I live about one hundred kilometres from Edmonton. We could also say Edmontonians live one hundred kilometres from my rural property. Metaphorically the distance is far, far greater I fear.
A hundred years ago I attended Grant McEwan College and worked in Edmonton as a CNIB caseworker for blind adults. We lived in a basement apartment suite half a block north of 7th Avenue at 108 Street. Today that stretch is called the Avenue of Nations and is home to Somalis and other immigrants. Before long, Roy got the call of the land and we moved to a tiny house in the Village of Andrew. We farmed part-time as he commuted daily for seven years to a job in Edmonton as an architectural draftsman.
So over the years we’ve made a few miles between home and Edmonton.
I think I’ve done a fine job of knowing Edmonton, following her big stories, understanding her issues, caring about her people, loving her assets. I watch city news, read city papers. I follow her politics. I know the locals are ticked about fire pits, potholes, and loud motorcycles. I know they worry about the economy, paying the new higher minimum wage, paying rising property taxes. Frankly, I like being in the know. Because, It’s my city, makes me a skilled conversationalist, creates empathy.
But, as I drove a combine on the tenth and eleventh of November (!) in what is arguably the worst harvest season in memory, I wonder if those city people know anything about me, us.
Does anyone, who isn’t directly involved in farming, understand what is at stake? Does anyone give a damn? As city slickers drive down the provinces? highways do they look into the fields? Do they understand what they are seeing? Do they know the difference between a field covered in swaths and one That’s been combined and perhaps cultivated? Can they identify the type of crops standing or lodged or lying in swaths since August? Do they understand the catastrophic financial loss to farm families and everyone they owe money to: lenders; insurers; machinery dealers; not to mention the chemical, fuel, fertilizer, and seed sellers?
The canola we combined is not dry, meaning the moisture in the kernels is too high to safely store the grain or sell it. Simply put, if we don’t dry it, the grain will ?heat? and rot. So we fill 100 pound bottles of propane (at a hundred bucks a crack) to run 60,000 or 100,000 BTU heaters twenty-four hours a day for weeks. A bottle lasts about two days. Electricity powers the huge aeration fans. These are huge additional dollars spent in the hopes of getting ten dollars per bushel if and when It’s finally dry enough for a grain company to buy it.
The lack of understanding about the life and work and importance of farmers is appalling. I don’t think It’s too much to hope that changes soon, from where I sit.
Hazel Anaka’s first novel is Lucky Dog. Visit her website for more information or follow her on Twitter @anakawrites.