by Jim Uttley

 

Those outside of Portage la Prairie may not be aware that not only is there an island in our city, but also Portage is an “island” in a sea of farmland. Thousands of hectares of farmland dot the landscape for miles in every direction outside the city limits.

Many of the people who live on and manage these farms frequent Portage businesses and city services.

IMG_1169If you’re wondering who some of these people are, we’d like to introduce you to an incredibly positive and future-looking farmer’s wife by the name of Yanara Peters.

Mark and Yanara Peters live on a third-generation farm northwest of Portage, north of 227, about a mile from the Portage Diversion Bridge. You will not meet a more fun-loving, funny woman than Yanara.

She spent the first half of her childhood in the Laurier area before moving at the age of 12 to not far from McCreary.

“In Laurier, we had dairy and my mom worked full-time,” says Mrs. Peters. “We mixed farmed, had chickens and all that comes with that, and beef. Every now and then, my parents got sheep for us kids.”

When they moved to McCreary, “it was more beef and a few pigs for us kids. We did 4-H,” she says. “We worked the hogs and we each got a calf and raised that calf.”

When asked what was the most exciting thing about growing up on a farm, Yanara said “the diversity of the animals and the freedom of our childhood.”

“We could easily spend the whole day out in the pasture, exploring and building forts, and no worries about safety and such. We played for hours out by the dugouts and our parents were never worried about us.”

Maybe we should ask her parents?

“Just the freedom that came from living in the country and having lots of space to play and explore,” Yanara stated.

“We did work to earn some of our own money and we did have some chores but not as much as some of the other kids…” she acknowledges with a chuckle. “For my mom, it was probably more painful to teach us than to do it herself,” she laughs, “to be completely honest.”

Every spring, Yanara and her siblings “got a big box of little white chicks and then we would raise them for eating in the fall.”

When asked if it was painful to give up these chickens for slaughter, Yanara replies rather non-chalantly, “We had no qualms with raising these chicks and then killing them when they were mature. We got to cut the head off and pluck [the feathers] and all of that. For us, it was just the cycle of life. That’s how it is.”

She went on to explain that it was the same thing when they went fishing. “We’d catch the fish, fillet them on site, bring them home and cook them for dinner.”

Yanara says that as a child they also did lots of gardening. “The weeding wasn’t so much fun but picking and shelling peas with family in the kitchen was fun.”

Yanara always believed she would become a farmer’s wife. “I put in my grade 12 yearbook that I wanted to be a farmer’s wife. ‘Most likely to become a farmer’s wife.’”

Her husband took over his parents’ farm.  Mark’s father is mostly retired but “he actually does a bit of custom work for the farmer that rents our land,” Yanara says. “He does field work.”

IMG_1204The Peters have three children. A son lives in Vancouver. “He’s not a farm kid.”

Their middle daughter is married and has a child. Her husband is a driver for a cement company.

Yanara’s youngest daughter is 17 and in high school.

The Peters’ farm has faced crises and struggles. “Through our experiences from the generations in the past, we’ve heard those stories of hardship and struggle and we choose to be positive because we know that in the end, it’s all going to work out.”

One of those crises has been the flooding of their farm land. It wasn’t an issue this year but a couple years ago “it was a major problem for us,” Yanara says.

“Just the flood diversion and the way it is operated has been an issue from the start, primarily for my father-in-law. The fact that he barely had a voice in what the government did.”

The Peters have had a lot of loss especially with the value of the land because it has changed with the water seepage. “The diversion and the trouble that creates has been a big problem for our family.”

flood diversion 227 bridge north

Floodway near the Peters farm during the flood.

But Yanara and her family have a strong faith. “My parents are thrifty and we’re thrifty and we have a very strong work ethic, positive outlook and family values.”

On her father’s side, she has French and Métis roots and her mother is Mennonite.

“My husband grew up Mennonite and I went to a non-denominational church as a child. I guess our upbringings were close enough that it all worked out,” she says half joking. “Actually, we did go to a Mennonite church. The one that my husband’s parents founded with a few other families.”

Yanara and Mark attended there until their kids were teenagers. They currently attend the Portage Alliance Church.

Among Yanara’s many interests are history and old buildings. “I love old buildings, especially the old farms and barns. I remember my grandparents doing farming in older buildings like that and the work that it took to do so. I have great respect for the lifestyle that we seem to have lost now.”

“I just love walking through these old buildings and trying to imagine what life was like living in that era. Was it hard or easy?”

“Our original home did not have running water until I was five,” she says. “We had an outhouse and had a cistern where we would pump water into our kitchen and then in the wintertime, we would have baths in a galvanized tub. We’d heat the water with one of those portable water heating coils you put right in the water. And I’m not that old!”

When asked what camera she uses to take her photos, Yanara replied, I just take the photos with my iPhone.”

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Mark and Yanara Peters and a pile of potatoes. Photo by Yanara Peters

Now if that isn’t mind blowing!

“I don’t really do a lot of editing with them. I just take a bunch of photos and post a few on Facebook. I also pass them around.

Now that she’s a farmer’s wife, Yanara loves gardening. “I didn’t when I was a teenager. It was drudgery to me but now I do.”

“To put a dry seed in the ground and watch it grow is just amazing to me and then to be able to eat to provide that for myself and my family, I really appreciate that. I love it,” she says and you can really tell she means it.

How long will the Peters farm?

“As long as it is profitable for us to earn a living,” Yanara replies. “My husband thoroughly enjoys all aspects of farming. He’s a very good manager of time and resources and he’s very skilled in many areas. He loves that challenge.

They’ve tried to adapt to different things. One year they traveled to the Niagara region in Ontario to investigate sweet potato farming. Mark taught himself a lot about that and they tried it for a while.

He’s tried several other ventures, trying to be diverse.

Mark Peters had a special heart shaped rock built into a shed for Yanara.

Mark Peters had a special heart shaped rock built into a shed for Yanara.

“We went from selling sweet potatoes to becoming seed potato vendors. The future with that is looking a little less favorable than it was a couple years ago.”

But her husband planned ahead and built the shed in such a way that if potatoes don’t work out, it can be a multi-purpose building. “It can be rented out as a workshop for some local mechanic or something else.”

The key for the Peters (and many farmers) is to “stay diverse and open-minded when looking towards the future.”

In offering words of advice and encouragement to a young farmer’s wife, Yanara says “be as much a support and encouragement to your husband. Try to make yourself available to help wherever you can. Always be encouraging. There is a lot of stress involved in farming. Always be ready for change and be ready to adapt.

There’s no doubt that Yanara has been an encouragement and she’s prepared for change. After all, she loves to diversify!

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