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Winter on the farm

I fixed the tractor the other day. The bolt the PTO lever pivots on snapped, a diagnosis I came to after dismantling most of the console. Feeling the lever go limp was one of those “oh shoot” moments where my previous, city-dweller self would have parked the tractor and called someone, assuming there was no way on this Earth I could possibly be the one to figure out what the problem is and then fix it. The farm has changed me.

It’s been seven months since we moved back to Manitoba from Ontario. We miss a lot of things from what seems now like our past life. But, we’re also now able to take stock of the things we’ve come to love about life on the farm and in the country, in general.

Winter

The farm has helped me appreciate winter (my wife has always loved winter). A friend currently enjoying the warmth of Mexico emailed me asking if the winter months on the farm were starting to feel long and lonely. Short answer: no. This winter has been amazing and farm life is the reason. Usually winters are all about chips and movies. This one, however, I built an ice rink, a cross-country ski groomer and brewed a couple batches of beer with a neighbour. Turns out, contrary to my earlier entries, I am a person who fixes and builds things and enjoys doing so.

I’ve also gained an appreciation and respect for business. I used to loathe the word “business.” I associated it with all that was wrong in the world; greed, exploitation and wonton consumerism. Thank you, liberal education. I knew little of it — business, that is — and had little interest in learning about it. This has changed. And, again, life on the farm is to blame. Long hours on the field only matter if smart hours are spent in the office. There is a complex network behind the food on your table.

There are things we miss

We miss being able to walk 100 metres out our door for roti (Indian flatbread). There are decent restaurants in town but the selection is scant if craving Indian, Portuguese or Korean. Of course, the flip side is that when we lived in Toronto we had all sorts of choice, but we rarely ate together due to conflicting schedules. I prefer a mediocre restaurant with a dinner partner than a five-star alone. If only these small, farming communities could support a better food culture.

Exercise isn’t a natural part of our day, like it was in the city, especially now in winter. I tried the treadmill for a couple days, but the routine didn’t take. Going for a walk, a run or even a stroll on the farm is a deliberate act, one that sometimes loses to, say, doing nothing. We could walk to town, but that trek would come very close to a pilgrimage requiring survival gear (it’s only a couple of miles). I used to walk everywhere. And so did my wife. In Toronto, my work was a 10-minute walk from home, and my wife’s walk was about 20 minutes. In the evening we would walk some more, often to the harbour and loop back. I miss the exercise.

Community, like its practiced here in the country, is something we haven’t experienced for decades. In these winter months, and especially after a storm, the surrounding yards unite, everyone texting or calling each other making sure they are able to leave their yards for work. It’s a warm feeling, knowing that if your snow blower breaks down others have your back. In Toronto and in Winnipeg, this was not the case. I would not have knocked on my Toronto neighbour’s door for a couple of eggs or milk.

But the most surprising change and gain for me (possibly us, though I can’t speak for my wife), has been how farm life has teased out my inner farmer and country boy. I didn’t think I was able to do much of the tasks commonly associated with farmers when I moved back. The farm has changed me. †

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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