Maynard van der Galien
For many years I helped man our county federation of agriculture display booth at our county plowing match events. I always enjoyed meeting and chatting with people of all ages. It’s been two years since our last event but some conversations are still fresh in my mind.
A man I had never seen before came up to me with a big grin on his face and asked if I had written about him and his father when I wrote the column about fathers always doing the first two rounds with the haybine before assigning it to the son.
I had to laugh because he wasn’t the only one who asked me that question. There had been numerous inquiries about whether they were the subject of that column. A few months earlier a man came up to me at a farm auction and asked if I remembered a column I’d written many years ago about farmers cutting the first few rounds and then trusting the son to take over.
Of course I remember writing it. It was in the 1990s when I first penned it. It was bold and daring to criticize our older and respectful farmers. Nobody was doing that.
The haybine was a great machine but it was prone to plug in heavy hay on that first round, if you didn’t watch closely. So the more experienced farmer, the father, did the first round and then cut the round that he’d trampled down, which could also plug the machine.
“Were you writing about us?” the man asked. “That’s the way it was on our farm right to a tee. Dad always cut the first two rounds and then he’d let me cut the rest of the field. I was in my 40s, married with kids and still had never opened up a field.”
That’s the way his father was taught to do it and it was a tradition. He laughed. I laughed even harder in delight that this column was remembered all these years. Probably 20 years.
Say, can you pick a farmer, or farmers, out of a group of people? Chances are you can if you are a farmer. I helped man a booth for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario (CFFO) at an IPM some years ago. They had an environmental survey for farmers to fill out. My co-worker for a two-hour shift was a retired professor from Hull, who, of course, could speak French. He was an academic, an intellectual.
I don’t recall how he was signed up for the stint — maybe because he was bilingual. Our job was to stand in the two doorways of the booth and invite farmers in and ask them to fill out a 10-question survey. The professor was frustrated. He was targeting the wrong people. Men with no tan and soft well-manicured hands are not the kind of fellows you want to welcome to a farm booth to fill out a survey on manure, fertilizer, herbicides and other environmental questions.
Most of the non-farmers would politely tell the professor that they don’t farm and don’t know the first thing about agricultural affairs.
I knew many of the people going by and would greet the farmers and ask them to fill out the survey. If the guy going by has tough hands and is wearing a corn seed cap, he most likely is a cash-crop farmer. If he’s walking a little bow-legged and wearing a cap with Boumatic, DeLaval or other milking equipment, he’s a dairy farmer. If the man has big hands and is wearing a John Deere, Case IH or Ford-New Holland cap, he’s a farmer.
I was successful in getting the farmers to fill out the survey. Most farmers are good stewards of the land and they care about the environment. It was a topic farmers could relate to.
But my co-worker wasn’t catching on who to lure into the tent. I finally went over and gave him some hints on how to pick farmers, or rural folks, out of the crowd of people who walked by the booth. He looked surprised. So simple! Sometimes we guessed wrong. Construction workers can look like farmers. But why aren’t they on the job on a weekday?
Maynard van Galien is a Renfrew County farmer and agriculture columnist.