Milestone Huron County Plowing Match deemed a success
BY SCOTT STEPHENSON
The 95th annual Huron County Plowing Match took place last week northeast of Brussels, and the unseasonably chilly weather didn’t prevent the match from being a great success. Plowers of prowess and fans young and old came out to the event, which was graciously hosted by Pete and Leisa Albers at their farm on Browntown Road. Many visitors throughout the two-day event commented that the host couple went above and beyond in making the plowing match a memorable one. Co-hosting duties were ably handled by Huron County Warden and Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh (ACW) Mayor Glen McNeil.
McNeil was very pleased with the turnout for the event. Plowing matches in the area have been going on for almost as long as farming has, and continued enthusiasm for the event gives him hope for the future of agriculture in the area. “It all starts at the county level,” he said. “Without the county level, you don’t have anything feeding into the International Plowing Match.” Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson was unable to attend, but she sent word that Huron County sets the bar for regional plowing matches. ACW Councillor Evan Hickey was also in attendance, and noted the robust enthusiasm from participants of all ages, at a time when other plowing associations across Ontario struggle to survive in the face of issues like farmland loss. “There’s just something special about Huron County,” he said.
Outgoing Huron County Plowmen's Association President Brian Wiersma couldn’t be happier with the results of the 95th annual plowing match. “It was beautiful. Even with the rain, everything went off without a hitch… I especially want to thank all our sponsors and donors for everything they do to help keep this association going.”
Thursday was Junior Day, where keen members of the 4-H Sodbusters Club between the ages of nine and 20 went furrow to furrow against each other in a variety of competitive classes. It was the more temperate of the two days - perfect weather to listen to speeches from contestants of the Huron County Plowmen’s Princess competition while snacking on a sno-cone served up by the young volunteers of the Brussels Leo Club. The potential Princesses were interviewed by judges and spoke on a number of agriculture-oriented topics, with public speaking champion Rachel Wilts emerging triumphant with a smart and snappy speech on the myriad differences between soil and dirt. Lucknow’s Lillian Beyersbergen-Oakes was declared runner-up.
Friday was a straight-up soil soaker of a day. The horse classes plowed first, and the valiant workers and their brave beasts of burden left it all out in the fields. It certainly wasn’t any of the muscular draft horses’ first trek through the muck.
While the equine pugilists battled it out in the mud, members of the Brussels Optimist Club worked their impressive mobile open air kitchen, helping the crowd to warm up with a breakfast of scrambled eggs, crispy hashbrowns, English muffins, peameal bacon and coffee in great abundance. Pay-what-you-can donations could, fittingly, be dropped into a rain boot. Chocolate milk provided by Andrew Dairy was a big hit with visitors throughout the entire day.
After breakfast, the young women competing for Queen of the Furrow (QotF) participated in interviews with this year’s judges and listened to a talk given by North Huron Councillor Chris Palmer about the importance of farm safety. Blankets were distributed to keep the contestants warm in the chilly August air. Ontario QotF Maranda Klaver and Huron County QotF Luanne McGregor were also in attendance at the talk, and offered last-minute advice to the aspiring Queens based on their own experiences.
For those looking for a bit of a break from examining straight pulls out in the fields, there were some real specimens in the antique farm equipment area to check out, including a rare John Deere 8010 diesel tractor, of which only 101 were made. The debut of this innovative monster wowed visitors to Robert Ottilie’s Marshalltown Seed Farm in 1959, and the elegant behemoth continues to dazzle to this day.
There were also vendors on site offering information on agriculture, Huron County history, and local businesses. The Brussels Agricultural Society, fully shielded from the elements by a flimsy tent, was out there gamely promoting the 160th annual Brussels Fall Fair, which occurs in September. Huron County tourism representatives were also in attendance, handing out copies of the 2023 Ontario’s West Coast Guidebook and Dining Guide - an invaluable resource that highlights all that is special about this unique region of Canada. The Huron County Museum also brought a collection of unusual items from its archives that are connected to the history of farming, from horseshoes to butter stamps. Maitland Conservation brought examples of cover crops in translucent planters to illustrate each crop’s useful root systems, whether they be nitrogen-fixing legumes or soil-stabilizing grasses. Friday also had precision-tiling demonstrations presented by the Huron County Soil and Crop Improvement Association. The informative demonstrations illustrated the ability of modern tillage equipment to reduce erosion and improve soil quality through techniques like precision strip-tilling.
