farmer you literally invest everything, and hope that everything you cannot control, comes together somehow so you can get something in return. Weather, pests and the market and more, greatly influence farmers beyond anything they can control. Farmers are almost super human in my eyes as they manage their operations in hope, faith and hard work. The 2018 harvest season put all those qualities to the test.
Harvest 2018 Is Not Done
I am on the go around various parts of Manitoba a fair bit. It's January 5, 2019 and I still see corn and soy beans in the fields. Many bales (hay and straw) are still out in the fields, too. Although a farmer can still get the bales, the fact that so many are still out in the field is a reflection that much did not get done before winter hit.
Winter arrived in Manitoba at the end of September with several inches of snow. The snow came and went, only to return every week or two until the snow was here to stay by end of October. Between the cooler temperatures, and the rain and snow during harvest, the conditions to bring harvest in were extremely challenging. As a matter of fact, it seems that as summer came to an end, we skipped fall and went straight to winter. You can read more about the 2018 harvest season here and here.
Growing Up On A Farm
Although I'm not a farmer, it is very much a part of who I am. It's in my blood. I grew up on a farm. We had grain and cattle. There were good years and very sparse years. I saw my parents as they worked hard, sacrificed and gave their all to keep going. When necessary my mom worked a job to help with an outside income. That did not negate her parenting duties or her farm duties. Both my parents are probably some of the hardest working and most courageous people I know.
As farming is very much a part of me, I set out to photograph this year's harvest as much as possible. As I see harvest equipment out in the fields I feel the rush of the hectic pace flowing through my veins. It turned out that photographing harvest was almost as challenging as the harvest itself. It's pretty hard to take pictures of a harvest that is not happening due to ongoing adverse weather conditions.
Throughout this harvest season I got to know two amazing women: Susie and Sonya. In part we connected over a love for photography. In part we connected because farming is a part of who we are.
Both of these amazing women prepared meals for their farm crews on a regular basis. I asked them if I could document that in pictures.
Although I remember my mom bringing sandwiches to my dad and the odd worker here and there, we never brought hot meals out to the field.....probably because in our home we eat our main/hot meal at lunch time.
Susie prepared homemade supper for a crew of approximately 25 people for six days a week during potato harvest. All this while looking after a family with a toddler. The meals were made from scratch and on occasion Susie received help from her mother-in-law.
Sonya was in a rotation to bring supper to the field with other family members. She is the mother of three boys and has a part time job.
It has always amazed me that farm women can do all they do and raise a family somehow. I've seen my mom do it and she was always out on the field with my dad on top of maintaining a household and looking after a family.
I don't care what anyone says......I truly believe that women are the backbone of farming families and operations. I'm not negating the hard work of the men by any means, but women are an amazing strength that keep everything together somehow. I believe that women have an amazing superpower!
Through all this I was asked if I would help finish potato harvest. It was a tough harvest. Freezing temperatures had already been abundant and any help to get the potato harvest in was appreciated. I had never been part of a potato harvest, but I didn't mind. I always enjoy new experiences. I wanted to help in any way I could. It also helped me, so it worked out great.
I had never picked potatoes before, and let me tell you that it was quite the experience! My first day was a twelve hour day standing by a conveyor picking out dirt, bad potatoes or anything that didn't belong.
Sounds easy, right? Try that standing outside in the elements all day by a conveyor moving potatoes in front of you faster than you can think.
It amazed me how quickly my mind adapted to the speed of the potatoes moving in front of me. It didn't take long to learn to pick out anything that didn't belong in what seemed like a blur of potatoes moving by in front of me.
Any time the machines were cleaned out from mud or I walked away from the conveyor for a break, I felt like a drunk due to the continuous motion in front of me. It was somewhat amusing.
The second day I wasn't sure if I was going to throw up or not. I think in part because of exhaustion from the first day.......and the continuous motion in front of me as the potatoes continued to rush by in front of me on the conveyor.
I was assured by the seasoned pickers that I would get used to it. Honestly, I wasn't convinced. All things considered, I worked for a short stint of the potato harvest season before the sheds were full, concluding the harvest. I was grateful for this experience as I learned a lot from picking potatoes, as crazy as that may sound.
Seriously though........if you love potatoes of any kind.......please STOP!!!
Haha.......had to throw that in there......
