Elaine Hanson’s laptop glowed at one end of the kitchen table. At the other, Elaine, her husband Jeff, and Jeff’s parents Dale and Donna sat in a cluster, hovering over their coffees and watching the screen. Elaine bit her lip, one eye on the screen and the other on her phone. Her fingers texted continuously.
“Get to the results already,” Donna said, as nervous as her daughter-in-law.
It had to come. Any second now, the chair would announce the election results. Elaine had no idea if she’d get enough farmer votes to become a board member.
She’d been interested in farm policy for a few years, and had already spent time serving on minor committees. Then, there was that sunny Saturday back in October.
It was a day that began with Elaine recruiting her daughter Jenny to help her clear out the last of the garden so she could rototill the ground before it froze. Jenny was more interested in playing with the cat than digging the potatoes, but Elaine liked the company.
When her husband Jeff walked over to the garden from the cleaning plant, Elaine was standing on a pitchfork, using all her weight to drive it far enough into the earth to get at the deepest potatoes. Jenny was kneeling on the ground next to the cat, both of them peering into a gopher hole.
“Happy birthday, kiddo,” Jeff called to Jenny before turning to his wife. “Got the Thompson’s truck loaded.”
“That was fast,” Elaine answered. “I explained to them about the Plant Breeders’ Rights declaration. Did Tim remember to sign it?”
“Yeah,” Jeff said. “He sent the form back with his trucker. I’ve already put it in the folder. Can I give you a hand?”
“I’m almost done,” Elaine said. “It’s a nice day to be outside.”
Jeff pulled a dried-up zucchini vine out of the ground and tossed it into a pile.
“It’s given me some time to think,” Elaine said. “I have so many ideas about ways to lobby for trade action. And the best ways to spend research funds. And get information about research results back to farmers. I’d like to have more input into how our levy dollars are spent.”
“Yup,” said Jeff.
Elaine abandoned the digging and stood up straight, looking at Jeff.
“Do you think this year would be a good time?”
“What’s that?” Jeff asked.
She rolled her eyes, then remembered that although she’d been thinking about this for weeks, she hadn’t actually mentioned it to her husband.
“I’m thinking of running for the board. I know it would mean a lot of time away from the farm. I’d need to spend time on the phone. You’d have to look after the kids more.”
“They’re not hard to entertain,” Jeff said, pointing at his daughter, who was using one arm to dig in the gopher hole while the cat watched. “You’ve been interested in this for a while. If you want to, give it a shot.”
Elaine took in a big breath and blew it out slowly. “Do you think I can win an election?”
“Why not?” Jeff said. “You’re smart. You’d be a great board member.”
“Maybe,” she said. “But how would I even campaign? Especially this year.”
Most years, Elaine would have been out at meetings and farm shows over the summer, learning about new products and ideas, and talking to other farmers. In 2020, most interaction had moved online or disappeared altogether.
“Everyone’s in the same boat,” he said. “And on the plus side, once you get elected, you won’t have to drive to Saskatoon as much as you would in a normal year, with most meetings on Zoom.”
“I’d like to meet everyone in person,” Elaine said. “But I see what you mean.”
Then Mark Edwards hollered at Jeff from the shop to ask for some advice about the tractor and Jeff left Elaine holding the pitchfork. The cat scratched Jenny’s arm and she shouted. “You shouldn’t scratch me on my birthday!”
At suppertime, Dale and Donna made the short trek across the yard to join Elaine and Jeff and their two kids to celebrate Jenny’s seventh birthday with lasagna and birthday cake.
“Happy birthday,” Donna said, handing her granddaughter a yellow and pink bag.
“Open it after dessert,” Elaine warned.
Once the family was settled around the table with lasagna on their plates, Elaine spoke up.
“I’m going to run for the provincial producer board,” she said. “I might not win. It would be a lot of work if I did win. But I want to throw my name in the ring.”
“Your hat,” Donna said.
“It’s a saying. You throw your hat in the ring,” she explained. “It comes from boxing. It meant you wanted to fight.”
“Mom doesn’t wear hats,” Jenny piped up.
“I’m not sure I want a fight,” Elaine said.
“You’re going to have to be a little aggressive,” Donna said. “There aren’t many women under 40 on these producer boards. We’ll have to write you a really strong bio to put online. We’ll have to write up your position on a few key farm issues.” Donna thought for a second. “Do you even have a Twitter account?”
“You sound like a campaign manager,” Jeff said, surprised by his mother.
“I’ve given this a lot of thought,” Donna said. “I didn’t want to push you before you were ready, but now it’s time to get to work.”
“I was worried you wouldn’t want me to do this. Once we can travel again, it would mean spending more time away from the kids. And the farm.”
“Don’t worry about that,” her mother-in-law said, looking around the table. “We’ve got your back. Right kids?”
Jenny and her brother Connor nodded enthusiastically, not sure what was going on, but not wanting to be left out.
Donna took one last bite of lasagna. “We should go to your office right now and start working on a strategy.”
“I know someone on the SaskCanola board,” Jeff said. “He might have advice.”
“I went to university with a woman on a producer board in Alberta,” Elaine said. “I’ll call her too.”
Suddenly tears were welling up in Jenny’s eyes. Her grandpa was quick to notice and ask what was wrong.
“If Mom throws her hat, does that mean we don’t get to have birthday cake?”
After an embarrassed moment, there was soon a two-layer cake with lighted candles on the table and all of the Hansons were singing to Jenny. After the cake, Jenny unwrapped a puzzle, a bracelet-making kit, two books, and a “lab” to make bath bombs. She worked on her first bracelet while Elaine and Donna wrote a first draft of Elaine’s candidate biography.
For Elaine, the next three months became a flurry of phoning, typing, tweeting and worrying.
“Even if you don’t win, you were brave to put your name out there,” her father-in-law said. Elaine wasn’t sure if this made her feel better or worse.
“Waiting has given me more stress than anything,” Elaine said.
Jeff took her hand, and the farmer on the screen cleared his throat. It was time to announce the results.