A conversation with Pat and Murray Wilson of Riceville proves that farm life and community life are one and the same for them.
They share a common interest in celebrating—and rewarding, what farm and rural people do with their talents and skills.
Pat was the oldest of three children and spent her childhood in various communities across Ontario because of her father’s job with Canadian National Railway. Murray, the youngest of five children and the only son, was born and raised on the family farm near Riceville.
The couple met more than 50 years ago while they were students at the former agricultural college in Kemptville and that’s where their life of agriculturally-based community involvement began. They raised two children, their late daughter, Sandra and son, Gordon. They also have five grandchildren.
Pat, whose education is in home economics, has been a 4-H club leader for 30 years. She leads what are known as life-skills clubs in sewing and food preparation. Pat is also a judge for homecraft and culinary competitions at annual agricultural fairs throughout Eastern Ontario.
Anyone who thinks that judging baking, preserves, or sewing at a fair is as simple as someone saying, “That tastes good,” or “That looks nice,” is wrong. Judging is serious business. Pat explained that she had to go to school for it and it was an overnight, two-day event. There is a book of rules and regulations that state which size and shape things should be and that there should be uniformity. She said a cookie should be completely round and two inches in diameter. Squares should be one-and-a-half inches by one-and-a-half inches. Judges carry rulers and other utensils, too.
“It’s sort of got to wibble on the spoon,” Pat commented about judging jelly.
She said no additional colouring should be added to pickles, either.
“If you judge, you need to practice and enter,” said Pat, who also enters items at fairs where she is not judging.
As an example of practice and judging, Pat demonstrated what to look for with some biscuits she had freshly baked. They looked and tasted perfect to this untrained judge!
Murray’s achievements are as a competitor rather than a judge. His specialty is field crops, like hay and chopped straw. At the most recent Ottawa Valley Seed Growers Farm Show, he was named grand champion in the export hay category. Two samples from each county in Ontario were submitted for the competition.
He grows timothy on some of his 445-acre farm and said not many other local farmers are growing it any more.
Years of growing crops has helped him figure out what it takes to win prizes.
“Because I’ve been in the field, I know what they’re looking for,” he said.
The other trophies Murray won at the Ottawa show were for red clover and forage seeds.
The Wilson family has farmed on the same property since 1927. Murray has been a member of the Riceville Agricultural Society for more than 50 years and has also been a 4-H maple syrup club leader.