Good Food Is Soul Therapy
Let me tell you, when you are out on the fields working hard all day, there is nothing like a good home cooked meal. It was literally soul therapy.
As mentioned before, Susie cooked for a good sized crew almost daily throughout potato harvest. I'll let her tell you a bit more about that. Susie also has a blog where she posts recipes and inspiration.
My name is Susie Friesen. I am the wife of Mike Friesen and mother to Kassandra, Presley, Chase and Kali.
I grew up being a Farmer's daughter in a rural community in northern Alberta. We lived on a small family farm where all of us kids learned to contribute to helping with harvest in one way or another while my mother took care of things on the home front, making sure we were all taken care of and well fed. Many a meal was brought out to field where we would quickly gulp down our food on the back of the farm truck or a folding lawn chair. My mother may not have been driving the tractors and combines or grain trucks but she was a huge asset to keeping the family farm running smoothly. Cooking, sewing, gardening were things my mother did exceptionally well. And in the midst of patching my dads coveralls or cooking a meal she would often drop everything to quickly drive to town for a part when machinery would break down.
When I became a Farmer's wife 14 years ago, I thought the transition would be easy. I soon realized that being a farmer's wife was a completely different role then a farmer's daughter. I now also realize that being a farmer's wife looks different in each farm family and that roles can change many times throughout the years. In the early years of our marriage I worked full time as a school teacher so my time spent towards the farm was limited. Throughout the years I gradually cut back on the days that I was working outside of the home as I found myself being needed more and more on the farm. A few years ago I gave up my career entirely to focus entirely on my family and my responsibilities as a farmer's wife which includes gardening, mowing grass, doing our book work, looking after the children, doing all the shopping and making meals.
As Siggi mentioned I make meals for our potato crew in the Fall with the help of my mother in law. This usually starts mid September and if the weather is good it lasts about 3 weeks. Harvest 2018 was a hard one with our last day of digging being October 25. We started out serving a crew of 25 men and women but with it being such a difficult harvest our crew ended up growing to 47 people in the last couple of weeks. Our total amount of plates served was 661.
Farming is not just a job it is a way of life. This life is not always easy but it is all I have ever known and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Supper In The Field
Here are just a few pictures of what "supper in the field" looks like. On the potato farm everyone took a break and gathered together to eat.
With Sonya's family and crew it looked a bit different as Sonya brought meals directly out to the field. Time and weather permitting, the family and workers spent some time together while enjoying a hearty home cooked meal.
When The Going Gets Tough, Hope And Faith Keeps Going On
During harvest Sonya's family lost a combine to fire. I am very aware of what a massive loss this is in the middle of harvest, especially if custom combining is part of what you do. This did not stop Sonya's family from continuing on. You have to do what you have to do. You pull together all the strength and family and keep doing what you set out to do.
As Siggi mentioned, my name is Sonya and our family farms in Manitoba. Devin and I have been married 18 years and we have three boys, ages 12, 8 and 3. Devin farms with his two brothers and his dad. We custom combine as well as harvest our own crops, so each year can be quite different. I help keep the crew fed in rotation with my two sisters-in-law and my mother-in-law. We typically start harvest in early August and finish in November or December, if the weather cooperates.
2018 was a unique year for a few reasons. We lost a combine to fire in September, it was a complete loss. To have such a huge loss in the middle of harvest was a shock for sure. We soon realized how fortunate we were that no one was injured and that equipment can be replaced. Every day we pray for safety during harvest. Considering the hours put in and the acres covered, we have been incredibly blessed to have another safe harvest season.
After a super dry summer, we had a really wet fall. We also received our first snowfall in September. This is early for our area and we still had beans in the field. They are usually long harvested before the snow threatens to come. We weren't sure what the outcome would be. Fortunately the snow didn't stick around long, and we were able to get the beans off without too much detriment to the crop.
As hard as the harvest season can be, it is also immensely rewarding. Working together with family towards a common goal, enjoying the beauty of a crop at full maturity, watching the sunsets in the fields while eating a meal on the tailgate on a stubble field, to feel pride in a bountiful crop after many hours of hard work have been put in, are some of the perks of this life style. Of course the occasional charred combine can wreck the view, but we love this life and wouldn't change it for anything.
