Magazine article Anglican Journal

Keeping the Faith in 'Next Year's Country'; Rural Churches Face Fear for the Future

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Keeping the Faith in 'Next Year's Country'; Rural Churches Face Fear for the Future

Article excerpt

Porcupine Plain, Sask.

"It was like someone turned on the tap and forgot to turn it off," Lillian Fleck describes the floods that came last spring in eastern Saskatchewan, leaving nearly two million acres of land too wet to seed and destroying others that were planted.

"That's not too bad on that side, they'll probably get at least a third (of the crops)," she says, pointing to a half-green, half-brown wheat field, with pockets of slough (see Saskatchewan Notebook, opposite page), as she drive the highway from Tisdale to Bjorkdale.

"That over there was seeded but it's not growing," she adds. It's mid-July and the flax should be about 15 inches by now. "I'll bet you it won't even grow a foot."

She warns that the picture gets worse in the next town, Porcupine Plain, which had back-to-back disasters that began last fall: frost and hail, followed by 1.5 metres of snow in winter, and 43 cm of rain in spring.

Ms. Fleck, a cradle Anglican whose grandfather Abraham Moot Fritshaw was a schoolteacher who homesteaded in Saskatchewan 100 years ago and whose parents later had their own cattle and gram operation, grew up on a farm, and recalls, "we didn't have these extremes of dry and wet weather."

Ms. Fleck drops by the home of Glen and Gloria Bush, her fellow parishioners at Bjorkdale's St. John-Hillside, whose crops this year have rotted from the extreme weather conditions. The couple has also had to endure the loss of their daughter Shelley to cancer, on the day that Ms. Fleck drops by with Saskatoon bishop Rodney Andrews and an Anglican Journal reporter.

"I wish we could meet you in better circumstances. These are very hard times for you," says Bishop Andrews.

"I don't understand it at all. There's no explanation," says Mr. Bush, as his wife serves coffee and raspberries with ice cream to the guests, who have gathered around a kitchen table. Even when there's a death in the family, Saskatchewan's famed hospitality is not forgotten. "That's what it's like on a farm. We appreciate anybody coming," says Mrs. Bush. The couple talk about their daughter and the family she left behind and shows an album with her photographs. The conversation inevitably segues to the disasters and Mrs. Bush sighs, "We still have wheat laying over the field. They couldn't combine it last year. We have about 80 acres of field where the ducks are still swimming."

Mr. Bush shows the grain bin with 4,000 bushels of barley covered with mold: they were wet when harvested and hot weather set in before they could be dried. "It would've been worth about $3 to $4 per bushel. You're looking at about $15,000 just going out to the bush. It's not even good for a pig farm," he says.

'There's always next year'

There were news reports that the provincial government would offer $15 per acre in assistance fit has been reduced to $10 per acre), but Mr. Bush observes. "It isn't very much." This year farmers spent an average of $121 per acre to grow crops, according to another farmer, Sharon Stegemann, from Porcupine Plain. The price of fuel went up and in turn, drove up the cost of hauling and shipping the grams; more fuel was also burned to combine and dry the grains; some farmers had to replace tractors and farm implements destroyed from plowing through floodwaters. "We're getting buried in debt," she says, and yet provincial officials "wouldn't even come out to look at our situation."

She adds: "It's almost worse than the 1920s because while the cost of everything has gone up, crop prices have remained the same. We used to spend 40 to 42 per cent of our gross income to freight, now it's 48 per cent." Canadians may not be aware, she says, gut for every loaf of bread only $0.08 goes to the farmer.

And yet, adds Ms. Fleck, most Canadians think farmers are constantly bellyaching. "They don't understand, and therefore, it's not their problem. It's discouraging but we carry on. …

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