Tonight I attended a gala event associated with an industry conference. These nights are pleasant occurrences, with the best of the host province’s arts and culture. This night had local folk music, entertainment, fiddlers and some very impressive rap artists. Sitting beside me was someone new to the industry but unbeknownst to me a person from our family’s past.
As the night wound down, I felt quite satiated. The food was great, the dessert was decadent and the entertainment, as I said, was tremendous. It was now possible to talk to others at the table. We carried on the ordinary chit chat, right down to where we each spent our careers. Suddenly, a little brown mouse scurried across the banquet floor! I raised my feet to the seat of my chair while I shrieked.
The gentleman asked, “You have spent your adult life on a farm, surely you are fine with mice?” I stared at him quizzically. I knew this acquaintance had told me he worked in the policy arm of the Department of Agriculture, but I hadn’t realized he knew my family was involved in farming. It turned out that part of his career coincided with an abrupt change in my husband’s business career.
Let me explain.
At the tender age of 17 years, I met my husband for the first time. He was “older” than I, at the mature age of 21 years. He impressed me with his vision of where he was going. I was mystified that he was someone who grew up in the city, but was embarking on a farming adventure. He was setting out to build a hog farm in the country. The land was cleared of its trees, rocks were picked, land was tilled, new soil sown for hay and the foundation of two hog barns had been established. He had a big tan coloured truck and a rather attractive tan of his own. I was a smitten!
Kate, my older sister, had told my mother that this new boyfriend of Mo’s was a bit of a hard ticket. He apparently had numerous traffic accidents and for the first time in my existence Kate wanted to keep me safe! Nonetheless, this new boyfriend won not only my heart, but my grandmother, my mother, sisters and brothers admiration as well. My father reserved judgment and waited more than twelve months to even say hello to him. Hog farmer or doctor, this new boyfriend was the real deal.
Five and half years later we were married. I moved from the lights and noise of the city to the dark skies and quiet of the country. My first year married was a little on the frightening side. I was used to the sounds of buses, transport trucks, fire trucks and ambulances outside my house. I had traded that noise for an occasional dog barking at night. I quickly learned how to bury my head in the curve of my husband’s back, drape my arm across his chest and snuggle in until the first light arrived in the morning.
My husband’s farm was well established from a production perspective by the time we were wed, but we struggled to make the venture viable. It took many years and a lot of sacrifice to get it in a sustainable position. But my husband seemed to be born with all the skills to create a successful farm venture. Throughout that farming career, we also created our family, energetic boys to keep us on our toes. Our boys had their own unique family stories involving hog farming, their first rubber boots, coveralls, helping Dad in the barns and running their obstacle races around the bales of the hay. They had an idyllic upbringing.
Compared to my husband, I am the naïve one. I thought our life was impossibly challenging when we were first married, then it was a matter of taking control and showing the farm debt agencies we were no fools, then it was clear sailing from there. But naïve I am no more. Tonight’s encounter with someone from the Department of Agriculture brought 1993 back with a sudden jolt.
In 1993, my husband and I were in our thirties. Our son’s were 12, 9 and 4 years old. The province was struggling with its deficit and a new government was recently sworn into office. Agriculture was a traditional industry but not a particularly large one and segments of it were considered expensive to support. Unfortunately for us, we were in one of those expensive segments. We had a disease free hog herd and while seen as an accomplishment and a marketing advantage, it was small and inconsequential. Dairy and chicken were more mainstays of the province’s agriculture industry. You could hear the economic storm winds stir around our precious farm. My husband was quietly considering options, but I was naïvely distracted. My days were busy with accounting and raising my children.
By the day of the government’s budget, the writing was on the wall. The hog industry, with the stroke of the budget pen, was to be no more in our province.
My husband was a pillar of strength in the days that followed. He took quick decisions to save as much capital as he could. He confidently moved with the change, not wasting time lamenting the apparent unfairness. He sold our stock immediately, shipping our breeding stock and growing herd to a farmer in another province. He then disassembled our equipment and penning and sold that to a farmer, again outside the province. With time on his hands, he and his fellow hog farmers set out to make their case to the governments and their agencies that they had dealt with over the years. Many other people outside our industry added support to our cause. By the end of six months, my husband and his fellow hog farmers had negotiated a suitable deal for our industry’s exit from the province.
What seemed like a nightmare to me at its outset, ended amicably and gracefully. The life lessons gained from this challenge were a reward in themselves. Yet tonight, when this new acquaintance shared his connection with my family’s past, I was bombarded with old unpleasant memories.
I would like to thank this blog for bringing me back to the full story. I wouldn’t change a solitary moment in 1993. We had an opportunity to rise above the turmoil of that day, tackle the down draft of a bad economy and come out strong enough to set root again. Many of us face the unexpected and hopefully stories like these will give others faith that the sun will rise on a new tomorrow.