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Steeped in prairie heritage

CEYLON, Sask. — Farmer Ken Catherwood’s wife died of cancer 17 years ago, leaving him to raise Kristin, 10, Janelle, 8, and Shawn, 2.


The family was recently featured in Generations, a short film included in The Grasslands Project, a story that captures the transfer of the 110-year-old family farm from father to son. 


“It does leave out a lot of the reality of our farm. It unfortunately doesn’t get to show everything,” said Kristin.


Ken’s great-grandfather was 39 when he moved with his family to Saskatchewan in 1905.


They came west to claim a homestead and picked up two side by side, said Ken.


“My grandfather was 17, so he had to wait half a year before he was 18 but he had squatter’s rights and that’s the farm we live on today.” 


Ken has since developed the farm with each of his children in mind and they have all found their place. 


“Kristin’s a writer, she’s not so much a farmer, but she’s got two quarters of land because it takes two poor ones to make a good one. Shawn and Janelle have a good one,” Ken said.


Kristin planted a garden this year and hopes to live on the farm full time in the future.


“When I was in school, I’d come home every summer. It was so important for me to be on the farm,” she said.


“My dad has steeped us in this heritage that’s so much a part of us. Everything that we do revolves around the farm and our identity with it,” Kristin said. 


Janelle and Shawn are both farmers developing their land around the original family homestead where Janelle plans to be married this fall. 


Ken developed most of Janelle’s land himself and bought Shawn’s from a neighbour.


“He was retiring and he was good enough to give me the opportunity to buy that, so I bought it for my son,” said Ken.


Shawn has recently been studying agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan and is eager to apply his education to the farm. 


“I’m always planning and doing research and right now specifically I’m doing research on lentil crops (and) different ways to grow them,” he said.


“You have your farm in lentils and half canola, for example, and sure they think that’s a good idea right now because lentils are worth so much but then next year comes and half their stubble is lentils and you can’t grow lentils again on all that,” Shawn said.


He plans to implement a strict rotation plan on their farm in years to come and to integrate more geographical information systems.


“Honestly, ever since I had a memory, (farming’s) all I thought about doing, never really thought about doing anything else, so in that sense it feels like that’s what I’m meant to do,” Shawn said.


The family has no intention of selling, even though the viability of small family farms is often challenged.


In Ceylon, the family has witnessed the local school closing, the train’s discontinuation and the removal of the last grain elevator.


The rural challenges are apparent, but the joy outweighs the struggles, said Kristin.


“Having that access to nature and your family heritage and that way of life and then to have to give that all up and be absorbed into the city, that was almost like my dad’s worst nightmare and for us too,” she said. 


“With me, I’m not a farmer, but I’m very close to the farm. I’m still out there … it’s just so much a part of who we are,” she said.


Ken is proud of his kids and their accomplishments and attributes their success to his faith and farm.


“It was my parent’s wish that the farm stay together and so far we’ve done that,” he said.


“We could have given up a hundred years ago, but we’re still here.”


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