Photo Credit: Devin Toews
Photo Credit: Sonya Toews
Winter Is Not The End
Although winter has arrived, the work is not done. There is a lot to do with selling the harvest, maintaining the machinery and planning for the following year. Anyone that has livestock continues to get out there daily to look after it.
Winter is a time to catch up and set the mind to do it all over again the following year. The plan to put it all on the line to reap a harvest in the end. Faith hope and strength are gathered up once again to do it all over another time.
For Father, a Farmer
An Ode written by Christina Doerksen in memory of Cornie Friesen (1939-2004)
To everything a season they say, a time foretold.
Happenings that go beyond the working of human hands.
Farmers know it well, don’t they?
Spring seasons start with seeds in hand, hopes in their heart;
Black earth is beckoning, chances for a good year ahead.
Heavy rains arrive, in spots, the seedlings grasp for air
His brow furrows slightly, a slight damper on a good head start.
Still early though they say, plenty of time to re-seed, hopes stay high.
Early Summer Saturday they gather around the horseshoe at the local shop.
‘You done seedin'?’
‘Yup, it’s in, is what is, just need some heat now.’
‘Just right, even after all those cloudy days, canola’s looking good.’
Last swig of coffee, after the farmers’ notes have been made,
And he heads home knowing, it’s gonna be fine, summer's here.
Next Saturday, no time to stop. Gotta make hay while the sun shines.
Storm's a brewing in the east, first cut is laying down.
I knew a farmer once, the storm it brewed in his head too.
Another furrow in his brow, head hung slightly.
As the first cut lays there through the second rain; eighty percent chance of a third.
‘Might be buying hay this winter if this don’t stop, should’ve baled it up on Sunday’, he mulls.
Late July, on a sunny summer Sunday, the kids pile into the truck
Life is good when Dads around, crop checking and maybe a treat on the way.
Slow speed down gravel roads, taking in the patchwork colors of the land.
The canola glows as though reflecting the summer sun, the wheat waves in the wind.
Corn stands tall in marching order, and the beans crouching together masking the dirt.
Water arcs from the irrigation pivot, feeding the golden growing nuggets beneath.
The farmer, he feels fullness, of heart and wealth; and it’s not the riches of money.
The money, it’s been spent on seed, fuel and fix its;
On fungicide and fertilizer. Anything to ward off plague and pestilence.
This wealth he feels is in his hands and heart, full of faith and family.
A short season in early August where one briefly feels the slow savor of summer ebb in the flow, in preparation for the busy season ahead.
The cattleman’s calves are catching up on their mamas.
The dairyman’s herds follow their trodden paths.
The gardener gathers her goods in jars and jams, juices flowing.
Small towns heartbeat supported by the veins of the countryside.
A purpose to everything under the Summer sun.
And it’s go time. September says so.
The farmer leans into long hours,
Days run into weeks Airs of adrenaline as suppers are served on fields of stubbly straw.
Mamas pray for safety and for their wits through tiring days of children and chores.
Autumn air sweeps in a cooling change, a feeling of finality.
It comes in early evening darkness, the fading flora and fields stripped bare
Some years it’s a tug of war between toil and thankfulness.
Weather had its own way this year with frost so soon, snow in September.
Giving pause to progress; rains bring busy mornings again at the coffee shop.
Oh October, it sweeps in its skies of gray, a deep sigh
Between its days of reaping harvest and fading glory.
My farmer father sighed his last breath fourteen years ago.
The furrows in his brow smoothed, at rest; worries no more
Each year time seems to still a moment and the ache lingers
A waiting place amidst that which has been planted and to be plucked up
Where one wonders in the whys of it all
How one harvest is short in days and abundant in yield?
While the next a long duration, drudging through for a means of imperfect product.
What does the worker gain from his toil?
Even the wisest might ask, life presses hard.
And then finished or not, winter wraps up the land,
Blanketing the furrows of the fields with rest,
The farmer slows his pace, hangs his hat, and has wine with his wife.
Winter has a way of lending grace to accept what’s been given
And has been season's change,
Each beautiful in its time.
And as time passes, times of sowing and harvest, of living and dying
It ticks on, toward the eternity set in our hearts.
For the faith of a farmer; it has no finish.
In Loving Memory
Christina also has a blog "Seasons of my Heart and Home"
All photography done by Sigrid Sauereisen unless otherwise noted.
©Sigrid Sauereisen 2019