HCPM23: Warden Glen McNeil welcomes youth opportunities through match
BY SCOTT STEPHENSON
The 2023 Huron County Plowing Match (HCPM) is fast approaching, and Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh Mayor, Huron County Warden, and match co-host Glen McNeil couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the prospect. The HCPM is an opportunity for farmers to show off their skills while highlighting all that is wonderful about the county’s unique agricultural environment.
McNeil’s connection to local farming goes back a long way, and he wears his pride in his family and love of his community on his sleeve. “We, as a family, are in the dairy business. Our son, Curtis, is the third generation. My dad and mom started the dairy business in 1935.”
Dairy farms in the 1930s were very different from today’s modern farms. Automatic milking machines were still a fairly novel invention. Dairy was stored in metal cans and glass bottles, and milk delivery men were still running routes all over North America. It’s a far cry from some of the high-tech mega-farms of today.
A lot may have changed in the world of Huron County farming since the 1930s, and the McNeil farm has benefitted from many of today’s technological advancements, but the heart of their operation is still family, as it has been for three generations. One thing that has never changed is the McNeil family’s passion for all things farming. Glen reflected on his father’s simple approach to having a successful life. “Dad had three ambitions in life: to get married, to have a family and to have a herd of cows. And he accomplished that.” Having such a positive role model and a childhood spent on the farm made Glen’s decision to follow in his father’s footsteps equally simple. “My wife Vanda and I bought dad’s portion of the operation in ‘77… we built a new dairy in ‘77.“
Their son Curtis got involved in 2013, and a new, new dairy was built in 2016. “We did a succession plan 10 years ago and brought him into the business, and he does a very good job.”
No dairy farm is an island, and Glen attributes much of his family’s success to the supportive community of Huron County. It’s one of the reasons he’s always willing to help when it comes to supporting community traditions like the HCPM. “We have always endeavoured to give back to the community that’s been so good to us,” he said.
One of Glen’s favourite things about the HCPM is the way it engages with local young people. “Junior Day is where it all starts… we’ve been very fortunate through the years to have young people that have excelled in their plowing ability.” Getting started young can be a great advantage for aspiring farmers. “They have to start somewhere,” explained Glen, “and some have gone on and been very successful at the International Plowing Matches, and even world plowing matches… it all starts at the county match.”
As match co-host with the Albers family members, who have graciously offered their property for the event, Glen feels fortunate that his official duties include ensuring all visitors feel welcomed and the young competitors feel positive support.
He’s also very excited for Friday’s celebratory banquet and silent and live auction. “Our area is very, very generous, and we are looking forward to everyone’s involvement in the live auction.” Friday will also have an awards ceremony to honour the match’s winners and crown a new Queen of the Furrow.
The McNeil family’s involvement in plowing matches, both local and international, has been going on for many years, and while every year is exciting in its own way, Glen recalls especially enjoying being involved in 1999’s International Plowing Match (IPM) in Dashwood, when he and Vanda were responsible for the Crop and Produce Showcase. “We thought it would be very informative and interesting for all attendees from Huron County and beyond. The match was extremely well attended, and the showcase was compiled of all produce that was grown in Huron County, whether it be hay, eggs - just all the commodities. It was a beautiful sight and many people came on a second day just to see it again. So our ‘99 involvement must have been our most significant contribution to a plowing match.”
So, how have plowing matches changed over the years? Glen may not have been born yet, but he cited the 1946 IPM in Port Albert as a crowning achievement in the early days of plowing matches. “It was just after the war, and it was hosted at the airport in Port Albert. All of the farm equipment dealers that brought their equipment there sold out. Nobody had anything left at the end of the match to bring home. There was such a pent-up desire for purchasing equipment,” Glen explained. Vanda added, “The ‘46 match was known as ‘The Victory Match’, since it was just after the war.”
Fast forward to the swinging sixties - the ‘66 IPM, when weather conditions led to it being dubbed ‘The Mud Match’. “People lost their rubber boots in the mud!” exclaimed Glen. Vanda has childhood memories of that match’s aftermath, remembering that “at the Scott farm, they were still plowing out rubber boots for years afterwards!” Vanda also recalls the ‘78 edition, when first man on the moon Neil Armstrong came to open the match at the Armstrong family farm, near Wingham.
“Plowing matches maintain the past heritage, and they also move forward,” said Glen. “You need to change with the times. And the HCPM is a great time to reflect, and look back in history as to the way soil has been cared for. It has changed and, as I commented previously, we must change with the times.”
And what does Glen think the future of plowing matches in Huron County will look like? “The future will be as bright as the participants involved… we must celebrate the past and bring it forward,” he said, with a smile. “And I’d like to invite everyone in Huron County to come out to the match on both the Junior Day on Thursday and on Friday, and come to the banquet on Friday, meet new people and reconnect with old friends… in life, it’s all about the memories!”