Seven generations | Desire to live off the land passed down to great-grandchildren
SPY HILL, Sask. — The grey brick farmhouse soars three storeys high and is capped by a metal-framed widow’s walk.
The walk provides panoramic views of cattle pens and young crops. It’s accessed from the third floor, the onetime maid’s quarters that now house artifacts dating back to the farm’s beginnings in 1882.
Today, Diana and Garry Clarke operate Meadow Stock Farm, a 200 head commercial cow-calf and backgrounding operation and grain farm.
Over the years, they have been helped by a family that includes three daughters and their large families. It’s common to see six combines harvesting the 6,000 acres of wheat, canola, feed oats and barley.
This spring, Garry and grandson Ashley Faul handled seeding while Diana kept close tabs on calving.
Faul’s two children represent the seventh generation on this family farm near the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border.
“If not for Ashley, we wouldn’t be here,” said Diana.
“Ashley is a blessing as he takes the stress and work off of both of us.”
“We feel very lucky for Ashley to come and help us the last five to six years,” echoed Garry.
Faul knows he has big shoes to fill.
“The amount of knowledge they have can’t be replaced. I want to learn as much as I can and keep the farm going,” he said.
He returned from the oil patch to be closer to his young family and the farm. He recently helped his wife, Jill, renovate and open a clothing store in Langenburg, Sask.
Like him, she left a job in Melville, Sask., to be closer to home.
Garry recalled his own start here, which began with a quarter of land from his grandfather and the gradual acquisition of cattle.
It now includes land that stretches from Spy Hill to Russell, Man., where daughter, Brenda and her husband, Donald Dunn, farm.
Their children, Daniel and Leanne, with her husband, Matthew, also farm. The Clarkes’ nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren also own livestock.
“We had no help. The potash mine (job) was our chief help,” Garry said of area mines that still compete for farm workers.
The couple, who celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary in May, lived with Garry’s parents, raised pigs and milked cows to pay the bills. Over the years, they also had bison and offered garden and petting zoo tours.
“These days, it’s imperative that young people get some help,” said Garry.
“If you own your own land and don’t owe any money, you do all right. If not, you’re struggling,” said Diana.
Today, they are challenged by poor roads and bridges for hauling their oversized equipment between farm sites.
The Clarkes are most alarmed by the amount of farmland purchased by non-resident investors, which they say increases land price and rental fees and takes money out of the region.
“Our main objective is to get the family in without a whole lot of debt,” said Diana.
“It hurts because that land is right on Leanne’s doorstep and we can’t afford to buy it for them or rent it.”
The Clarkes try to manage costs by prebuying chemicals in the fall, maintaining equipment themselves in a heated shop and continuous cropping.
They ship cattle to a nearby auction mart, even though it often earns them less money, because they prefer to support local business. As well, they built their own slaughterhouse and butcher cattle for their family’s use.
They feed their cattle until the end of June because of abundant hay stocks.
“Our pastures are well looked after,” said Diana.
Garry said their light land is well suited for cattle, forages and pasture.
“We have cheap pasturing and our own hayland and forage,” he said.
Faul was slow to warm to the cattle on the farm, but now sees more opportunity in them than crops, which are risky and expensive to grow.
“The more I work with them, the more I like working with them,” said Faul, who has his own small herd.
Last year’s crop yields were down slightly, but cattle prices were good. This spring, seeding went well de-spite a dubious start after a prolonged winter.
“It left me wondering in mid-May if we ever were getting going and it turned around so quickly,” said Garry, citing an abnormally swift spring dry down.
“I don’t know where a lot of that moisture went.”
A multi-family operation allows the Clarkes to get away to their cabin at Prairie Lake, but otherwise they travel little.
“If we want to go away, someone is here who knows the situation and can look after what needs to be looked after,” said Diana, who reflects fondly on farm life.
“I can’t imagine having to get up every day, fancy my hair up and dress. This is such an easygoing lifestyle.”
The Clarkes’ plan for the future is to improve on what they have by creating more arable acres and pastures for their cattle.
“We’re now at where we want to be,” said Diana.