The Innovator

My husband Ted is a terrific sport and always laughs along whenever I haul out one of my own anecdotes. Good thing, too, because he’s a central figure in so many of my funny stories.

But Ted has always been a man of great vision, with an inventive and innovative mind. I saw that the very first day we came out to the farm. There we stood, side by side, two kids from the city, while he told me how we were going to make a wonderful life on this little patch of land, with it’s aging barn and tiny house. He painted the picture so clearly that I could see it myself.

Of course, once we got down to the actual business of farming, that picture was clouded by dozens of day-to-day details. People who grow up on farms absorb so much knowledge that it becomes second nature. Ted and I, on the other hand, had to learn as we went along.

In the long run, Ted turned his lack of experience into his greatest advantage. Farmers are creatures of habit: if they grow up doing things a certain way, it can be next to impossible to convince them to change. Ted, on the other hand, had absolutely no preconceived notions. He constantly questioned our methods and looked for ways to improve them.

When we started market gardening, the industry was in its infancy in central Alberta. Very few people here farmed vegetables, and those who did weren’t operating on the scale Ted envisioned. As a result, we had a terrible time finding appropriate equipment. As far as the manufacturers and suppliers were concerned, we might as well have been growing vegetables at the North Pole.

Ted subscribed to dozens of magazines and catalogues from the United States, where the industry was much better established. He’d go through them page by page, looking for new ideas, methods, and tools. After days of research, he chose a John Deere 1020 because, with its adjustable wheel spacing, it was the most suitable for row-crop work. And if he couldn’t find the things he needed, he’d adapt the things he had on hand.

Ted relied a lot on our neighbour Len Adams, a talented welder. He would wander down the road to tell Len his latest idea and Len, always the pessimist, would mutter, “Nope, can’t be done. It’s not gonna work.” Ted would ask, “Well, can you at least give it a try?” He’d go back an hour later, and the tool would be built.

After a few years of digging carrots by hand, which is a terrible job, Ted invented a carrot lifter. He had Len weld two grader blades onto a cross-brace, and hitched it to the 1020. As he drove the tractor along a row, the blades loosened the soil on either side. The carrots just popped right out of the ground, ready to gather.

Ted also loved to experiment with new seed varieties. When we first started market gardening, our neighbours told us not to bother trying to grow corn. Ted shopped for the latest hybrids and kept trying different varieties every year. After several years of experimenting, we grew crop after crop of beautiful corn.

Ted also developed a close relationship with the horticulturalists at the Brooks Research Centre, at a time when most farmers were skeptical of scientific approaches to farming. From those gentlemen, we learned to try new technologies, many of which we were able to employ successfully.

Of course, not everything Ted tried worked. But when it did, the rewards could be enormous. For instance, if you could find ways to grow an especially early crop, your profits multiplied. Dill cucumbers, which might fetch fifty cents a pound in August, were worth two or three dollars a pound in July. Ted invested a lot of time and effort in his ideas, and it usually paid off for us.

If people poked fun at his unorthodox thinking, Ted never let it bother him. In the late 1960s, I was on the board of the Rural Safety Council. At the time, we were fighting to have roll-bars installed on tractors and to make their use mandatory. Ted saw it as an issue of simple common sense: by spending a couple hundred dollars, he might save his life or that of one of his kids. When the neighbours got a look at Ted’s tractor, all fitted out with a roll-bar, canopy, and radio, they were beside themselves. One of them even climbed right up and danced on the canopy. Ted just stood there and watched, not saying a word.

Of course, his foresight has since been proven right, as roll-over protection systems (ROPS) are now legally required on all new tractors. Ted was also an early advocate of hearing protection, another development that has substantially reduced injury on farms in the last few decades. (In fact, Ted swears he lost most of his hearing operating our first potato harvester—hearing protection came a little too late for him.)

But not all of our neighbours made fun of Ted. Other families in the market gardening business began to keep a close eye on him and often followed his example. For years we had people stopping by our house to check out our crops or borrow equipment.

Ted still helps shape our business and his bold spirit continues to be reflected. Customers often tell me how much they look forward to the new plant varieties we offer each year, and our garden centre is always well stocked with ingenious gardening tools.

So when you read one of my anecdotes about Ted, don’t forget that behind the laughter stands a most remarkable man. 

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer