Hardly home we’re on the road again. My nephew Jonathan Wenger graduates from high school this week in Fort St. John B.C. and we celebrated with a family BBQ. With six siblings and 16 nieces and nephews it makes for quite a gathering. The older I get the more I appreciate the value of family. It is special to see the bonds the grandchildren share. We missed that growing up as first generation immigrants from Switzerland.
Dad began farming here in l963, taking over a homestead from Hans Gross. He started with two cows, a wife, four little girls and very little money. Mostly he had a strong will and body – and us. We spent our summers picking roots and helping put up hay.
Today my brother milks 100 cows in a modern 16 cow Herringbone milk parlour. The native bush we played in has given way to fields of grain or hay waving in the breeze. Four of my siblings and two cousins farm in the larger area. Nieces and nephews are picking roots and chasing cows now.
The mighty Peace River runs through the most northern farming area of the province of British Columbia. Lying on the east side of the Rocky Mountains, the Peace Country is geographically more connected to Alberta than to B.C. I’ve heard talk in jest – or was it serious? – that it should cede to Alberta. The folks up here sometimes feel a little forgotten by those making policy down on the lower mainland.
It’s beautiful country with rolling hills, and rivers winding their way through deep canyons. Driving up here yesterday, a deep blue sky and fluffy clouds floated over acres of wheat and lemon canola fields just coming into bloom. I remember this is called the ‘Big Sky Country’.
The long hours of sunlight in the summer are what make it possible to farm this far north. Last week the sun rose in Fort St. John at 4:15 and set at 21:56. Even at midnight it’s not really dark. They have a half hour more sun per day right now than we do in Westlock. But it’s always been a high risk area for grain production. The risk has more to do with rainfall. It seems it’s often either too dry or too wet.
Many of the farmers that settled the area came from the Prairies, escaping the massive drought of the thirties and years after. Now we see pictures of the same prairies flooded while farmers here pray for rain. They had some good spring moisture, but it’s definitely dry now.