Three local farm families from Kneehill County, Starland County and Wheatland County have been presented the 2010 BMO Farm Family award at this year's Calgary Stampede.
The recipients of the 2010 BMO Farm Family Awards each demonstrate the critical role they play in furthering Alberta agriculture. These families have been able to combine the ideals and traditions of the past with up-to-date business and technological practices.
Representing Kneehill County
The more you put into it, the more you get out of it — whether it’s your land, your community or your beliefs. It’s a simple code, but one the Eskeland family lives by faithfully, and it’s a big reason they’ve been nominated by Kneehill County to receive a BMO Farm Family Award in 2010.
“It’s about honesty and putting your best foot forward, because this is a reinvestment — in yourself and in your future,” says Jim Eskeland, who owns and operates Eskeland Farms Ltd. along with his dad Ed, his wife Julie, and their children Owen, 7, and Elena, 5. “Being on the land itself is very rewarding. The more you do for your land, the more it gives back to you. It’s in your best interests to be a good steward, because ultimately you’re giving back not only to yourself, but also to the next generation and whoever else is using this planet.”
While Jim’s great-grandfather, Joseph Jonas Eskeland, began homesteading east of Carmangay, Alta., back in 1904, the 4,500-acre spread now known as Eskeland Farms Ltd., about eight kilometres south of Drumheller, was established in 1945 by Jim’s grandparents, Ray and Clara.
Today, Jim and Julie operate a dryland farming outfit, producing canola and red spring wheat, and are blessed with the help and support of their extended family, including sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews.
Jim’s mom Sharon, who passed away in September 2008, was the backbone of the Eskeland family farm operation, instilling a strong work ethic and emphasizing family ties alongside Ed.
“I know my mother would share in our deep honour upon being nominated for this prestigious award,” says Jim.
When it comes to stewardship, Jim, Julie and Ed take their conservation practices seriously. They’ve practised zero-till techniques for 12 years, went to direct seeding in 1999, and are constantly seeking new ways to conserve moisture and increase yields by employing the latest technology.
“Our yield averages keep going up as we carry on with continuous cropping,” says Jim, who married Julie in 1997. “We’re getting better micronutrients in our land, so it’s actually healthier. The benefits we’ve seen in our land have just been phenomenal. And it’s been so windy this spring … I can’t imagine how much topsoil we would have lost if we hadn’t started these kinds of practices.”
The Eskelands’ reinvestment philosophy also applies out in the community. Ed has been a member of the Elks Lodge No. 54 in Drumheller for more than a half-century. Jim is a volunteer firefighter and a minor hockey coach, and has served on community hall boards and the council of their church, Bethlehem Lutheran, in nearby Dalum. Julie volunteers at the local elementary school, and has served on church council and taught Sunday school.
“The more you give out to your neighbours and your community, the more you’re going to get back,” says Jim. “Growing up in a close-knit community, it’s just so rewarding. Where would you be without a strong, healthy community?”
Representing Starland County
The Dodd Family
When it comes to fighting for his community’s way of life, Larry Dodd knows he’s on the right track.
Ever since the Canadian National Railway announced in November that it intends to abandon a 284-kilometre stretch of rail line from Oyen to Lyalta, Larry and a group of concerned citizens in Starland County have kick-started a movement to purchase the line and operate it privately. But this isn’t just about grain producers maintaining the most economical, direct route to the elevators … it’s about ensuring the heartbeat of a community.
“If it’s gone, it’s gone,” says Larry. “But if we can save this track, communities along the line would still be able to prosper. Down the road, we might see an ethanol plant built in the area… and the line itself could see some tourism, with steam-train excursions.”
For their deep-rooted sense of community, and for many other reasons, Larry and Cindy Dodd have earned Starland County’s nod for a BMO Farm Family Award in 2010.
The Dodds’ mixed farm, eight kilometres northwest of Morrin, has been in family hands for exactly a century. It was first settled in 1910 by Larry’s grandfather Frank, who was born in Tilbury, Ont., moved to Nebraska as a toddler, relocated to Olds, AB., with wife Jane in 1905, and finally wandered east to Morrin five years later.
The Dodd farm is still going strong today, with a 70-head cow/calf operation and about 4,000 acres planted in wheat, canola and barley.
