Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A new world for women

Running a farm no longer just for fathers and sons

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LANDMARK -- The stereotype of males as farmers and females as homemakers is being shattered by a growing number of Manitoba women who operate their own farms.

Marg Rempel, for example, owns and operates a 1,500 acre mixed grain and hog farm about four miles south of Landmark.

Rempel says she and her husband Ron farmed Rempelco Acres Ltd. for 28 years before his untimely death of a brain hemorrhage caused by a tumour he had fought for 20 years.

"I was somewhat prepared to take over the farm because there was a time when Ron had been on chemotherapy for 16 months," she says. "I had to supervise two harvests by myself as well as manage the hog operation."

Still, she says the transition was not easy.

"We always made decisions together about what to seed, what equipment to buy, and we worked side by side on maintenance projects such as reshingling a barn roof."

Rempel says it would have been easier to sell the operation, but circumstances encouraged her to continue on her own.

"I grew up on a dairy farm west of Brandon where I learned to love farming. It's all I've ever wanted to do and I could not anticipate retiring," says Rempel, who is in her early 50s.

Managing Rempelco Acres is no small task. The farm markets 10,000 hogs each year and the 1,500 acres of farmland is used to produce a variety of crops including feed wheat, barley, oilseeds, soybeans, oats and alfalfa forage.

About 500 acres of high moisture corn is also harvested each year and stored in a vacuum sealed silo.

The corn goes from the silo to a mill where it is ground and then piped to a vat to be mixed with minerals, vitamins, amino acids and soybean meal to produce feed for the hogs.

Rempel says she prepares about 12 to 13 different rations required by the animals as they progress from weanlings to mature market hogs.

"Fortunately, I have a Swiss-made computer that controls the system by signaling the machinery the time of day to mix a ration, the ingredients required, and to which feeding station it should be piped," she says.

Rempel also roasts her own soybeans to mix with feed to increase its protein content and to make it more tempting to a lactating sow.

"If there is a time when a hog might go off feed, it is when she is feeding piglets. Roasted soybeans are very appealing to a sow's appetite."

As operating a hog farm requires attention 24 hours a day and seven days a week, Rempel says she has two full-time employees in the barn and a third who works in the field at spring seeding and fall harvest.

Greases the combines

"One of my employees is a good mechanic, but I operate machinery and grease combines when seeding and harvesting are in full swing," she adds.

Although hog sales comprise the bulk of the farm's income, Rempel says she also makes money selling canola to Bunge Canada in Altona and oats to Emerson Milling or

Quaker Oats in Portage la Prairie.

Besides her farm duties, Rempel has three children, Jason, Joel and Alison, who attend the University of Winnipeg, Providence College in Otterburne and Red River College respectively.

'My oldest son, Jason, who is studying International Development at university, will be back to work on the farm in May.

"I hire him for the summer because the job pays well and, of all my children, he is the most likely to take over the business, although there has been no commitment to date."

As a female farmer, Rempel says she receives the same respect within the agriculture industry as her male counterparts.

"If people were to treat me as less than an equal, I would take my business elsewhere, but that hasn't happened and I doubt that it will," she says.

Getting respect as a female farmer is not a problem for Susan Proven either.

Proven owns a diversified farm near Basswood, about a half hour south of Riding Mountain National Park.

It all started 35 years ago when Proven, a city girl, married a farmer and moved to his family's homestead in the Basswood area.

"Our marriage ended 10 years later and I moved back to Winnipeg," she says.

But after a decade of living in rural Manitoba, Proven found city life unbearable and decided to return to the farm. She moved back to the home she and her former husband once occupied and began to farm in a limited way.

"I had been given two sheep, which I still have today, as a wedding present and I started to build a small herd," she says.

Proven derives part of her income by selling about 20 lambs in the spring to local people.

"I also have my sheep sheared and then wash and card the wool to make duvets for customers," she says.

Each year, she also raises about 100 rainbow trout in a large body of water on her property and grows a vegetable garden.

"The most difficult part of raising trout is catching them at the end of the season," Proven says.

Proven uses a rowboat to set 100-foot nets across the pond. When the time is right, she hauls the fish-laden nets into the boat, a chore that is more physically demanding than cleaning and freezing the 100-odd trout she catches.

If this isn't enough to keep her busy, Proven also cuts six to seven cords of wood in the fall to heat her three storey farmhouse, built in 1914.

"The beaver are the advance wood chopping crew. They fell the trees and remove the branches. I just have to cut the wood into stove lengths with my chain saw."

To add value to the products she grows, Proven also operates a year-round bed and breakfast from her home.

It is called Fairmont after the original community where her home is situated.

The B & B can accommodate up to 12 people overnight and Proven can feed the guests in her spacious dining room where "rainbow trout and vegetables from my garden are a menu staple."

She says her close proximity to Riding Mountain National Park is a drawing card for visitors.

"And there are some people who just want to get away from the city and do absolutely nothing but relax for a few days."

She says one young couple who stayed at her B&B had high pressure positions in Winnipeg. The man was an architect and the woman had a full-time and part-time job.

Proven also earns extra money doing freelance work for CBC radio. Her stories focus on rural people and events. One of her stories was about Marg Rempel's humane treatment of her livestock, keeping 30 in one large pen rather than in individual crates in which the animals have no room to move.

In her spare time, Proven sits on provincial Public

Utilities Board hearings concerned with water and highway access issues, as well as the Federal Rural Adaptation Council that divvies up money to farmers to help with the loss of the Crow rate.

Does she ever relax?

"Oh sure, in winter I cross-country ski and in summer I row my boat to keep fit," she says.

Proven says she will never relinquish the management of her farm or forsake the "sometimes idyllic" lifestyle that comes with it.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 5, 2005 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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