WYNYARD, Sask. — The Home Quarter — the very words evoke a nostalgia for years past, when our forebears came from many lands to settle in Saskatchewan. Every adult male could file for a homestead, 160 acres of land, for $10.
These prairie homesteads — home quarters — were settled by numerous farmers — the parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents of today’s generation.
I currently live most of the year as a volunteer on a seven-quarter farm near Wynyard, Sask. This farm was made available to Farmland Legacies some 10 years ago. My congregation, the Ursulines of Bruno, along with the Roman Catholic, Ukrainian Catholic, United Church and Anglican dioceses of the province, was instrumental in founding Farmland Legacies, an ecumenical charitable organization, in 1996.
The quarter of land where the farmyard is (NW19-33-15W2nd) is called The Home Quarter.
The Home Quarter aims to be a model for sustainable land use and agriculture. Through a grant from Heifer International Canada, Farmland Legacies has developed a growing herd of beef cattle, some of which are used to support Saskatchewan food banks. As food costs soar and unemployment rises, more people find that the only way to feed their families is by using the food banks.
Farmland Legacies is the only organization in Canada to grow and provide grass-fed, grass-finished beef to clients of the food banks. This charitable work follows closely the teachings of Pope Francis in Laudato Si’: protecting the environment, sustaining land and providing food for the hungry.
In his lenten message the Holy Father, emphasizing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, begs us to show mercy to others as God has shown mercy to us. “This will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty, and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy,” he says.
As an Ursuline of Bruno, I was involved in education for much of my earlier life, whether in a public school classroom, in one of our private academies or as an associate editor of The Prairie Messenger. Congregational leadership added another element of experience. But, born and raised a farm kid, I find ministry at The Home Quarter most fulfilling in these days of my aging.
I don’t help much any more raising and maintaining the cattle herd, but I do what I can in the garden. We have planted a fairly extensive orchard, just now in its first years, for a U-pick and eventually food bank donations, and there is much room between the trees and between the rows for garden vegetables.
With little effort, I grew some 200 pounds of carrots for our local food bank, and could just as easily provide fresh vegetables like squash and potatoes in season.
Upon reflection, I find that living within the seasonal cycles mirrors for me the cycle of life itself. We are born, we grow, we do what we can, in myriad ways, to help others, and we die.
Every day in the growing season is a new miracle. We need the spring rains to stimulate grass growth to feed the cattle and to grow the winter hay crop. We need warmth so the cattle can birth and nourish their young in favourable weather. Sun, rain, wind — all are close to the heart of life on a farm.
Sunshine in blossom time will provide fruit crops, while rain in the wrong season can be devastating. And if the bees die off, so will many of the foods we take for granted.
I find great joy in welcoming visitors to The Home Quarter. Some come just to see, to look around; others come to do volunteer work or for a time of rest and reflection.
I receive intense spiritual nourishment here at the farm. Living in touch with nature creates in me a deepening awareness of the presence of God. This is home. I find here a harmony and a simplicity of life that nurtures body, mind and spirit.
Learn more at farmlandlegacies.org