Some of the biggest blessings in life are the things we take for granted. Like, living in a free and peaceful country, having access to good and plentiful food and being able to watch our youth grow in a safe and nurturing environment.
One of the greatest blessings here in rural Manitoba is our ability to take those things for granted. The risk of that, of course, is we fail to see the undercurrents eroding them before it is too late.
The organizers of the 4-H Rally banquet for the Central Region last week brought that point home in a subtle, yet extraordinarily tasteful way.
The clubs from the region get together with their families and leaders for a meal at the end of a usually hot, dusty day in the show ring or in the exhibition hall.
This is the day that youth from the beef clubs show off and then part company with the calves they’ve been feeding and grooming over the past winter, often an emotionally charged growth experience.
Some participants in the horse program in some cases may be wishing they could part company with their equine partners after weeks or months of practising at home don’t result in a ribbon, not realizing of course, that they’ve already won by putting in the effort and taking the risk of putting it on display.
The same goes for the activity clubs. The final projects may not be perfect, but they’ve been great teachers.
So it’s fitting to cap off the 4-H year with a get-together over food. In the past, the Rally Day supper has typically been an event catered by a local fast-food outlet, which went out of its way to provide good food and service. And there’s nothing wrong with fried chicken, especially when it’s cooked by somebody else.
But this year, organizers wanted to try something a little different in a bid to reconnect 4-H families with the organization’s fundamental roots – an appreciation of what goes into producing good food using available resources.
So they organized a 100-mile feast.
Bruce Dracass, a 4-H beef club leader and the idea-man behind the local-cuisine showcase, worked with producers and food suppliers who agreed to sponsor the event with supplies and discounts or donations of raw ingredients.
Two chefs were brought on board and they got together with 4-H members from four clubs in the region. They spent the day together preparing the meal at the local community hall kitchen.
And what a meal it was. Roast baron of beef, ground veal and bison meatballs, vegetables and salad, preceded by appetizers – herbed feta-stuffed vine-ripened tomatoes and chicken spring rolls with saskatoon dipping sauce. It was all topped off by warm strawberry-rhubarb crisp and a generous dab of ice cream.
Given the proximity of the raw ingredients, this was “home-cooking” at its finest.
It was about agriculture too, but not the agri-industry, which is focused on production, exports and the bottom line. This was about the agriculture that feeds us, one of those things that we so take for granted that we risk losing.
Unless they have a home garden or access to a local farmers’ market, rural families are as likely as their urban counterparts to be eating imported fruits and vegetables – California strawberries in July versus Manitoba grown, for example.
The time it takes to raise and prepare food is a scarce commodity these days and the necessary skills are disappearing as each generation becomes more removed from the farm.
It’s not something we can afford to take for granted.
The organizers got the message across in a deliciously poignant fashion and in a way that remained true to 4-H’s motto– learn to do by doing. Here’s hoping this idea takes root and grows into something clubs in other regions decide to try.
Prairie farmers received some welcome relief in the form of land rehabilitation support from the federal and provincial governments last week.
It’s an appropriate response aimed at helping farmers control weeds and prepare land that could not be seeded or in which crops were destroyed for next year.
Aside from weed management, soggy soils draw salinity to the surface, which can have a yield-crippling effect for years to come.
This program, in combination with other programs such as crop insurance and AgriStability, will help cover farmers’ out-of-pocket expenses, but it won’t make up for the lost crop.
Farmers need to be asking themselves now how they can prepare their operations for the possibility this wasn’t a one-time event. According to the U. S. Geological Survey, the wet cycle on the Northern Great Plains could continue for 10 to 15 years, with moderate chances of it continuing beyond that.
If you have less crop to manage this summer, take some time to seek out information on alternative management strategies that might make the land base more resilient to excess moisture stress. [email protected]