From film sets to tractor cabs
'Its OK to take a dream you had as a kid and turn it into a reality': Sask. farmer
I have a confession to make. Seven years ago I thought all GMOs were bad. That may not be a shocking sentiment these days, but here's the catch: Now I'm a grain farmer in Saskatchewan.
My perspective on GMOs is just one of many things that have changed since I embraced farm life.
I grew up in Calgary and went on to an 11-year career in the film industry before meeting my husband and moving out to his fourth-generation family farm. The transition from film to farm may seem like a wild step, but growing up I always felt most at home on my extended family's ranch in Southern Alberta.
My childhood weekends, summer holidays and birthday parties were always spent on the farm. I was free there. I ran wild, took off on horseback, built forts in the coulee and climbed the Porcupine Hills.
As a teenager I would fantasize about one day having a farm of my own.What my teenage self didn't realize was how challenging the transition to farming would be and how many of my preconceived ideas about food and food production would be challenged.
I have always been a creative soul and a bit of a gypsy. After high school I got my first job in the film industry as a trainee set decorator on the blockbuster film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I was hooked. I loved the fast pace, the ever-changing challenges, the problem-solving and the performing under stress.
As much as I loved film, there was always a piece of me that was missing the farm and farm life.
Fast forward to a surprise birthday party on a dark night during harvest in a rural Sask. town with a population of 12. A young grain farmer walks into the bar covered in dust from combining field peas. He didn't remember meeting me and I didn't realize it at the time, but that young farmer was going to be the one to bring me back to farm life.
In 2013 I made the jump and traded film sets for tractor cabs. I dove in headfirst, totally in love with every minute of my new farm life. Being exposed to a cattle ranch growing up didn't really prepare me for life as a grain farmer. The only thing I knew was that at some point everything will break down.
I got a job at a nearby AGCO dealership working as an apprentice heavy duty mechanic. I figured if I could learn to fix the equipment we were running on the farm then I could probably be useful.
I was shocked to discover that what we were seeding was saved from last years crop. I had grown up thinking Monsanto forced farmers to always buy new seed thanks to a documentary I'd been shown in Grade 10. The more I learned about what we were doing to grow our crops and why we were using the tools like herbicides and seed treatments the more I felt like I had been lied to growing up.
I didn't need to fear technology in agriculture or the food I was buying at the grocery store. I became proud of how sustainable and environmental farming has become thanks to major advances in our equipment, inputs and seed varieties.
I'm being a little romantic about my experience. Some days farm life was like the image I had created as a teenager, but there were many bumps in the road.
During my first harvest I got lost in fields at night, stopped so abruptly on a hill that I almost tipped the combine and plugged the combine so bad threshing peas it took hours for me to get going again. I got in trouble for not cutting a field the proper way. I guess I should have asked first, but when you know nothing it's hard to even know what to ask. I'm not sure these experiences made me a better farmer but they do give me something to laugh about.
There is a lot of stress involved in farming. During the busy seasons we get 4 to 5 hours of sleep and don't see much of our families. Delays cost us a lot of money. Film prepared me for all of this.
Working in film it was easy to do a 100-hour work week, I learned to love performing under pressure. Maybe that's why harvest is my favourite time of year.
What film didn't prepare me for was watching my crop fail to thrive because I can't make it rain, seeing a crop destroyed in 10 minutes by a July hailstorm, or helping pull a calf only to find we were too late and it didn't make it. I have cried over weather and alongside that momma cow who no longer has a calf. I have revelled in the feeling of the rain on my face during a dry year.
Communicating these highs and lows and trying to find support for my stress load has been challenging. My friends from my film life couldn't understand my new farming life and that's OK. I honestly didn't understand it until I was immersed.
At the same time, that disconnect was very isolating for me. I felt alone in my struggles.
I have found a new community in agriculture, not just in Canada but globally. Through social media I have been able to connect with farmers all over the world and build a new support system. I try to keep a little of my film past alive by making movies about what I am doing on the farm, why I am doing it and how my equipment works. Sometimes I even sneak off the farm in the winter to work for a couple weeks on a show.
The last six years have been amazing, challenging, stressful and inspiring. I have realized that I want to share my family's farm story and connect with the person I used to be before coming to the farm. I am proud to grow safe and nutritious food. As a Mom I do not want any other parent standing in the grocery store scared to buy that food.
My husband and I are raising our two little girls with the knowledge of where their food comes from and a respect for the land. I hope we are raising them to know they can be anything they want and that it is OK to change paths.
Its OK to take a dream you had as a kid and turn it into a reality.