Life and its blessings continue during these troubled times

Little joys have new meaning and family time has taken on new significance on farms across the province

Getting ready for the new baby and celebrating the one newly born. Having coffee with your spouse. Checking out some four-legged farm visitors. Getting a bit goofy on social media. Pausing to appreciate the arrival of spring.

On farms across Alberta, special moments abound during these stressful and unprecedented times.

And they are worth celebrating. So in that spirit, here are some slices of life — and lessons learned — from your fellow farmers.

Kevin Steeves

Rimbey

A quieter-than-normal spring was a welcome change for this young farm family.

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“We’ve been hanging out a lot as a family,” said Steeves, who farms with wife Rosalie. “That was one thing we took for granted before, and being slowed, it’s definitely opened our eyes to just how lucky we are to have our two girls at home and being able to spend some time with them and really see them grow.

“It’s been kind of fun to just slow down and not always make an excuse to be on the road.”

The family quarantined for two weeks after a trip to the U.S. in early March, and afterwards managed to get to “some of those little projects that we didn’t have a lot of time for before.”

They built a greenhouse (“a fun little husband-and-wife project once the kids went to bed”), Kevin took some online business courses and Rosalie was busy preparing for a new addition to the family.

“We’re not due until the end of July, so we’re hoping that things kind of blow over by the time the baby is due,” he said.

While it’s been stressful navigating a pregnancy during the pandemic, having video chats with family has helped them feel connected to their support system.

“Our families are very tight knit and I don’t think this is going to change that, but I think it’s going to make it so we don’t take for granted the opportunities we do get together,” said Steeves. “It’s just grounded us on how lucky we are that they are close.”

Jason Lenz

Bentley

It’s the off-farm trips that are most striking — the Plexiglas shields at cash registers and six-foot markings at a store or equipment dealer, said Lenz.

“It’s when you leave the farm gate that you really realize what’s going on,” he said. “You really appreciate those businesses for taking the appropriate steps so they can stay open and business can carry on.

“The grain handlers are a prime example of that. When you go to the elevator, you stay in the truck. You can’t go inside the office to have a coffee or a visit, and they unload your grain for you. But I think farmers really appreciate that they’re open and doing those things to stay open.”

Jason Lenz — whose wife and daughter are both nurses — has a new appreciation for health workers and those on the front lines.
photo: Two Stone Design for the Alberta Wheat Commission

And like everyone, Lenz has a new appreciation for those on the front lines.

“My wife is a nurse and our daughter is a nurse, and you keep hearing from people how appreciative they are that health-care workers are continuing to do their jobs in a situation like this,” he said.

Although spring came late this year, Lenz was also grateful that the considerable amount of snow on his fields disappeared quickly and the ground dried up quite nicely once warm weather arrived.

“It seems like there’s one morning every spring when you leave the house and get outside and you feel and smell spring in the air,” he said early in May. “That day came last week. It didn’t feel like winter anymore. It makes us very thankful that we’re able to do what we do on the farm.”

Jeannette Andrashewski

Two Hills

When the order to shelter in place was issued, the change of pace was immediately noticeable, said Andrashewski, who operates a grain farm with her husband and adult son.

“Our farm is a busy place and we run a seed business,” she said. “Everything stopped and it was nice to have a little breather and reconnect with people, but in a different way.”

A simple phone call can mean so much to people, says Jeannette Andrashewski, who has been calling older neighbours to see if they need a hand with anything.
photo: Supplied

She has spent a lot of time phoning family members as well as older farmers in her area to ask if they were OK or needed anything.

“I did reach out to my elderly neighbours more, checking in on them, checking on their spirits and checking if I could run to town for them,” she said.

Just reaching out was appreciated as much as the offer to help.

“A phone call once a week would kind of keep their spirits up. That was my way of helping,” she said.

She also appreciated the opportunity to spend more time with husband Dwayne before the busy spring season.

“We spent time watching some movies, and just having coffee together without being interrupted five times without phone calls or a farming issue coming up,” she said.

There was even time for a chore that so often gets set aside on farms.

“It was kind of a re-evaluation of our farm,” said Andrashewski. “We did those jobs that you kind of push to the back. We went through things that we had put on the back burners because we didn’t want to deal with it or it was time consuming.”

Kerry Ringness

Rocky Mountain House

When the mood strikes, bison producer Ringness does something goofy.

That might be performing O Canada on her kazoo in a top hat and tails to an audience of farm animals (and Facebook friends), creating a TikTok video of being attacked in the tub by an oversized rubber ducky, or ‘yarn bombing’ husband Mark who had been sitting in one spot just a little too long.

