Imagine this: a father-son duo. We’ll call the father Ed and we’ll call the son Mike.
Imagine that this father and son team work together as professional singing Swiss yodelers. Ed owns a recording studio, and the two of them work there every day. Early in the morning the two get up, have breakfast, talk about the songs they will chortle, and then go to the studio. While Ed is busy setting up and getting ready to record their yodeling, Mike is busy doing sound checks, running cable, and troubleshooting recording software before going to school. He is 11 years old after all, and has to be in class for 8:45 am. On one occasion, Mike does a class presentation about his family. He explains that he and his dad are professional yodelers. In fact, Mike goes on to say that he comes from a long line of yodelers; his family has been yodeling for 200 years. Proudly, Mike notes that everyone in his entire family starts yodeling at a young age; he himself started at the age of 4. Mike also tells that, even though his grandma is too old to yodel, she sits in the sound booth some afternoons and hums quietly along with the sound of her singing family. To finish his speech, Mike shows a PowerPoint presentation of all the different types of equipment that he uses in the studio, the traditional work clothing that he wears while he and his father Ed yodel at events, and the food that they eat on special occasions after winning a yodeling competition. Mike punctuates the end of his presentation with a spectacular yodeling shout! He then races back to the recording studio and helps Ed put everything away, cleans the floor, switches out the lights, and finally goes home for supper.
This story, and many very similar to this, plays out every day in egg farming families here in Alberta and across the country. Not in the yodeling sense (our egg farming family are notoriously terrible yodelers), but in the family work tradition sense. You see, like yodelers, we as farmers experience life a little differently than most. We don’t just have a job – we have work that is part of our way of life, and we all start young. In my family, we learned to drive the tractor before the age of 8 and we gathered eggs from nests at the age of 5. As egg farmers, we learned about work and responsibility by toiling long hours with our families. We learned that impossibly wrapped up chains in broken feeders don’t fix themselves at 5:00 am on Easter weekend, and that when you hear the phrase “get cracking” it means “go gather eggs right away, or else”! We’re tired of paperwork and meetings (but we like the served roast-beef lunches), and we’ve learned that beer tastes great after the hard work of chicken catching. We especially love to read the crazy things that people write on the wooden dividers on the egg pallets. Simply put, our work is a part of our cultural tradition; it is an integral part of who we are, what we do, how we sleep, and what and when we eat. Sometimes, being an egg farmer even helps us choose who to marry. We visit and holiday with other farmers, and we answer the question “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” at every party and in the grocery store lineup. We explain to everyone who cares to listen that yes, we do in fact care deeply about our hens. It is our life. It is who we are. We’re egg farmers.
Michael Froese, once an elementary school teacher, is continuing the family farming tradition as a 3rd generation egg farmer. When not farming eggs with his family, he likes to scuba dive and travel to Brazil.