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Living his farm dream

Nestled into the rolling Thickwood Hills region of north-central Saskatchewan is the farm Jack Klassen regards as the fulfilment of a lifelong dream. Klassen’s dream, from the age of five, consisted of a farm located in the parklands, which would be secluded by forests, with an adjoining lake, plenty of wildlife, and a lifestyle that would allow him the freedom to maximize his creative and entrepreneurial interests and talents.

Growing up on a farm near Aberdeen, farming got in his blood. “When I was nine, my dad gave me a two-acre piece of land. Two years later I convinced him to let me clean up an old schoolyard and break the land. Now I had four acres and my craze for growing things only increased. Then at age 13, I bought my first quarter section. You have to remember that farm children were driving tractors and trucks at the age of nine back then,” he said.

School got in the way of his farming endeavours and he had no interest in attending university. His parents, however, had other ideas that included a university degree and a white-collar career.

In Grade 12, to appease his parents, Klassen buckled down and graduated with an 80 per cent average but university was still out of the question.

“Then one day, my dad heard of a huge labour shortage in the aviation industry. He convinced me to attend a meeting in Saskatoon where candidates were being recruited for an aviation school in Kansas City, Missouri. I found the idea intriguing and signed up,” he said.

Klassen graduated from the school with a 98.6 average and within six months, at the age of 20, had a management position with NorCan Air in LaRonge, Saskatchewan. For 14 years he enjoyed the high-profile job but the dream would not go away, so he quit and went back to the farm, which he had kept.

In 1986 Klassen heard about land for sale in the Shell Lake area. “As soon as I saw it, I knew this was it — the property had everything I had dreamed about.”

The deal went through and a year later, Klassen began constructing cabins for what would become the Carlton Trail Guest Ranch, a wilderness getaway.

By 1998 six cabins were completed. It was at this time that Klassen and his wife Gwen, began to take a closer look at their own food supply and decided some changes needed to be made. They checked into getting organic certification, and the feasibility of growing their own grain and raising organic range-fed beef. They decided on Texas Longhorn cattle and heritage Red Fife wheat. “I believe these are two varieties that are truly tough, resilient and suited to this region,” he said.

“Red Fife is a landrace variety of wheat which means there is a genetic diversity in the seed that makes it adaptable to climate and growing conditions of a particular area,” Klassen said.

“An organic producer near St. Denis, Marc Loiselle, sold me 15 bushels in 2004 — he wanted me to try growing it on our farm. The soil here is sandy loam, precisely what this wheat does well in.”

Gwen grinds the organic Red Fife wheat and bakes delicious bread, rolls and other products that they provide to their visitors at the guest ranch. “It is a fantastic baking wheat — with a scent of herbs like anise and fennel and it has a herby, spicy flavour to it that we really enjoy,” she says.

The Klassens purchased their first Texas Longhorn animals in 1998. They favoured them because of their adaptability to weather conditions and their hardiness. “They have no trouble calving. We have timber wolves, coyotes and brush wolves in this area and they’re not a problem. The cows have figured out how to look after their calves. A Texas Longhorn cow is one of the fastest split-hoof creatures on this planet. One cow will pick up a bear, toss it, and another will be in there in an instant to ram it with its horns,” he says.

The leanness of the meat also appealed to the Klassens. “You don’t find the marbling that is common with other cattle breeds. While most have been bred to put on weight quickly, Longhorn cattle are lean by nature, and the beef is lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, and higher in both CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) and total omega-3s. Our beef is range fed and free from all chemicals and additives,” Klassen adds.

The farm is certified under Ecocert, an internationally recognized organic governing body. No herbicides, pesticides or artificial fertilizers are employed. “We rely on good agronomic practices, intercropping and crop rotation. My farming philosophy is to make the land produce the best that it can. In order for the land to yield the best it can, I’ve got to treat it the best that I can.”

The Klassens have also built up the Carlton Trail Guest Ranch to include five guest houses, built like authentic replicas of homesteads in the early 1900s. A variety of activities are available from horseback rides, hiking, fishing and canoeing in the summer to snowmobiling, skiing and snowshoeing in the winter.

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