Silent and live auction tables were piled high with generous donations from local businesses and individuals. Visitors could bid on any number of items, like theatre tickets, gift cards, autumnal garden decor, power tools and gift baskets full of local products. Participants were very generous in their bidding, and every object found a new home.
When it came time for the main event, plowers headed out to the field for the tractor portion of Friday’s match and turned over the rich soil in as straight a line as a person can muster, under the observant eyes of judges Bryan Bertrand, Don Brodhaecker and Steve Speller. The antique and modern machines weren’t bothered by the wet weather, weaving their way back and forth, joined by a battalion of swooping barn swallows devouring insects low over the furrows.
While the tractors worked their rows, the young people of the Brussels Leo Club worked the lunch line, dishing out much-needed nourishment in the form of burgers, sausages, hot dogs and fries to damp, drizzled-on guests. The Leo Club raises money through fundraisers like breakfasts and bottle drives, and their plowing match meal was just another example of how good community involvement can taste.
Agriculture-centric speeches from the QotF hopefuls inspired the crowd and were scored by judges Anna Vincent, Samantha Klaver, and Kim Lennox. The would-be queens then moved on to the interpretive cake-decorating portion of the crown-seeking gauntlet before heading outside to show spectators how well they know their way around a field.
When all the soil was turned and all the furrows laid, it was time for the highly-anticipated banquet, catered by Cardiff BBQ, attended by approximately 425 people. Even before the first horses hit the field on Friday morning, the Cardiff clan’s mobile operation was up and running, slow cooking succulent roasts sourced from Green’s Meat Market. The wafting smell of beef intensified throughout the day, hanging on the mist in the air and whetting the appetite of all who caught a whiff. Offerings beyond their signature beef included piping hot baked potatoes, and a variety of vegetarian sides, including a mixed green salad with blueberries, peaches, and candied nuts with a poppyseed dressing so full of summer flavour that it seemed to single-handedly force the sun out of hiding to warm the hundreds of diners gathered in the Albers barn. Despite the last-minute surge in banquet ticket sales, Cardiff delivered an ample supply of every item for every diner, finishing off an incredible meal with a wide variety of homemade desserts, from chocolate cheesecake to cherry pie.
After the dinner came speeches and awards. Recipients of the IPM 2017 Trust Fund Scholarships each expressed gratitude for the investment into their education, and Warden McNeil spoke about how important the next generation is for the future of farming. “The most important crop is our youth,” he extolled. The newly-crowned Princess also gave an encore of her crown-worthy speech.
Huron-Bruce MP Ben Lobb and McNeil hosted the spirited and entertaining live auction. The Queen contestants helped showcase big-ticket items like hedge trimmers, handmade quilts, artisanal maple syrup, and a one-of-a-kind birdhouse. McNeil’s auction energy was infectious, which, when combined with the crowd’s charitable community-mindedness, created a flurry of bids on each and every item. All of the cakes decorated by the Queen competitors were also auctioned off, each one fetching over $100. A great deal of money was raised in a very short period of time, much to the delight of organizers.
The outgoing Huron County Queen gave her farewell speech before the new Queen was crowned, with the ultimate honour going to University of Guelph agriculture student, sheep enthusiast, and Winthrop resident Rachel Gras.
The success of this year’s misty match gives Wiersma a lot of optimism about the 96th annual match. “I hope next year is just as great as this year, and that our hosts are as great next year as they were this year,” he exclaimed. “A big shoutout again to all our donors and sponsors and all the volunteers that helped make this happen!”
If you didn’t get enough plowing at the Huron County Match last week, or if you missed out on it entirely, be sure to head to the International Plowing Match and Rural Expo in Bowling Green, Sept. 19-23.