BMO hon­ours area farm fam­i­lies at Cal­gary Stam­pede

The Drumheller Mail - - FRONT PAGE - Sub­mit­ted The Drumheller Mail sub­mit­ted

BMO Bank of Mon­treal and the Cal­gary Stam­pede are proud to rec­og­nize 20 south­ern Alberta fam­i­lies who rep­re­sent the true val­ues be­hind agri­cul­ture. Now in their 22nd year, the BMO Farm Fam­ily Awards are a cel­e­bra­tion of the out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tions the cho­sen farm fam­i­lies have made to the agri­cul­ture in­dus­try and their com­mu­nity. This event show­cases those who take an in­no­va­tive ap­proach to grow­ing their busi­ness, demon­strate a com­mit­ment to tra­di­tional western val­ues and main­tain an ex­cep­tional stan­dard of sus­tain­abil­ity.

“We’re so proud to be sup­port­ing a tra­di­tion that is more than two decades in the mak­ing, and one that hon­ours those who best typ­ify the val- ue of the fam­ily farmer to our so­ci­ety,” said Su­san Brown, Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent, Alberta and North­west Ter­ri­to­ries Di­vi­sion, BMO Bank of Mon­treal. “The BMO Farm Fam­ily awards cel­e­brate out­stand­ing en­tre­pre­neur­ial ded­i­ca­tion to the agri­cul­ture sec­tor and ru­ral way of life, and we are thank­ful for the win­ners’ lead­er­ship and sup­port for the com­mu­nity.”

Each year, the mu­nic­i­pal dis­tricts in south­ern Alberta each nom­i­nate one fam­ily. Se­lected fam­i­lies, who best dis­play the qual­i­ties of a Farm Fam­ily, are brought to the Stam­pede for the BMO Farm Fam­ily Awards, which in­clude a re­cep­tion and spe­cial greet­ings from Alberta’s Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture.

Con­tin­ued on Page 4 See BMO

Not ev­ery­one can say they have four gen­er­a­tions work­ing the land to­gether, but the 2018 BMO Farm Fam­ily for Star­land County can — and they say it proudly.

Although he’s 80 and tech­ni­cally retired, Rick Sharpe helps run machin­ery on the farm he started with his son Len in 1980. Len and his son, Jeff, are the main oper­a­tors of the 3,300acre farm. And Jeff’s three chil­dren tend to a healthy flock of chick­ens.

“I’ve al­ways been in­volved in the farm. But I’ve been tak­ing more of an ac­tive role since we in­cor­po­rated in 2007,” Jeff says. “I hope we have the op­por­tu­nity to grow to farm fur­ther than we’ve taken it so far. My boy, he’s nine, has the farm­ing gene for sure. He’s run­ning the com­bine now.”

That said, there is the chal­lenge of land prices in the area, lo­cated about 20 kilo­me­tres north of Drumheller. “I don’t see us grow­ing in size,” Jeff says. “I see us get­ting bet­ter with what we have, get­ting more ef­fi­cient and more intensive, grow­ing more with what we do have.”

The farm, planted in wheat, bar­ley and canola, is a no-till, con­tin­u­ous crop­ping op­er­a­tion. The goal is to push growth on a yield per acre ba­sis by con­tin­u­ing and ex­pand­ing on the use of strip, plot and field trails. Im­prov­ing the cur­rent field drainage to min­i­mize soil ero­sion and keep­ing abreast of new tech­nol­ogy are also high on the list.

While there are four gen­er­a­tions work­ing the land, it’s not the orig­i­nal home­stead. Rick’s grand­fa­ther and grand­mother left their farm in Na­pa­nee, Ont. in 1916 to find new op­por­tu­nity in the Mun­son area. Their old­est son, Rod, farmed un­til 1980. That’s when Rick and Len took over, es­tab­lish­ing the op­er­a­tion the Sharpes work to­day, while Len’s cousin works the orig­i­nal fam­ily quar­ter sec­tion.

Len and his wife, Marg, help with com­mu­nity sup­pers and fundrais­ing events in the com­mu­nity. Marg was in­stru­men­tal in es­tab­lish­ing the area’s wa­ter co-op, a crit­i­cal ser­vice in the ru­ral dis­trict. Jeff and his wife, Kim, are also in­volved in the com­mu­nity. Kim has been in­volved with the Mor­rin Fig­ure Skat­ing Club the past six years, while Jeff is an ac­tive mem­ber of the Mor­rin Dis­trict and Ag So­ci­ety.

And Jeff has been a mem­ber of the Mun­son Fire Depart­ment for 16 years, hav­ing joined when he was 20.

