Family takes on project for air ambulance

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, Man. — Sometimes modern technology helps farmers grow bigger and better crops.

And sometimes it helps to give them away.

“The guys were sitting in their tractors this spring and they got talking,” said Jill Verwey, who is married to one of the four Verwey brothers who farm together around the Portage La Prairie area.

One day the brothers, working in different parts of the operation, had been hearing about the STARS air ambulance service and its need for money. The old technology of radio brought them the information, but then the newer technologies of cellphones and autosteer allowed them to brainstorm about how to help STARS, all while they were busy putting in the 2018-19 crop.

“I’ve supported it since it came to Portage,” said Gerry, sitting with his brothers, and Jill, Ray’s wife, around a table on the farm.

The Verweys decided to donate 40 acres of this year’s soybeans from their farm to STARS, with local input suppliers providing the seed and inputs.

“You might help a neighbour, or someone 250 miles away with a bee sting,” said Ray.

“From a bee sting to a p.t.o. (accident) to a quad tipped over, anything can happen.”

Conrad, thinking like a farmer, says donating to an air ambulance service makes him think of crop insurance.

“Every farm has lost a crop,” said Conrad.

“There needs to be something there for when things go wrong. You can lose a crop if you don’t have the right equipment. You can lose a person that way too.”

The Verwey farm is a bustling operation, with fields spread across 40 kilometres. They ruefully noted that they were in the rare position of getting flooded on both sides of Portage la Prairie during the 2010 inundations; from the flooded shores of Lake Manitoba to the intentionally flooded land near Hoop-and-Holler bend on the Assiniboine River.

They are also rare in today’s grain business because they operate a dairy barn.

Their beef cow operation is less unorthodox, but still more rare than it was in the past because most farms today concentrate on either crops or livestock.

They grow the usual Red River Valley crops, which these days includes a lot of soybeans, but have stopped growing potatoes, which they found to be marginal and too hard to manage.

“God said, ‘you’re free now,’ ” said Ray, with a laugh, about getting out of potatoes.

Three of the brothers’ sons work full-time on the farm. Other children help out at times, with a number being in university.

The brothers get along easily and seem to have found a way to manage a multi-family operation. They have installed tile drainage and have some irrigation, which is common in the valley and around Portage.

This particular farm was founded in 1959 by John and Norma Verwey, who are the parents of the four brothers and a sister, and still living. The original Verweys came to Manitoba in the early 20th century.

It’s a rich agricultural region, with complicated challenges, but the Verweys have found a way to be involved in many types of farm production, while managing the human complexities of multiple families working together.

Projects like the soybean donation to STARS give them something else to work on together, which is something they seem to enjoy.

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