Couple takes circuitous route to Manitoba farm

On a Friday morning in February, the sky above Rapid City, Man., was a brilliant blue and the sunlight bounced off a layer of new snow.

With the sun, the snow and the bright light, you almost needed a welding mask to look directly at the farm fields to the south.

Joe Jager wasn’t complaining.

He was smiling and in a good mood because the weather was nothing like the conditions in Ribe, Denmark — where it was windy, rainy and 7 C on Feb. 21.

“I really like Canadian weather. When it’s winter, it’s winter. And when it’s summer, it’s summer,” he said as he walked across his farmyard, west of Rapid City.

He explained that Danish weather is rain, wind, clouds and more rain.

“It just always rains … 12 months a year.”

Joe and his wife, Linda Jager, have been living under the blue skies of the Canadian Prairies since the summer of 2015, when they immigrated to Canada from western Denmark.

They now run a 3,000-acre grain farm, in partnership with Linda’s parents — Eddy and Arenda Vanderdeen — who moved to Rapid City from Denmark in 2008.

They grow a number of crops, including high oleic canola, oats, wheat and peas. And the Jagers have three children; Edwin, 10, Celina, 7 and Jacob, 3.

Being on a farm isn’t unusual for the Jagers. Linda and Joe grew up on farms in Denmark, but they’re not Danish.

They were born in The Netherlands and moved as young children with their parents to Denmark in the late 1980s.

“That is the funny thing about our families, they have kind of the same history,” said Linda, who speaks English with a soft Danish-Dutch accent. “Both families moved to Denmark to farm because in the Netherlands it was getting too expensive (to buy land)…. Probably five to 10 times more expensive (in the Netherlands) than in Denmark.”

Linda’s parents and Joe’s parents both bought farmland near the ancient Viking town of Ribe. It’s 240 kilometres north of Hamburg, Germany, in a peninsula known as Jutland.

The farms were small, about 120 to 150 acres, with 50 to 100 dairy cows and grain production.

The two Dutch families met through a Danish church friend.

“We have known each other since we were five,” Linda said, explaining her relationship history with Joe. “We met every Christmas (at a gathering) and when we were late teenagers we started dating.”

They married at the age of 21, in 2007.

A few years before the wedding, Eddy, Linda’s dad, was thinking about a change.

He sold the family farm in 2002 because running a dairy is a grind and he was exhausted.

But he still wanted to farm and bought some grain land in Denmark.

“Then he went to Ontario (in 2005) to visit my uncle … close to Thunder Bay,” Linda said. “And he just loved it…. He started looking into ‘what about Canada?’ ”

Eddy and Arenda returned to Canada several times. They wanted a change for a number of reasons, including the lifestyle in Denmark.

“We had to have an off-farm job, plus doing the farm,” he said. “(And) all the rules and regulations for the European Union … (was) squeezing the fun out of it.”

In 2007, they drove across much of southern Manitoba, to get a sense of the province and the farmland.

By May of 2008 they were seriously looking at three different farms. The first two didn’t work out, which was fine because the Rapid City farm felt right.

In the fall of 2008, they moved to their new home, with their daughter Wilma.

“I had a love of farming, so Manitoba gave me a new opportunity,” Eddy said.

Shortly after their wedding in 2007, Joe and Linda weren’t thinking about a move to Canada.

She was working as a teacher in Denmark and he had a job with Ecco shoes in supply chain management.

However, they decided to visit Canada in the spring of 2008. They drove from Thunder Bay to the Rockies and back.

The vastness of the Prairies made an impression — and the friendly people.

“You would sit on a bench … and someone would start chatting with you and give you their whole life story,” Linda said. “Afterwards, we looked at each other…. That would never happen in Denmark.”

The slower pace of life on the Prairies also caught their attention.

The young couple returned home and resumed their life in Denmark, but the trip planted a seed in their minds.

“Yeah. Let’s try this (move to Canada),” Linda said, adding they hoped to find jobs in Manitoba, possibly as a teacher or something in supply management.

In December 2008 they started filling out the immigration paperwork for Manitoba’s Provincial Nominee Program. They expected the process would take two years.

A few things got in the way.

Their first child, Edwin, was born in 2009. They struggled with paperwork and the process, causing further delays. Then Celina was born in 2012.

It reached a point, around 2013, that Linda started to lose hope.

“I would have times when I was like: ‘maybe we’re not supposed to move (to Canada).’ ”

Approval finally came in 2014 and they moved to Rapid City in July of 2015.

Later that summer, Linda found work in Brandon at a business that sells hairdressing supplies.

“I knew I couldn’t get a teaching position right away…. I just needed a job,” Linda explained, holding a blue coffee mug and sitting at their kitchen table.

Joe worked on the farm for Eddy, helping harvest the 2015 crop. He also took a job with Acklands Grainger, a supplier of industrial products.

In the winter of 2016, Joe and Linda were thinking of moving to Winnipeg to get jobs in their chosen careers.

Then, Joe made an announcement that shocked his wife.

“In January, Joe said: ‘I think I’m going to ask your dad if I can farm with him’…. I almost fell off my chair. What? You want to be a farmer?”

Joe became more interested in farming after he created a computer program for Eddy — evaluating each field for production, costs and revenues.

Joe loved the idea of using the data to optimize profitability, something he had already done while working in supply management. Choosing what to grow, when to buy fertilizer and when to sell grain was appealing.

“To me, to sit in a tractor, that’s just a job. But the management part and the data analysis really intrigued me a lot,” he said. “I really liked to look through data. What worked. What didn’t work.”

Joe became an employee on the farm and learned the ropes of prairie grain production from his father-in-law.

Eddy had to learn about prairie crop production the hard way. His first Canadian growing season, in 2009, was a struggle.

“You think you know a whole lot about farming. But the only thing the same … is you put something in the ground and you take it off. How you do it, that’s all different (in Canada),” he said. “Plus, you don’t have the proper channels to ask people. If you get into a situation, who do you call?”

Eddy survived the early days and the grain farm is now like any other in Western Canada.

There are good years, not so good years and unforeseen challenges.

Joe and Linda are now partners in the farm because they have some financial “skin in the game”, Linda explained.

The Jagers enjoyed their life in Denmark, but it’s an old culture and people are reserved.

Prairie life is different.

The residents of Rapid City are more open, amiable and welcoming to newcomers.

Linda likes that everyday activities, such as grocery shopping, leads to conversations with acquaintances and neighbours. She now manages her son’s hockey team, which has spawned many new relationships.

One thing Joe and Linda have noticed is that Canadians are good at hygge (hue-guh).

It’s a Danish word that could be translated to coziness.

Whether it is a potluck dinner or a backyard barbecue, Canadians have a knack for creating a warm and positive social atmosphere.

“You can show up in your hoodie and bring a beer and we’ll have hygge,” Linda said. “We just hang out and relax.”

The difference between Canada and Denmark, is that Canadians don’t have a word for hygge, Joe added.

They just do it, naturally.

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