Living near city has pros and cons

Third generation farm | Couple focuses
on expanding grain operation

DUGALD, Man. — Irene and Roger Vaags farm in the thin strip of land that lies between the sprawl of Winnipeg and the band of brush a few miles east that marks the beginning of the Canadian Shield.

The location has given them a life with easy access to the conveniences of city life and challenges that cities pose for farming families.

“It’s a nice lifestyle,” said Irene.

“It does get crazy busy at times but at other times it’s not the rat race that people have in the city.”

The Vaags farm has now been in Roger’s family for three generations, since his grandfather emigrated from the Netherlands in 1948 and began farming in 1950. At first, the farm had dairy cattle, but converted in the 1960s to hogs and grain, and now produces grain only.

The couple, who were married in 1990, has four children: Charlene, 19, Darcy, 18, Jeremy, 15, and Evan, 12.

Irene grew up in Winnipeg but the couple loves the farming life. Their decision to embrace it after getting married raised a lot of eyebrows.

Their respective parents knew each other, and Roger’s father was on the verge of losing the family farm.

“They knew the grief (the Vaags) were going through, and they asked me, ‘are you sure?’ ” said Irene. “But I saw the love he had for it and I had confidence in him.”

Roger recalled how close the farm came to failing.

“There was a for sale sign on the farm,” he said.

“There were buyers standing in the door and Dad was still trying to negotiate with the bank and the realtor to give us a little more time.”

Roger managed to get a young farmer’s loan from the Manitoba Agriculture Services Corp. so he could take over the farm and the immediate crisis was averted.

That was in the 1990s. Low grain prices have been replaced by high prices, allowing farmers to have more confidence developing their operations.

For years, Roger did custom farm work to help pay off the equipment he purchased for his expanding farm but now has his hands full operating his larger operation.

He tried off-farm wage work, but it wasn’t for him.

“I learned in a real hurry that wasn’t where I belonged and I felt a calling here where I needed to be,” said Roger.

Irene has been busy raising the four kids and keeping the home running. She’s surprised that farm life can be a busy and relaxing lifestyle.

“I probably should have grown up in the country because that’s where I like to be,” said Irene.

Roger likes farming in the Dugald area because he has many relatives there and his father lives close enough to meet for coffee.

Roger and Irene don’t know if the farm will carry on into the next generation. Roger would like one of his children to take it over eventually, but none have yet declared an interest.

One of the challenges for a farm family living close to the city is the host of off-farm attractions that entice children.

Charlene, who spent the summer working for Cargill, is interested in agriculture and is currently studying at a college in Iowa.

Darcy is working off farm but in-tends to return to school. The youngest children are in high school.

“It’d be great if my kids took it to the fourth generation, but I don’t want to impose it on them,” said Roger.

“I feel like one of them will have to come back eventually. They might have to go away for a while to appreciate what we have here.”

Irene has no second thoughts about farming.

“I think you really have to love farming to do it. If you don’t love it, it’s not going to work,” she said.

Roger didn’t think it would be an easy life.

“As long as I could eventually do as well as I could elsewhere, that was good enough for me,” said Roger.

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