The last harvest: My stepfather and the demise of the family farm
In August, my stepfather, Gord Will, announced that this fall would be his last harvest. At 72, and with each of those years spent on the vast agricultural plains in the rural municipality of Wheatlands, near the village of Mortlach in southwest Saskatchewan, he is putting away his combine and his grain trucks, his tractors and granaries, his auger, swather, cultivator, baler, sprayer and seeder.
Gord’s fleet of equipment, some of it dating back to the 1960s, is in solid working condition, and each piece carries untold memories. Sentimentality aside, the machinery and implements can be sold, rented, lent or gifted to other grain, pulse, oilseed, hay and forage farmers. It will live on, so long as it is found useful, and so long as someone tends to it with the same meticulous care that he has.
But what of Gord’s accumulated and intimate knowledge of more than 2,000 acres of prairie pasture and cropland, including significant wetlands and wildlife habitat, cared for throughout his lifetime? Or his keen observations of the weather and changing climate in this semi-arid region of the Great Plains known as Palliser’s Triangle? And his lifetime of experience and understanding of what has increasingly become the “business” of farming? And what of the community that counts on him, and others like him, to be its lifeblood?