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Jumping in with both feet

After spending time on the farm working with his father, Toban Dyck is renting land of his own

This is it. The thing that for years, decades, a quarter of a lifetime, I believed I couldn’t and wouldn’t do is about to become as real as the chair I’m sitting on, or a punch in the face. I trust this won’t hurt as much, but I’m sure I’ll feel it. I will be renting 110 acres of land next growing season, and I couldn’t be more excited. And it’s an excited that won’t fade for a while. I am about to become a real, bona fide farmer. Watch out, world.

All my agriculture-related theorizing, once comfortable, distant, safe, will now have a practical edge — a much needed one, if you ask me.

I remember. I was standing by the sink in our tiny, Toronto apartment when my wife and I had our most powerful chat about moving to the farm. The idea was weak when our conversation started. Almost too weak to mention.

“Let’s stay here for a few more months, and see what we think.”

“But, why? If we know now, what’s keeping us in Toronto?”

farm field

Many of Toban Dyck’s friends live a life completely separated from agriculture. He hopes to try to bridge that rural-urban gap.
photo: Toban Dyck

The idea started to grow, demanding earnest evaluation. It then started to become strong. By the end of that chat, me standing by the counter, and my wife standing near the entrance of the kitchen, we were moving to southern Manitoba, where she would find work as a teacher, and I would make motions to take over the family farm. I would resign from my job as managing editor the next day.

You fight for something — success, money, title, whatever —and after a while the battle becomes comfortable, and what you begin to fear the most is actually achieving what you set out for. I’m excited for what lies ahead, and I am terrified of losing what I have only recently obtained.

There is much about farming that I now understand. And there is much I need to learn. But this is true of all things. It would stand out as suspicious to suggest otherwise. I have taken jobs before, not knowing exactly how I’m qualified or how I’ll actually be able to make it work. The job I resigned from to move here is one of them. But one does these things. One puts one foot in front of the other, without a grasp of the big picture or what lies ahead. You’ll move this way, sometimes forward; sometimes in other directions. And eventually, the fog will lift.

And it has.

Life as a “real” farmer

Next year, when I walk into Viterra and Greg and Ross jokingly ask me if this load goes under my name, at least a few times I’ll be able to say ‘yes.’ I know they will appreciate this. And I’ll beam saying it.

Many of my friends exist outside of agriculture, living in cities, fighting for organic this or that, championing causes that are quite distant from the kinds of things this area of the world takes seriously. And I’ve learned to appreciate this of them, and of an area that largely avoids them. Bridging the chasm between rural and urban will never happen, but it’s still a worthy fight, if only for a few converts. Most have never seen a combine. Many have no idea just how huge soybeans and canola are to Canadian agriculture, and more still have no idea the importance of things like transportation are to our nation’s economy. My being on the farm and renting land is exciting for them. They come over. They spend a weekend on the farm. They learn.

The few acres I’m boasting about are only a start, I realize. But they are foundational. With 110 acres, I will learn about farm budgets, machinery rental costs, fertilization techniques, pest and weed control, and how to manage what is a large amount of earth in the most profitable and sustainable way.

How will I know when to seed? And at what rate? What will I spray? When do I submit for crop insurance? Ah!

The beauty, and it really is beautiful, is that no farmer is left to make decisions in a vacuum. Farmers make for strong community. My father will help me along the way, and I know Greg and Ross will, too, as well as others in the area.

I’m telling you all this because you’ve been with me from the beginning. You read about my epiphany. And now you’re reading about the most significant advancement since. All of the advice I have offered over the past years I will now put to the test, with my own money on the line.

I have driven by my land nearly a dozen times since the contract was finalized. I have brought friends to it. We’ve cheered to it. I’ve dreamed about growing unique crops on it. But, more so, I’m excited to be a farmer. This is it, and this is amazing.

About the author

Columnist

Toban Dyck is a freelance writer and a new farmer on an old farm. Follow him on Twitter @tobandyck or email [email protected]

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