“They’re very tied in, whether it’s from a social standpoint or helping to build the community,” says Alan Hampton, agricultural fieldman for Starland County. “They’re down-home folk, committed to their community and the betterment of the area, and they practise what they preach.”
To manage their mixed farm, Larry and Cindy have the able assistance of son Daniel, who lives and works on-site and has a hand in all aspects of the operation. And during the more hectic periods, such as seeding, haying, branding, and harvest, daughters Sarah and Michelle, and Sarah’s husband Rob, lend some much-needed support.
Over the past three years, the Dodds have been moving rapidly toward zero tillage practices.
“They’ve got a solid farm, a fairly progressive farm,” says Alan. “They’re right in that top percentile, practising zero till and managing the ground very well.”
Besides his work to save the railway as a director on the Badlands Railway Company, Larry has served with the Morrin Fire Department and the Morrin Agricultural Society. He’s also been the board chair for the local community hall and the president of the region’s curling club.
Cindy, a former elementary school teacher, serves on the board of the Morrin United Church like her husband. She’s also helped out as a 4-H assistant leader, and is participating on a Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life team.
Through community work, “we’ve established lifelong friendships that have greatly enriched our lives,” says Larry.
Although a fifth generation of the Dodd family hasn’t yet arrived on the local scene, Larry and Cindy are optimistic as they celebrate their farm’s centenary.
“We hope for continued strong family ties, work ethic and pride,” says Larry, “which will make our family farm stronger.”
Representing Wheatland County
The Clark Family
What’s in a name? Well, for the folks out at JC Ranch . . . everything, frankly. Last summer, when little John Evan was born, he became the sixth John Clark to live in the Crowfoot Creek area — perpetuating a name that predates just about all others out in Wheatland County.
The first John Clark to settle near Hussar arrived ahead of the Canadian Pacific Railway, setting up camp in 1883.
“A couple of the boys started walking. I guess they got tired of waiting for it,” says Doug Clark (christened John Douglas Clark, the fourth-generation John Clark), who runs a cattle and sheep operation at JC Ranch. “They went down through the States with a team of horses, and came up by Fort Macleod. They crossed the Bow River at the Blackfoot Crossing. The Indians charged them to cross the river, and because they were sponsored, they wrote it down in a book they kept with all their other expenses.”
JC Ranch celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2008, and there are only a handful of farms in Alberta that can make such a claim of longevity. With 120 head of cattle, primarily Angus, and 75 head of Suffolk sheep, the 2,000-acre ranch located 14 kilometres southwest of Hussar is currently run by Doug and his wife Susan; son Wes (John Wesley, the fifth-generation John Clark), wife Carolyn, and their kids Karley and Evan; and daughter Lisa, her husband Todd Sauve, and their children C.J. and Duncan.
Just how old is their spread? Consider this — the original JC brand was registered in the Northwest Territory Brand Book.
“I would guess they’re the oldest family ranching business in the county,” says Ken Sauve, a councillor with Wheatland County, and Lisa’s father-in-law. “They’ve always maintained a good ranch with good cattle on it, and were progressive in buying good stock. They’re a deserving family, for sure . . . just with the amount of time they’ve been in the agriculture industry, that takes a lot of staying power.”
The current JC Ranch, about 13 kilometres north of the Clarks’ original plot of land, also features its own on-site business. Susan runs The Wool Shop out of a former bunkhouse, carding, spinning, dying, and weaving for a diverse clientele.
“She also has quite a few ladies come out once a month from Drumheller, Strathmore, and Cluny to do some spinning,” says Doug. “They call themselves the Crowfoot Creek Spinners, and they were featured on TV (Prairie Farm Report).”
While there’s plenty of work to go around, the Clark family also takes time to play. Doug was a founding member of the Cluny Team Roping Club, and has also won numerous team cattle penning awards with Wes and Lisa, including the Strathmore Rodeo a few years back. Doug was also a founding member of the first Bassano 4-H Beef Club and a volunteer community sports coach, and is an elder at Knox Presbyterian Church.
Susan, meanwhile, has supplied lambs, judged, and donated class awards for regional 4-H Sheep Clubs. She also continues to host school tours, and has taught Agriculture School courses.
“The more involved you are,” says Doug, “the more interesting life is.”