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Pride in the past, hope for the future of family farm

Sense of community | Farmer hopes 130 year tradition continues for another generation

TARBOLTON, Man. — Under the branches of a birch tree, which shaded out the harshness of the mid-day sun, Reed Wolfe sat at a glass table sipping lemonade and snacking on homemade Monterey jack cheese.

Pointing south toward the road, slightly less than a kilometre from his farmhouse, Wolfe recalled a memory from his childhood, a time before booster seats, seat belts and air bags.

“I think there was seven or eight of us (kids) packed into a car,” Reed said, remembering how he got to elementary school 15 kilometres away in Bradwardine, Man., northwest of Brandon.

“It was a car and they just had a school bus sign. It was a neighbour a couple of miles north…. When they weren’t using it for a school bus, they’d flip the sign down. I was young when we were using the school cars and we always had to sit in the laps of the older kids. You always looked forward to one of them getting off, then you could sit on the actual seat. Safety was a big issue in those days,” he said with a laugh.

Many such stories will likely be told July 7 when Reed and 100 family members and friends gather at his property to celebrate 130 years of the Wolfe family farm.

In 1884, members of the Rutherford family from Scotland were the first to settle on what is now the Wolfe family farm, a few km north of the Assiniboine River Valley in an area known as Tarbolton. Edward Wolfe, a grandson of one of the Rutherfords, began renting the farm in the 1940s and would eventually buy it.

Warren Wolfe, who grew up on the farm in the 1950s and now lives in Tsawwassen, B.C., will likely share a few of his childhood stories at the family gathering, including his memories of strawberry socials.

“That is something you’ve got to experience. A strawberry social was usually held in early July just as the strawberries were coming out,” said Warren, a mathematician who taught at Royal Roads Military College for more than two decades and now owns two consulting companies.

“The ladies would get together and they would make a picnic meal. The highlight of the event was a sponge cake with whipping cream and strawberries.”

Fun, games and sponge cake on a hot July day is the sort of memory that sticks in your mind for decades, but looking back at his early life on the family farm, Warren said growing up on the Prairies made him the person he is today.

“You cannot escape the roots of your childhood and your teenage years. I think that’s formative for your life,” said Warren, who grew up on the farm with his three siblings: Dwight, Carol and Reed.

“You develop an ethic about community, a work ethic. All those types of things are formulated in those early years…. I don’t think you would ever want to escape it. It’s something at the core of all of our lives.”

Warren’s mother, Marjorie, was raised in Brunkild, Man., and moved to the Tarbolton area in the 1940s to take a job as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse.

She soon met a local farmer, Edward Wolfe, who would become her husband. The couple lived on the farm for 55 years until Edward developed heart disease and they were forced to move to Brandon. Edward died in 2003.

Marjorie, who turns 90 this year, loves to tell stories from her decades on the farm. On a drive from Brandon to Tarbolton, Marjorie pointed out at least 20 farms to explain who used to live there, what happened to members of that family and who lives there now.

What she particularly treasures about her 55 years on the farm was the sense of belonging and being part of the community.

“It was never boring. You were so tired when you went to bed,” she said.

“I’m forgetting what I’ve done, but I kept diaries and I’m reading them like a book. My God. Did I ever stay home? There was 4-H, there were bonspiels and there would be meetings and gatherings.”

Her daughter Carol, who lives in Ladner, B.C., said growing up in a community where she knew everybody is something she didn’t appreciate as a child.

“There was a sense of rootedness. As a child, you’re not really aware of that, of course,” she said.

“I take pride in being a prairie person. We have friends from all over, but we always joke: those of us from the Prairies, we’re the tough ones.”

While his siblings moved away from the farm, Reed stayed in Tarbolton and worked with his father. When Edward became too ill to continue farming, Reed and his wife, Kathy, took over the operation.

They ran a cow-calf operation until 2011 and had ostriches in the 1990s. Now it is strictly a grain farm, growing wheat, barley, flax, canola and hemp.

Warren, who returns to visit and help out when he can, said he’s grateful that Reed continues to live in the same house and farm the same land as previous generations of the family.

“If the farm was not part of the family, there would be a big hole in our lives,” Warren said.

“That early formation and sense of what we are is so intricately tied to that farm and that location…. It’s that sense of belonging somewhere. I don’t think you really get that when you are moving to new areas and making new lives. You still have that connection back to your homestead.”

Carol agreed, saying many prairie people from her generation can’t return to their family farm. The homestead may no longer exist or another family may have bought the land.

“I feel very, very lucky that we have that possibility,“ she said.

“It means a lot to me and I’m very happy that our children … and their families are going to be there this summer … to (visit) a place that was important to them as children.”

Reed enjoys the independence and creativity of agriculture, so maintaining the 130-year tradition of his family isn’t a burden.

However, he occasionally thinks about the previous generations who lived on the farm and what will happen when he retires.

“As much as our lifestyle is hectic and busy, we don’t have near the manual hard work they did. Sometimes I think: ‘I’m not going to let the ball drop at my generation,’ ” he said.

“I’ve got two daughters, so who knows, (but) I’d like to see it pass on, at least a quarter of the farm.”

Driving back to Brandon after a couple of hours at the farm, Marjorie shared a few more stories from her life in Tarbolton, including her recollections of ringing the school bell to call the students in from recess.

Although she now lives in a spacious condo in Brandon, she admitted nothing could duplicate what she had in Tarbolton.

“I just loved rural life…. It was the people.”

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