Alberta farm couple serves community, industry

Political involvement, volunteerism | Next generation takes active role while parents pursue goals, hobbies

WAINWRIGHT, Alta. — Ken Murray uses a four-wheel drive tractor to push silage into place at Eastern View Farms as his nephew, Ty, dumps load after load of silage freshly cut by Ty’s cousin, Curtis, working in an adjacent oat field.

Ken’s brother, Terry, surveys all of this from the cab of his truck, knowing his turn will come to help the next day.

For the Murray family, which operates their incorporated farm in east-central Alberta, this is the epitome of a family farm, a life where members co-operate to make a living while enjoying country life and community service.

The 6,000 acre farm grows cereals, canola and peas and includes a 1,500 head capacity feeder business and 100 head cow-calf beef herd.

The farm converted to beef from a 200 head dairy almost a decade ago.

Terry serves as the farm’s president, while his wife, Mary, does payroll and general ledgers and their daughter, Tara Burke, handles animal production and management, breeding and herd health.

Ken is the chief executive officer and his wife, Jennie, does accounts payable and receivable.

Ty and Curtis, the two senior couples’ sons, handle the field work, but Mary said everyone pitches in at busy times.

“We all end up helping,” she said.

The arrangement allows Terry and Mary to visit exotic locales and gives them time at home to indulge in collecting the guns, pipes, hammers and knives that decorate their sprawling family home and work shed.

“Life is good on the farm and there’s a future in agriculture for young people,” said Terry, citing this year’s excellent crops and rebounding cattle prices.

“Agriculture is more than money. It’s a way of life.”

The Murrays’ multi-generational farm has eased the transition to the next generation, ensured that the family’s farm legacy that began in 1911 continues and allowed Terry and Mary opportunities for community service during their four decades together.

“My community is a sanctuary for me,” said Terry, whose biography “could choke a horse.”

“I’m driven,” said the former wrestler and football player and coach.

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He currently serves on the Alberta Farm Implement Board but has also been involved in such groups as the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council, Alberta Federation of Labour, United Farmers of Alberta, Canadian Farm Business Management Council and constituency associations.

He is currently seeking harmonized legislation across Canada to standardize policies and regulations so that farmers, distributors and agricultural equipment dealers are protected regardless of where implement are bought and used.

“That would be a nice plum in my hat for down the road,” he said.

Terry can’t be pinned to one political party, noting his associations with the Wild Rose and Progressive Conservative parties provincially and Conservative party federally.

“I don’t put myself in a position where I can’t walk down both sides of the street,” said Terry.

Mary characterizes herself as adventurous. She has travelled widely, from Antarctica to Africa, and her exotic trinkets and self-published travel books are in evidence throughout the house.

She was active with Girl Guides in adventure camping and embraces opportunities to go sea kayaking, white-water rafting and backpacking.

She also shares Terry’s love of history, and together they are active volunteers at the museum in Wainwright.

Betty Callaghan, president of the Battle River Historical Society that oversees the museum, said the Murrays’ extensive knowledge of history and strong work ethic have helped sustain the museum.

“If we didn’t have people like them, it would probably die,” Callaghan said.

“Volunteering is something us country folks do.… We wouldn’t survive if we didn’t have volunteers be-cause they’re the backbone of a lot of the stuff in our country.”

Burke said growing up with active parents influenced her own choices. She leads the Girl Guides chapter in which her daughters are involved.

“Communities are built by people who spend time volunteering in them,” she said.

In the last decade, Terry has been less active because of kidney and heart ailments. Even here, family was involved, with Burke donating one of her kidneys.

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It was a major life decision to make for the mother of four at a time when her youngest was just a toddler.

“I didn’t think I was ready for Dad to be out of the picture just yet. Realistically that’s what would have happened,” she said, citing long waiting lists for organ donors.

Today, Terry lives with anti-rejection medications that reduce his stamina and limit his hands-on farm work.

“I’m less aggressive. I get over things quicker. I don’t often second guess myself,” he said.

The family was able to step in because Terry and Mary had already stepped back, said Burke.

“They adopted their role in stepping back and allow (Ty) and I to take a more active leadership and management role and being responsible for our part of the farm,” she said.

“A lot of parents are reluctant to give that up. My parents have been very good at passing off that responsibility … not telling us how to do our jobs.”

She said her father casts a large shadow, calling him outspoken and opinionated.

“There’s no question as to where his feelings lie, no indecision,” she said.

His strong personality and speaking, leadership and mentoring skills have made Mary a stronger person who is able to influence others and share her opinions, said Burke.

“Dad’s strong personality has allowed her to become more voice-full and more confident,” she said.

Terry said he has learned much from others and through his many involvements and opportunities.

“Good people you embrace wherever you find them. You learn from them and they learn from you and that makes you a better person,” he said.

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