“My husband — who is not an entertainer and who hates everything about that — is surprisingly willing to go along with my crazy adventures,” Ringness said with a laugh. “We’ve been doing a lot of goofy stuff.”

Whether dressing up like the Swedish chef from “The Muppet Show” or ‘yarn bombing husband Mark, Kerry Ringness has been lifting spirits with friends, family and her community on social media.
photo: Supplied

In between calving and chores, the couple has been keeping their spirits up — and entertaining friends on social media — with their antics. And as a professional clown, Kerry is no stranger to being silly.

“Like everybody, I think there are times when we’re feeling really low and scared and weird, but we get these fleeting moments of creativity,” said Ringness. “It’s really freeing. Remembering what it’s like to make other people laugh is something that’s good for me. I miss that a lot.”

Unable to do her usual volunteer work at a local seniors’ home, Ringness was planning a kazoozaphone performance in the parking lot. She said she hopes that by sharing some joy on social media and in her community, she can support “people who aren’t in a very good place right now.”

“I feel like I need to smile, and when I make other people smile, that makes me feel better too,” said Ringness. “It feels like we’re doing OK.”

Shelley Bradshaw

Innisfail

There’s usually a steady but quiet pace at Beck Farms prior to spring seeding — Bradshaw tries to catch up on office work while husband Rod gets equipment ready.

But the pandemic brought something brand new for the vegetable producers and other farms that are part of Innisfail Growers co-operative — a new drive-through farmers’ market.

It’s hardly a typical farmers’ market, but customers have been flocking to the drive-through stands created by Innisfail Growers.
photo: Supplied

Setting up the operation in parking lots in Red Deer and Innisfail (after the community centre that was home to their regular Saturday market had to close) meant dealing with things like protective gear for staff and payment logistics. But the response was tremendous.

“Our customers have been very happy,” said Bradshaw. “People are really enthusiastic about wanting to get local products wherever they can — and in the safest manner that they can.”

It also helped the farm retain a sense of normalcy during “some strange times.”

“We’ve been able to retain all the staff we normally would have at this time of year, and we’re hoping that will continue on,” said Bradshaw.

Gary Stanford

Magrath

“A couple of days ago, my grandson came out to see me on the farm,” the 64-year-old said from his tractor while seeding flax on the morning of May 5.

“And he says to me, ‘Those are kind of funny-looking deer out there in the field.”

Six-year-old Braeden was surprised to learn they were antelope.

Checking out some antelope with grandson Braeden was a highlight for Gary Stanford this spring.
photo: Supplied

“He goes, ‘Wow. Can we go see them?’ So we got in the pickup and drove closer to get a better look. And I explained to him what they were and why they were out here. He thought it was pretty neat and something he could tell his friends about or write about in a school project. It was just nice.”

Stanford was only a few years older than his grandson when he started farming. He remembers seeding with his dad’s 14-foot press drill when he was 8 or 9. This spring has been both the same and different than all those years since, he said.

“Now that we’re self-isolating, it seems we’re more attuned with what’s going on. I think farmers are looking around more and just having a good view of what’s there. And I think young people are doing the same thing. We actually live in a beautiful place and there’s a lot of cool things to see.”

That afternoon, Stanford was heading to the Milk River Ridge to seed oats and triticale for a rancher.

“It’s right along the Montana border. People who have come to help me have remarked that there’s not one tree, power pole or cell tower to be seen. It’s hard to believe you’re still in Alberta but it’s good ranching country and it will be nice to be up there.”

Chris Allam

Thorhild and Strathcona County

With 15,000 acres, things are rarely quiet on Allam Farms.

So Allam is able to joke about enjoying the lack of visits from sales reps once the pandemic started.

“As long as we have access to parts, tools and food to feed the staff and all our seed and fertilizer, we’re good to go,” he said as seeding was getting underway in earnest earlier in the month.

Little Avery has a smile that lights up the life of dad Chris Allam.
photo: Supplied

Allam farms with his parents, brother, and several employees — and the ranks of the next generation is expanding rapidly: His brother and sister-in-law had their second child in April while Chris and wife Jessie welcomed daughter Avery in December.

“Before I got going seeding, there were weekends when I was home with the family,” he said, adding with a laugh that “having kids is harder than farming.”

“It’s challenging having kids around, but it’s also super rewarding. We undo her swaddle in the morning, and she’s just all giggles. There’s nothing better than that. When you’ve got kids, that morning smile is the best thing in the world.”

The end of the work day is pretty special, too.

“It’s great when I get home and everyone is there and smiling,” Allam said.

He said he believes the pandemic has given people perspective into what’s important in life.

“I think in general, society is learning to take care of itself a little bit more, which I think is a good thing.”

About the author

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Reporter

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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