By Paul Kuntz
There are many crucial decisions we make each year that impact our financial outcome. For grain growers, it can be everything from the crops we choose to grow to the varieties and the marketing. For livestock producers, it’s the feed plan, when the offspring are to be born and, again, the marketing plan. Over a lifetime, decision making impacts only grow larger, such as whether to expand the operation, to downsize, to switch from livestock to grain or vice versa, or to bring in successors. The financial wellbeing of our operations hinges on all of these decisions, small or large, over a lifetime.
Looking at what is going on in Ukraine and my own family history, I’ve been led down a path of gratification for decisions made long ago. My family is not unique in its journey to Canada. Like most western Canadian farmers, my family originated in Europe, often as conditions there came to a point where a decision had to be made.
Considering many farming families I have met, it is my opinion that the Western European immigrants left because of a lack of opportunity. There was only so much farmland available and as families expanded, someone had to move if they wanted to farm. Although not a life-or-death situation, it is difficult to imagine how tough that decision was, and, perhaps how tough our ancestors had it. We make decisions today based on a mountain of information and research, all available at our fingertips. If I wanted to move from Saskatchewan to Europe to begin a farm, my process would be much easier than my ancestors’ journey. I could gather information, do my own research, hire someone to do the research, talk to people who have already done it and I could fly over to see what everything looked like before I made the decision. Our ancestors did not have that luxury.
The families I meet who hail from Eastern Europe have most often immigrated because of oppression in one form or another, typically at the hands of a ruthless dictator or religious persecution. Perhaps the decision was clearer in these cases with so few options: stay and die or leave and hope to live.
When I see the images of Ukrainian farmers out in their fields wearing bulletproof vests, it solidifies my understanding around how fortunate we are in Canada. I feel very grateful that someone in my family made a decision many years ago that today allows me to live and farm in peace.
Although my family always considered ourselves German, we came from Russia. We are part of a group that has come to be known as “Germans from Russia.” In the early 1800s, Russia embarked on a plan to bring people in to inhabit an area of their country. For my family, it was part of the Kutschurgan colonies as they settled about 70 kilometres from where Odesa, Ukraine, is today. This region remains a highly fertile area.
My family stayed there until around 1905-06 as the Russian Revolution was taking place with great unrest. There was war, poverty and massive inflation. It blows my mind to think that in the early 1900s, my great grandfather was farming just outside of Odesa, Ukraine, as a war broke out. The situation was so threatening that he left the place he was born and raised, moving his wife and family to an unknown continent and left the only life they had ever known. As most from that region did, my family first came to New York as Germans from Russia seeking a better life.
Many Germans from Russia stayed in the U.S., including large populations in North Dakota. My family had set their sights on Saskatchewan, taking up residency here in 1914. This paved the way for uninterrupted prosperity from that time until this very day. Decisions made by family I have never met ensured that I had a chance to live and farm in a country where we are at peace.
One of my most common phrases is, “everything in life is relative.” It takes effort to have empathy for people in other situations. I joke that if you have $100,000 in your bank account all the time, when it drops to $90,000 you start to feel broke when the reality is you still have more money than most will ever have in their account. We can get very comfortable with our lives and take that for granted. It is easy to complain when even one small aspect of our life does not go the way we want it to. We need to realize how fortunate we are.
The events in Ukraine are sadly just one of thousands of events that take place and oppress people. We live and farm in a region that can be challenging as we deal with weather, markets, diseases in animals and crops, and all sorts of other issues we have zero control over. The difference is, we have the opportunity to take on these challenges and reap the rewards when they are due. We have the right to work hard and build our farms. We have the opportunity to create solutions to the problems in front of us. We are free from oppression.
As we go through this year and experience the challenges in front of us, it helps to be thankful for the people who came before and paved the way for us. We need to keep things in perspective. We need to be thankful for the bounty laid out in front of us.