ELM CREEK, Man. — The Penners aren’t trapped in farming. It’s a lifestyle they have embraced from one generation to the next.
“I always enjoyed the farm life, but I didn’t ever think I’d grow up and live on a grain farm,” said Gloria Penner, who lives with her husband, Calvin, on a farm in the bountiful Red River Valley of southeastern Manitoba. Gloria was born and raised on a family farm near Chilliwack, B.C.
“I always enjoyed the country living.”
Gloria left her farm and travelled east to Manitoba for education at Winkler Bible School, and ended up living and working in Winnipeg.
This was just before she met Calvin, who had grown up on the family grain farm but had begun working construction when he hit adulthood.
“Out of high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said on a sunny March afternoon in the comfortable living room of their home, as Gloria kept an ear attuned to the sounds of a grandchild waking up from a nap in a nearby bedroom.
The couple didn’t meet in the city. Gloria was a baseball player in a Winnipeg church league and she headed out to Elm Creek in June 1982 with some fellow players, who came from the small town, and met Calvin at the annual town exhibition.
They had their first date in August and were married the following June.
Calvin kept working construction while easing deeper into farming with his dad, while Gloria tied up her job in the city and moved out to the family farm.
Calvin and father Bill worked together and slowly the farm transitioned from father to son, while Gloria had four children, worked at a local bank, and dealt with the multiple demands of family life.
“My main role was to survive with my job and run with the kids,” said Gloria.
“We had four kids in hockey for a while.”
Small towns might have fewer jobs than cities and bigger towns, but the jobs they have can also be less rigid and inflexible, which meant a lot to Gloria.
“The (children) could come and see me at lunch. If one fell, I could take them to get stitches. Family came first, over work, which was nice.”
Calvin’s parents eventually moved to Carman, Man., while staying active with the farm. Gloria and Calvin’s two girls and two boys grew up and, similar to their parents, didn’t run away from rural and farm life.
One of their sons lives on the farm with his family and is easing into a gradually expanding role on the farm, as his father did, while he also works in the University of Manitoba’s agriculture department. The other son is also playing a bigger role on the farm these days.
One daughter works nearby in Carman as a nurse, while the other daughter farms with her husband on a farm near Lloydminster, Sask.
After Bill had a stroke and had to cut back on his farm work, Gloria quit her job and took on larger farming role.
Bill died five years ago but Anna, Calvin’s mother, continues to live in nearby Carman.
Calvin has enjoyed seeing the boom in soybean acreage in southern Manitoba and usually has about one-third of his acreage in the newcomer crop.
“I stick with my rotation, although it’s tempting to go wall to wall,” he said.
Calvin is a member of the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers Association and Keystone Agricultural Producers. His social involvement isn’t something he picked up late in life.
“When I was a little kid my dad was on the local Pool committee. I’ve always been involved.”
Gloria and Calvin are also heavily involved with their church. They just returned from a visit to Kenya, where their church operates development programs.
Calvin said he is happy to see lots of young farmers in KAP and theMPSGA because he’s convinced farmers can actually create a better environment for farming if they get involved.
“I could see the difference they made,” he said about his motivation for staying involved when he was young.
“We can sit back and complain about this stuff, or we can do something about it.”
As the third generation of Penners gets more involved with this farm, and as a fourth generation is growing up, getting involved and staying involved seems to be a family hallmark.
And sticking with farming seems to be a family characteristic, even if they have always had other options.