Last month’s multi-million dollar Hutterite land deal in Tisdale, Saskatchewan made headlines across western Canada. It was called, “one of a kind” and “extraordinary” with interested buyers from “around the world.” The listing included fifty quarters of “high quality” farm land, a 650,000-bushel grain storage and handling system, a full line of nearly new farm equipment, multiple shops, and a 4,000-square-foot house. The seller: Sam Rey, a Saskatchewan farmer. The buyer: East Raymond Hutterite Colony from Alberta. The reported sale price: 26.5 million dollars.
Before the ink on the deal was dry the story was all over the news including the price and conditions such as “they bought the crop still in the field.” The question is, how does a private land deal become so public? By all accounts the Hutterites refused any media interviews.
“What we paid is confidential and its nobody’s business,” said East Raymond Colony financial manager, Herb Hofer when I reached him by phone. “We paid fair market value, but its private.” “We don’t want it public,” agreed colony minister Jake Wollman.
Too late. Saskatoon Remax realtor Ted Cawkwell, who brokered the sale claims the Hutterites did in fact give him permission to give confidential details about the deal to the media.
It quickly prompted the usual thread of comments like, “Yep. Hutterite colonies are the only ones with that kind of dough and free labour, tough to compete w that” on social media.
Hutterites have endured much negative stereotyping since they first arrived in Canada in 1918. Perceptions that they had an unfair advantage when it came to buying land because they didn’t pay wages to their workers, coupled with their peculiar way of life, created widespread hostilities on the prairie provinces where Hutterites settled. Municipalities and governments sided with farmers who argued that they couldn’t compete, giving rise to the creation of prejudicial laws and legislation restricting when, where, and if Hutterites could buy land. According to a Canadian Human Rights History website, the Alberta’s Land Sales Prohibition Act (1942–1947) and the Communal Property Act (1947–1973) were “among the most blatant discriminatory pieces of legislation in Canadian history.”
In 1972 Alberta repealed the legislation and gave Hutterites the same opportunities to own land, property, and assets as anyone else. Other provinces followed suit. Negative attitudes about Hutterites have been harder to repeal.
Ironically it’s the Hutterites who are keeping the family farm alive. The reason Rey sold his farm is because his children had other aspirations. As did the farmer near Birch Hills whose son didn’t want to farm. He sold his land to Mixburn Colony.
“People think we have advantages that others don’t because we don’t pay wages, but they don’t take into account that we have to provide homes, food, medical, dental, and cradle-to-the-grave care for everyone in our communities,” says Mark Tschetter, Mixburn Colony’s financial boss. “We don’t own nearly as much land as people think we do.”
According to 2006 statistics Canada figures, Hutterites owned only 3 million of the 135 million acres of farmland on the prairie provinces. The average acres owned per person in farm families in Canada is 230 whereas the acres owned per person on a Hutterite Colony is 98. That may come as a surprize to many.
One of the secrets attributed to the Hutterites’ success at establishing and retaining a collective way of life where others have failed is the Hutterite tradition of “branching out” when a colony exceeds 100 members. That typically happens every 25 to 30 years. Having only a certain number of people in each community is key to forming a cohesive group where everyone is accounted for and has a steady job within the cooperative. The broad rule of thumb for branching out is when a colony has a male workforce of more than forty men, one elder told me. Planning ahead by at least 20 years is critical and takes wise and diligent management.
Hutterites contribute a staggering 2 billion dollars to our annual economy. They are worthy stewards of the land we love.
Hutterite Headlines is published by the Prince Albert Daily Herald
Mary-Ann Kirkby is a professional speaker and author of I Am Hutterite, and Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen. Signed copies available at the Rusty Owl Restaurant in P. A. and at www.polkadotpress.ca. Contact Mary-Ann at firstname.lastname@example.org
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