I was running seriously late and my pal Rick’s email directions for the community supper were “four miles north of Vauxhall — lots of signs.”
Judging when you’re four miles from a place you’ve never been before is a little tough, but surely I couldn’t miss all those signs.
I spotted one marking the site of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank growing project — but nothing for the fundraising supper or the community hall or church I assumed was hosting the event this past July.
It was pushing 7 o’clock by the time I turned around, went back to the growing project sign, and finally spotted all the vehicles parked in front of Jan and Ida Bennen’s potato warehouse a half-mile to the west.
“Have you eaten?” I was asked by the first half-dozen people I met. Despite my protests I’d be getting supper later on, people who had been cleaning and packing up immediately began running here and there to fix me up a meal.
“So glad you could make it,” was the comment from pretty much everyone else I met that evening.
It’s just ordinary country hospitality, Rick said afterwards. Even the Bennens made light of getting their 7,200-square-foot warehouse ready for the 400 or so attendees. They’d had their 25th wedding anniversary in their other warehouse in 2005, they said, and it wasn’t that much work to host a Foodgrains Bank fundraiser once a year in the middle of the growing season.
“Did you get enough to eat?” they asked.
That pretty much sums up my first year back in Alberta.
Since my move here was rather sudden, I was back and forth to Manitoba for much of 2014 and didn’t get out and about as much as I’d like. But it was the same warm reception everywhere. Are you enjoying the province? If I can help in any way, just let me know. Come with me, there’s a couple of people I’d like you to meet. Love the paper; keep up the good work.
I live in Edmonton, and the people I’ve met there have been exceptionally welcoming, too. And their sense of community is also strong. It’s just not quite as expansive.
Two weeks after dining so well at the Bennens, a group of farmers I “follow” on Twitter had an impromptu little discussion on whether it’s better to side band phosphorus or seed place it.
Don’t think you can say a lot in 140 characters? Let eight very engaged farmers go hard at it over the course of a few hours and a lot of ground gets covered.
It was an excellent, and sometimes heated, conversation, and it took place on farms spanning the province from the southwest corner to well north of Vermilion — a distance of 900 kilometres. It wasn’t like a kitchen table debate, of course. But there was a sense of fellowship and respect that’s missing in much of society today, in both the virtual and real world.
Whether it’s in Vauxhall, on social media, or at farm events, that sense of community struck me over and over again.
And to me, it seems like the spirit of community is growing stronger, even as the number of farmers continues to fall. When you’re down to less than two per cent of the population, perhaps folks realize that community building is something you need to work on even harder.
I can’t pay back all the hospitality I’ve received, but hopefully this paper can play its part.
Because this is your paper. It even says that on the front page — the font is pretty tiny, but it’s there: Your provincial farm and ranch newspaper.
To every producer who appeared on the pages of this paper in 2014: Thank you for sharing your views, insights, and experience.
And to all of you, please think of this paper as a community resource. It’s not able to recognize all of the fine efforts of groups like the Vauxhall & District Growing Project, but we could do that more often. And pretty much every story is better when farmers weigh in and put the focus on what really matters.
And who knows? We might even be able to settle this side-banding versus seed-placing business.