After his father dies, a man leaves his family cattle farm to work on the oil rigs in Alberta. He works part time so he can return to tend to his pastures, bale hay and maintain his herd.
This story is all too familiar for many Prairie ranchers, but this particular one is from Del Barber’s song, “Living with a Long Way to Go.” It was one of several about the struggles facing farmers that he sang at the annual Harvest Moon Festival here Sept. 12-14.
“I’m getting kind of tired of playing pasture poker. It’s a game where the aces never show,” he crooned. “Can’t afford the feed, fuel or the seed. There comes a time when you either raise or fold…”
Harvest Moon is not an average music festival centred solely on music and partying, though there was certainly some of that. It attracts people of all ages and is unique because of its effort to unite urban and rural folks. Organizers pack the weekend with farmers’ markets, craft stands, workshops and local music.
Cold weather — temperatures dipped near freezing — did not stop an estimated 1,500 people from showing up for the sold-out event.
This year’s workshops featured a variety of topics including tips on local honey production, how to grind grains, how to handle a rope, geocaching and a blacksmith forge demonstration.
From the city to the farm
This is Chelsea Pakulak’s first year at Harvest Moon. She and her husband Cameron came mostly for the workshops. “We love learning,” she said.
The couple lives in Brandon and they are hoping to buy a larger property outside the city. They hunt all of their meat — ducks, geese and deer — and when they run out, buy from local farmers. She attended the growing winter greens workshop because they hope to one day build a greenhouse onto their house.
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“It’s great because coming to these (workshops) I get to learn about different ways other people have done it,” she said.
Iris Vaisman attends Harvest Moon every year she can since moving to Winnipeg from Toronto in 2008. She studied organic agriculture at the University of Manitoba and now works as a technician in the plant science department.
She attends the festival for the opportunity to be in the same space with other people who care about agriculture. “Coming from an urban background and then being immersed in more rural aspects at work — it’s nice to see the two come together,” she said.
Vaisman became interested in agriculture during her undergraduate work in ecology. During her classes she learned about using and understanding ecological concepts in agriculture. With this in mind she sought out Martin Entz, one of the few researchers in Canada focused on organic agriculture, and studied under him.
“That, and even just driving in the countryside made be think: this is where I want to be,” she said. “There was this inextricable draw.”
Moving to the farm
Barber knows that pull all too well. He recently sold his house in Winnipeg, and moved with his girlfriend to her family grain and cattle farm to help out and plan for the future. The couple bought land bordering one of her family’s canola fields near Inglis.
Living in rural Manitoba brings him nearer to the people who inspire many of his songs. Barber grew up near St. Norbert and attended a school with mostly farm kids. “Most of my friends in school had to deal with the possibility of bad crops or good crops.”
Though he did not grow up on a farm — his grandfather was the last generation to work on the family farm in Carberry before the business went under — he has worked on several. Barber started working on a berry farm when he was 16. He has since worked on hog farms, strawberry farms, grain farms and cattle ranches.
“These are the stories in Canada that I really want to write about,” he said. He refers to his song, “Big Smoke,” about a prodigal son who leaves the farm. His family waits for him, hoping we will return one day.
“I get a lot of farmers and ranchers talking to me about how real these stories are. That’s because they’re from real people. It’s not just made-up stuff.”