Long-time UFA member, Nancy Dmetruik is not your typical grandma. Take the last few nights for example, while many of us were bundling up with blankets to try to get warm, escaping bone-chilling temperatures, this grandmother of six was bundling up and heading out to the barn to check calves, every hour throughout the night.
“Two nights ago, I was in the barn at 4 a.m. and my flashlight battery died half way through. I was not a happy camper. It’s times like these that I wonder how long I can keep doing this for, I’m not getting any younger!” she laughs.
And when I say laugh, I mean laugh. Nancy is one of those people who has a belly laugh that’s boisterous and genuine, just like her. And she doesn’t hold back when it comes to speaking her mind or working hard; it’s just something she has done her whole life.
Nancy grew up as the middle child of seven children on a farm near Vilna, Alberta, a town northeast of Edmonton. With strict parents, Nancy and her siblings were put to work at a young age, not unlike most farm kids of that generation.
“We all had jobs on the farm. My sister Vera and I used to haul all of the summer hay. We’d get a couple of loads done, unload, sneak off for a horse ride, and then get right back at it. My brothers started driving tractor when they were around eight years old and us girls did all of the stooking from the time we were in grade school.”
The family had a cow/calf operation and farmed various crops and before too long they began to grow and diversify. “We had lots of hogs and chickens that we took care of and we spent hours weeding the garden. We just lived off the farm and were very self-sustaining.”
Back then, Nancy says, the community shared equipment. “I remember the neighbour would come by and we would borrow his threshing machine, then we would pass it along to the next farmer. It was very much a co-operative mindset. Everyone helped everyone out. You didn’t compete with each other, you all worked to help your neighbour.”
Nancy married her husband Lenny when she was 21. She laughs when she talks about how they met. “He grew up on the south side of Vilna and I grew up on the north side but we had never met. It was at my best friend’s wedding that he noticed me and I guess that was it. Game over!”
The young couple bought land from Lenny’s mom and then they bought a few extra head of cattle. “We decided that I would be in charge of the cattle and he would work the fields,” says Nancy. “I thought it was a pretty good deal and I could also stay home with the children which was important to us.”
Nancy says that it wasn’t long before their operation began to grow. We kept buying more land, getting more cattle and before you knew it…
“Lenny!” Nancy yells to the background. “How much have we grown since we started?” I could hear him in the background shouting from another room and she came back to the conversation laughing. “Oh geez. You know, it was unbelievable. I’d say we grew at least ten times over! We started out with 27 head. Today we have over a couple hundred.”
Throughout our conversation, Lenny would chime in and Nancy would drop the phone and shout above the receiver to ask him questions. It made me smile because it reminded me of telephone conversations I used to have with my grandparents. I’d be talking to my grandmother and inevitably my grandpa would pick up the extension half-way through to join in. It always made me giggle, especially when they’d end up debating facts, forgetting I was on the line.
Our conversation ebbed and flowed as we shifted to how farming has changed over the years. “I’d have to say the biggest changes are around safety and technology.
“We didn’t even think about things like overhead power lines, equipment driving in and out of the yard, driving at seven years old, or pumping gas as kids. I mean today, I can’t imagine sending my six-year old grand-daughter out with an axe to chop a hole in the ice for the cows to drink or asking her to stoke the wood fire at 3 a.m. but believe it or not, those were some of our chores at that age. And the smell of diesel fuel was very much a normal smell for farm kids like us. We pumped a lot of it into our tractors and breathed it in for many hours as we drove the fields. Let’s just put it this way, safety was not the number one priority growing up. We just didn’t think about it the way we do today.”
Nancy also says that technology has changed the way they do things, but there are some definite perks according to this outgoing lady. “When GPS first came out, we were not friends, put it that way. But we worked things out and now, I just set it and forget it. I can talk on the phone all I want while combining, I just have to remember to turn at the end of the row,” she laughs. “Trust me, you only make that mistake once (maybe twice)!”
And speaking of combining, for Nancy, it’s her favourite time of year. “I get so pumped up for harvest! It’s almost like gambling. You put so much work into your crops and it’s the moment of truth. I look forward to it every year, there’s just something about watching those crops come off that’s magic. And now our tractors all have buddy seats so the grandkids can ride along with me, or even Lenny if he wants,” she giggles.
Nancy Dmetruik (bottom-center) pictured with her family at Christmas
Believe it or not, growing up Nancy admits she never thought that she would be farming, let alone having her kids farm nearby and carrying on their legacy. “We were happy when they all wanted to farm, we knew they loved it and it was in them. My boys always told me what I could do they could do better and that made me proud. When we started out we would set a goal every spring. Most years we’d reach it and some years we didn’t because farming is just plain hard with variables like weather that you can’t control.”
“Over the past few years though, we’ve stopped setting goals because it’s up to our kids now to set them. We’ve helped to get them started and we’re here for advice but what they do with everything is up to them. There’s no reason they can’t go out there and just give’r.”
She adds that there is also great support from UFA for young farmers to help them achieve their goals. “The UFA in St. Paul has everything we need for the farm and the staff is always so helpful and kind. It really is a cornerstone in many rural communities and as shops close down, it’s comforting to know that places like UFA are still committed to providing service and product to farmers in the community.”
Our time flew by and I really didn’t want our conversation to end, but I knew she had to get some rest because it would be another long, cold night. I asked Nancy for some final words of advice; after all, she is one of those women who you instinctively listen to and something told me I better pay attention.
Here’s what she said:
“If everybody follows the rules, we’ll be just fine. When there’s work to be done, do it, and when it’s time to play, play. You get back what you give. It’s not rocket science.”