“I find it ex­cit­ing. And it’s a good cause: ev­ery­one should have pro­tec­tion from fire,” he says. The depart­ment is pro­gres­sive and Jeff takes train­ing when it’s avail­able as the crew deals with ev­ery­thing from grass fires to med­i­cal as­sists to mo­tor ve­hi­cle ac­ci­dents.

He also oc­ca­sion­ally works off the farm. He got his elec­tri­cian’s ticket out of high school as a fall back in case he didn’t go into the fam­ily busi­ness. Now that he is more in­volved in the run­ning of the farm, he mainly takes con­sult­ing jobs. While the op­er­a­tion is pri­mar­ily grow­ing grain, they’ve re­cently added some an­i­mals to the mix: a brood of chick­ens 85 strong.

“We got them to give the kids some re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. They do it all when it comes to look­ing after the an­i­mals. They’re egg-lay­ing hens, so the kids sell the eggs to friends and neigh­bours,” Jeff says, peg­ging pro­duc­tion at about 80 eggs a day.

The Ras­mussen Fam­ily Wheat­land County

Ne­ces­sity is the mother of in­ven­tion. The Ras­mussen fam­ily has proven that re­peat­edly since Jens and Kris­tine Ras­mussen came to Stan­dard from Iowa in 1909.

The cou­ple, both im­mi­grants from Den­mark, trav­elled north with nine of their 16 chil­dren. The other seven were buried in the States. Jens was 48. But he was de­ter­mined to start over yet again.

“He knew land was ev­ery­thing. They were in Iowa where there was no room for ex­pan­sion. He re­al­ized they needed to do some­thing. He saw an op­por­tu­nity in Canada and they took it,” says Brian Ras­mussen, the cou­ple’s great­grand­son. “It’s one of the main rea­sons we’ve di­ver­si­fied into seed. We don’t have a lot of pas­ture land, so we saw an op­por­tu­nity to get into seed.”

The 2018 BMO Farm Fam­ily for Wheat­land County op­er­ates a 2,835-acre grain farm, pri­mar­ily for seed. Brian’s wife, Shelley, also has deep roots in the area. Her pa­ter­nal great­grand­fa­ther owned and op­er­ated the coal mine in Stan­dard and her ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents op­er­ated one of the lo­cal ho­tels.

Mar­ried in 1979, the cou­ple has three sons; Blair, Joel and Keith. Blair and Keith have ca­reers off the farm. It looked like it would be that way for Joel as well, as he’s se­verely al­ler­gic to grain dust. But now, with im­munother­apy in­jec­tions, he lives and works on the farm, along with his wife, Jacci, and their two chil­dren.

That so­lu­tion fits with the farm’s motto, “Where Tra­di­tion and In­no­va­tion Con­tinue.” The first house built on the prop­erty was from a kit de­liv­ered via train in 1915. Its elec­tri­cal wiring and in­door plumb­ing were the first in the area. Work done in the farm’s shop em­bod­ied the motto, too. In 1928, Sig­urd Ras­mussen, Brian’s grand­fa­ther, held three patents for early de­signs of grain load­ers.

In the 1940s, Gor­don, Brian’s fa­ther, built two trac­tors from high­way trucks and crafted a stock car out of a 1916 Model T truck, one of many race cars the fam­ily built. That led to a dirt race track the fam­ily cre­ated in the pas­ture in the 1950s. Gor­don and other fam­ily mem­bers raced all over Alberta and be­yond. A photo in the Reynolds-Alberta mu­seum in We­taski­win shows Gor­don crash­ing that Model T stock car. In the ’70s, the race track was re­built for an­other decade of driv­ing.

“My aunts and un­cles would say we spent more time cre­at­ing the ma­chine to make the job eas­ier than it would take to do the job in the first place,” Brian re­mem­bers. “But they’d also say that you have that ma­chine for­ever.”

The Ras­mussens have been in­volved in count­less com­mu­nity ef­forts and or­ga­ni­za­tions, from the gym­nas­tics club to the Cen­tral Alberta Hockey League, the Wheat­land Sur­face Rights Group to the new $2-mil­lion com­mu­nity hall. Brian has a 40-year Award from the Cana­dian Seed Grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion. His fa­ther twice won the pres­ti­gious Robert­son Award from the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Shelley says while they don’t know what the fu­ture holds, they’ll keep grow­ing new va­ri­eties of crops that will ben­e­fit farm­ers. And they’ll keep their com­mit­ment to keep the fam­ily farm go­ing.

