Tragedy opens path back to the farm

A young Saskatchewan woman thought 
she was leaving the family farm for good, 
but life had something else in mind

KENDAL, Sask. — Sara Rissling has always loved animals and rural life, but taking over the family farm wasn’t something she had planned.

In 2004, her husband Kevin’s job had taken her young family to Tisdale, Sask., where he was the province’s youngest Bank of Montreal manager at age 24.

Sara’s life with a two-year-old son and a newborn daughter was busy and full. However, tragedy struck in 2006 when Kevin was killed in an automobile accident. Sara was left to reconstruct life as a single mother with a toddler and an infant.

“At that point I did not want to come back home because for me, the farm was a sad place. It was a place Kevin and I both loved so it was really, really hard on me to be back here on weekends and even at Christmas,” said Sara.

Several years later on a blind date, Sara met Adrian Arnason, a Regina father of one who had grown up spending summers at his family’s Tantalon-area farm.

By 2011, the pair had moved back to Sara’s hometown of Montmartre, Sask., and got married. While Adrian continued to work at SaskTel in Regina, he and Sara were becoming increasingly involved in Sara’s family farm located near Montmartre.

“We saw the struggles that Dad was having and we realized he couldn’t do it all so that’s when we started getting really involved in the cow side,” said Sara, who had always loved working with cattle and had spent her first year out of high school taking pre-veterinary classes at the University of Regina.

Sara’s parents, Doug and Pauline Baumgartner, were in their late 50s and were beginning to think about their retirement. They started farming in 1977, buying a home quarter and land near Kendal, Sask., just west of Montmartre. They started with milk cows and pigs and eventually got into cattle and grain. The couple raised four children on the farm, including Sara, the youngest.

“I never thought Sara would end up farming because her first husband was all over the place with banking and I didn’t think they’d ever end up on the farm,” said Doug.

But after Adrian and Sara married and had two daughters of their own, buying into the family farm seemed like the right decision.

“After we moved out here and we ended up helping her dad so much, then her dad kind of realized maybe he could start stepping back a bit,” said Adrian, whose eldest daughter, Kaylie, is now 20 and taking journalism at the U of R.

“I knew it was always Sara’s dream to farm, so we jumped in.”

The couple built a new house across from the original house where Pauline and Doug live and moved their children into a new lifestyle. They opted to focus on the cattle side of the operation and rent out the grain land.

While Adrian had experience with farming, he was caught off guard by the constant commitment it takes to manage a herd of 250 cows.

“It surprised me, the time it takes to do everything,” he said.

The two couples now run the farm jointly with most decisions made at coffee time every morning at Sara and Adrian’s house.

“That’s when we decide what we’ll be doing that day and planning out what needs to get done,” said Doug, adding that working with his youngest daughter has never presented a problem.

“It’s actually pretty smooth going because she just loves the farm and working with the animals, so she’s always busy and she does a lot,” he said.

Sara said living on the farm again no longer raises feelings of sorrow. Instead, it now gives her comfort.

“For me, it’s exactly how it was growing up. It’s the same routine and now that the older kids can help out, it’s so much easier.”

Sara’s oldest son, James, is 15 and takes on many farm duties, including feeding the cows and driving the tractor. Isabelle, age 13, helps take care of her younger sisters, six-year-old Ava and five-year-old Lily.

James and Isabelle Rissling love farm living and are an integral part of the family’s operation. | Christalee Froese photo

With about 250 cow-calf pairs and four school-aged children who are involved in hockey and dance, Sara and Adrian have a lot to juggle. That’s when operating as a family farm comes in handy.

“It’s a million times better for our family to be on the farm because we can make it to stuff and go into school and there’s still someone here to do the chores,” said Adrian.

While neither Sara nor her dad, Doug, imagined farming together, they now consider it a blessing to support each other and carry on the farming tradition for their children and grandchildren.

“It fills my whole life up just watching the grand kids and seeing them fooling around in the yard,” said Doug.

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