STORMONT -- For one Stormont County family the 2015 International Plowing Match and Rural Expo, has renewed a deeply rooted tradition and brought at least one member out of retirement. The international match will be held near Finch from September 22 to 26, 2015.
For many years the Manley family of Berwick were a fixture at plowing matches across the province. Current patriarch Murray Manley says both his grandfather and his father Peter Manley were plowmen, competing at local county meets and International Plowing Matches. The late Peter Manley is also renowned locally as the Liberal member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario for Stormont County from 1951 to 1963,
"I followed suit and with my brother Doug plowed local and international matches," says Murray of the family's long-standing participation. They were on a number of occasions the winners of Stormont County's Aden Casselman Trophy and the more current Beehler Trophy . Then Murray's own children got behind the plow and all six -- Thomas, David, Allen, Evelyn, Stephen and Daniel -- took part. The former dairy farmer sold his Holstein herd in 1988. The century farm was certified organic in 1989 and was how Homestead Organics of Berwick initially came about.
Murray didn't plow much after 2000 but has returned, plowing last October in Crysler at the Stormont match with his son Allen and granddaughter Elisabeth.
"I think it's going to be good for the community," he says of the 2015 international match. "It's going to create interest and financial spin off."
"But farming has changed," he says, as has tillage. Where once 100 per cent of the land was plowed, today the plow is used on as little as five percent of the land, he says, of the move to no-till and other soil conservation practices.
Fifty years ago, a 200-acre farm might have 50 acres to plow which, he says, is quite easily done, but with farms here approaching 1,000 acres and using zero or minimal tillage it's just not the same. The largest classes today at the matches are the antique classes, he says. Enthusiasts who, like old car clubs, try to maintain a dying art and show people how it was done.
Murray has retired four times now, he laughs, most recently from driving transport trucks. "That was a life-long dream of mine. It was on my bucket list."
He intends to plow at the Stormont match again this year but may just coach in 2015 at the international match. There is also an equipment issue to take into consideration. They don't own any now but were able to plow with equipment borrowed from a neighbour.
Granddaughter Elisabeth Manley of Newington spent only her very early years on the farm, but the family's move back to the area has renewed her interest in farming and agriculture. The 2013 Stormont County match was her first competition. "My Grandpa was a good coach though," she says of her respectable results. She was a few points behind her father and grandfather, she says, but managed to best the other young women in her category. "I'm pretty proud of that."
Her career path is to pair a degree in biology with nursing and will be heading back to university this September in Kingston. "I'm planning on plowing again this year, now that I have the feel for it," she says of the Stormont Match in October. "But only if Grandpa does it again with me." She would have to qualify this fall for the International Match in 2015.
"It crazy," she says, of the planning, anticipation and excitement generated by the upcoming International Plowing Match and Rural Expo in Finch. "I'm excited because I know how excited my Dad is," she says, of the matches her father Allen and his brothers participated in when they were young.
Plowing matches were an important and memorable part of Allen's youth. "When we lived on the farm we would go to two or three a year." He reckons he was somewhere between eight and 10 years old when he entered his first match and that autumn tradition continued until his late teens. "Dad and I, or one of the others (siblings) would go to the local county matches," he says. "And sometimes my grandfather would be there judging."
In those days, they used a Massey Ferguson 175 and their Kverneland three-furrow plow. Later on they bought a two-furrow, Kverneland competition plow, he adds.
Allen has never plowed at an international match and doesn't think he has the skill level to compete in 2015 at Finch. But that doesn't detract from his support of the county meets or the satisfaction. He also enjoys visiting with people he doesn't often get to see. "Farming is still in my blood," says Allen, who now works in the trucking industry. But he's never really been too far removed from the farm, coming home to help when needed.
But he is looking forward to volunteering at the 2015 match, when the big event comes to his own backyard, and to cheering on his brother Stephen, who hopes to quality for 2015 at the Stormont county match this fall. And of his Dad's return to competition, he says, "It's good to see him come out and do something he hasn't done for a while."