“It’s of the ut­most im­por­tance to us,” Brian says. “But you can’t pre­dict the fu­ture of how things are go­ing to go. We are try­ing to leave the legacy of it.”

The Hop­pins fam­ily Knee­hill County

When Kevin Hop­pins talks about the fam­ily farm, the em­pha­sis is de­cid­edly on fam­ily.

He’s part of the eight fam­i­lies that make up Hop­pins Farms Ltd., an op­er­a­tion that’s grown to a sprawl­ing 8,000 acres from the orig­i­nal quar­ter sec­tion home­steaded west of Hux­ley by his great-grand­fa­ther Wil­liam Hop­pins in 1904. “You’ll never hear any­one who is or has been in­volved in our farm re­fer to any­thing as ‘mine.’ It’s all con­sid­ered ‘ours,’ ” Hop­pins says. “It’s through the co-op­er­a­tive ap­proach — the shar­ing of re­sources, skills and ex­per­tise — that we’ve been able to suc­cess­fully grow our op­er­a­tion.”

The mixed grain farm run by the fam­i­lies — fa­thers, sons, un­cles, cousins and their part­ners — pro­duces wheat, bar­ley, peas and canola. The fam­i­lies also main­tain a herd of 160 com­mer­cial An­gus/Sim­men­tal beef cat­tle. When Hop­pins learned he was the re­cip­i­ent of the 2018 BMO Farm Fam­ily for Knee­hill County, he wanted to make one thing clear.

“I told them, ‘That’s not how it works.’ It’s def­i­nitely not any one of our farms. It is a fam­ily thing and we are all in it to­gether,” he re­calls. “At times, we may have eight ideas on how to ap­proach some­thing, but that usu­ally means we have a bet­ter out­come and it’s done sooner.”

That all-for-one, one-for-all out­look has been passed down through the gen­er­a­tions, as has in­volve­ment in co-op­er­a­tives.

“It’s an ex­ten­sion of the farm. You join to­gether with other folks to do some­thing to­gether that you can’t do your­self, like bring­ing nat­u­ral gas to ru­ral ar­eas,” he says. Hop­pins’ grand­fa­ther was CEO of the United Farm­ers of Alberta (UFA), his fa­ther was a direc­tor and he is cur­rently chair­man of the board. Mem­bers of the fam­ily are in­volved in ev­ery­thing from Knee­hill County Coun­cil and the Hux­ley 4-H Beef Club, to St. Mary’s Com­mu­nity Health Care Foun­da­tion and the Trochu Curl­ing Club. It’s not un­com­mon for one mem­ber of the fam­ily to take over a task for an­other, al­low­ing them to coach a ball game, re­spond to a fire call or or­ga­nize a com­mu­nity event.

In 2004, the Hop­pins clan hosted a cen­ten­nial farm cel­e­bra­tion with friends, ex­tended fam­ily and com­mu­nity. At the same time, they were honoured with the Alberta Cen­tury Farm Award and a Cen­ten­nial Farm Award from Knee­hill County. The fam­i­lies are used to gath­er­ings, an­other tra­di­tion that’s echoed through the gen­er­a­tions.

“We have a corn roast ev­ery year and we have three an­tique 1950 com­bines that we break out. We save a bit of the crop and have all the neigh­bours and friends over,” Hop­pins says. “And in the win­ter, a lot of the non-farm­ing fam­ily mem­bers come for the skat­ing par­ties we have on the pond.”

An­other fam­ily tra­di­tion in­volves at­tend­ing Olds Col­lege. There’s even a photo of the Hop­pins Farms Ltd. brand at the Col­lege. Var­i­ous fam­ily mem­bers spe­cial­ize in cat­tle, book­keep­ing, pes­ti­cide ap­pli­ca­tion, me­chan­ics and grain mar­ket­ing, among other ar­eas. Keep­ing abreast — and ahead, at times — of ad­vances in agri­cul­ture is a pri­or­ity for the fam­ily, as is plan­ning for the op­er­a­tion’s fu­ture.

“En­cour­ag­ing oth­ers and tak­ing time to share in the process has fos­tered a love of farm­ing and com­mu­nity,” Hop­pins says. “We have three third-gen­er­a­tion fam­i­lies, five fourth-gen­er­a­tion fam­i­lies and the fifth gen­er­a­tion is just around the cor­ner help­ing out on week­ends and evenings.”

The Sharpe Fam­ily from Star­land County were one of the three fam­i­lies from sur­round­ing coun­ties who were honoured at the Cal­gary Stam­pede’s Farm Fam­i­lies award last week.

Ras­mussen Fam­ily - Wheat­land County Hop­pins Fam­ily - Knee­hill County

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