As I spent time thinking about a former neighbour who recently passed away from cancer, it struck me that he is a good example of the diversity in people that makes agriculture so great.
We have full time farmers, many thousands of them who are the rock of the sector, but we also have other very smart and accomplished people who do their part to make technology and programs work for farms. They help drive the incessant productivity improvements that keep agriculture viable.
Most of those people have some sort of root buried deep in rural communities and farms, which keeps them dedicated to the sector and for many of them, returning to their family farms.
Donald Sanderson was one of those people. He was raised on a farm across the road and down one farm from my family’s farm. He was always interested in the farm, but he turned out to be a gifted engineer and the agriculture sector is lucky he turned his talents to the sector he cared about.
He studied engineering at the University of Guelph and had a career in which he dedicated himself to finding solutions to farmer problems.
He worked for Vicon, Case IH and most recently for Agrisolutions, where he helped create the Ingersoll Soil Razor wavy coulters that revolutionized tillage during the move to vertical tillage over the past decade. He held four patents, mostly related to tillage.
I’d run into Donald at farm shows across North America and we’d have good chats about the state of the industry and the state of our small corner of Howick Township.
Like many who moved away from the farm, but who work in agriculture, he remained dedicated to where he was raised and the family farm there.
When his father passed away, Donald continued to run the farm, during weekends and sometimes after work.
I’d see him occasionally when I was at home. He’d roar in the laneway with his aging Case IH Maxxum tractor looking for a tool or something to make into a part from my father’s vast collection of materials.
My dad says Donald could fix anything. He built a cab for one of the family tractors while in high school.
After his mother died and Donald’s cancer progressed, the family made the difficult decision to sell the home farm. Donald’s wife Fern said in a tribute to him that he was “heartbroken” when the farm was sold. He continued to run his other farm nearby, but had to hand over harvest to another neighbour last fall as the cancer made it difficult for him to get there. It’s hard to see the home farm inhabited by someone other than Sandersons, as my family worked with them for close to 50 years.
Donald’s four sisters all also graduated from the University of Guelph and some of them are scattered through the agriculture sector. His sister Lauranne taught agriculture in the Maritimes and any of you in Lambton County applying for OSCIA programs will know his sister Joanne, who farms there with her husband Rob Annett. Joanne said she had a plan to get Donald out to talk to farmers about equipment design from both a farmer and an engineering perspective when he retired.
There are Donald Sandersons in many places in the agriculture sector and we owe them a lot for their dedication to helping farmers, so often driven by a life-long and deep connection to the land.
Donald Sanderson died on May 2 at his home in Puslinch at age 62, with his wife Fern and his four daughters with him.
More food donations coming from farmers
Farmers continue to step up donating money and food to food banks, processing plant workers and their communities.
Pork producers, led by Perth County pork producers as part of their Pork Industry Gratitude Project, have put together close to $100,000 to fund projects like donating lunch to pork processing plant workers. The goal is to bring some positive news to the hog industry.
There continue to be dairy examples as well. Dairy Farmers of Ontario continued its large donations to food banks with $100,000 and up to 200,000 litres of milk to Feed Ontario. That’s in addition to the million litres of milk DFO donates to food banks annually.
As well, dairy farmer-owned Gay Lea Co-operative has sent its vintage milk delivery truck to visit front-line workers in the Greater Toronto Area, delivering baking kits and puzzles.