The harvest meal in the field is a tradition that’s still alive on western Canadian farms. But fuelling the harvest crew isn’t an easy task, especially when a person is also wrangling kids and running for parts.
Wanda Millard is a veteran when it comes to harvest meals. 2016 marked her 11th harvest with her husband Jay Millard’s family. The Millards grow crops and raise cattle east of Livelong, Sask. Wanda also runs a custom cake business out of her home.
Wanda started helping her own mother with harvest at about the age of 10. “I don’t know anything else but this at harvest time.”
I join the Millards for supper on a brisk September evening. We load the hamper and casserole into the truck, then drive out to the field. Wanda and her daughter, Julianna, lay out supper on the tail gate; a new casserole comprising pork chops and scalloped potatoes, a tray of veggies, tea, juice and pudding for dessert.
Jay, his father Leo, hired man Myron Lipteck and Jay and Wanda’s son Conner climb down from the machinery for supper. The evening light is that beautiful gold you see in late August and September. It’s a picture-perfect meal.
So how does a person pull off those field meals? Turns out it takes organization and planning, plus the flexibility to roll with whatever changes the day brings.
How to do it
Wanda has some practical tools of the trade for harvest meals. She uses Pyrex bowls with lids to keep food contained. She packs most of the meal, including condiments and dishes, into a Pampered Chef hamper. This fall she also made cheesecake in jars for the harvest crew, and deemed them a success. The best jars are the half-pint wide mouth masons, she says, as they’re roomy enough for all the ingredients and are easier to dig into with spoons.
The Hebert farm in south-eastern Saskatchewan runs a crew ranging from eight to 12 people, depending on what they’re doing. “Sometimes we’re combining and seeding fall crops at the same time,” says Theresa Hebert.
Theresa and her mother-in-law, Karen, take turns running a combine and hauling meals to the field. Theresa stepped into that role about seven years ago, when her husband Kristjan left his accounting job to farm full-time. Theresa was still working as a lab and x-ray technician, which meant hauling meals after work. But the farm grew, and so did their family. After having a second child, she decided to leave her off-farm job.
Theresa found it difficult to run meals in her vehicle with two young kids, and the evenings were chilly. Her brother was selling an old RV, so the Heberts bought it. It holds lawn chairs, a fridge stocked with condiments and Gatorade, paper plates, and a first aid kit.
The RV “definitely made it a lot easier. And it kept the mess out of our vehicles,” says Theresa.
Although harvest meals usually don’t stress out Wanda, it is a hectic time of year for her. She’s canning and running kids to activities. She also has to run for parts sometimes.
Having a routine helps. Wanda and her mother-in-law, Penny, take turns with harvest meals. When Penny is making meals, Wanda tries to grab groceries. She also likes to know what she’s going to be making the next day.
Casseroles are a favourite during harvest, Wanda says. She has a list of field-tested meals from previous years, but she likes to try new recipes, too. Recipe books and websites such as nurselovesfarmer.com are good sources, she says. The key, Wanda says, is to keep meals simple because “fancy doesn’t work out in the field.”
For harvest 2016, Wanda and Penny decided Penny would handle lunches in the field, and Wanda would manage supper. But for most of the harvest, the field work started late enough in the day that the harvest crew ate lunch before going to the field.
“The season’s almost over and our well-thought-out plan didn’t (pan out) very well,” says Wanda.
The day I visited the Millards, the harvest supper ran like clock-work. The next night, things didn’t go as smoothly. There was miscommunication about who was supposed to be dropped off or picked up where, and plans kept changing. It took Wanda a couple of hours to get everyone fed and in the right place, and she says it was exhausting (although she had a good sense of humour about it).
Of course, she’s not the first to be scrambling during harvest, and she won’t be the last, either.
“Plans do change at the last minute, that’s for sure,” Theresa says. On the odd days when things aren’t going well “you just have to deal with it one moment at a time and everything works out,” she says.
In 2016, Theresa and Karen each picked out six harvest meals that they like to make. Some were freezer meals they made ahead, and the others were quick and easy meals to make. They wrote down the meals to make sure there was variety, and rotated through the list.
Some days both Theresa and Karen are combining and Theresa’s mom will pitch in. Theresa leaves a list of items to pull from the freezer so her mom can load the RV and head to the field.
Theresa gets most of her recipes from Pinterest and other spots on the Internet. She also has a Pinterest board for harvest suppers at pinterest.com/theresahebert/supper-in-the-field/.
Harvest meals are about more than food. They’re a chance for the whole family to sit down and eat supper together even when they’re very busy.
“I think the meals in the field really help with the communication and the team-building,” she says.