Thursday, 20 December 2012 08:48

New, New Rockport welcome sign signals progress

Written by  Ric Swihart
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John Wipf poses in front of the new New Rockport welcome sign. John Wipf poses in front of the new New Rockport welcome sign. Photo by Ric Swihart

Change is the only constant in modern society, but John Wipf and his fellow Hutterites at New Rockport Colony rest comfortable that traditions of lifestyle, family ties and religion continue unscathed by the rushing world.

New Rockport, southeast of Stirling about 15 kilometres, looks like most Huttarian communities — a main entrance off the municipal road leading to a neat collection of buildings — homes and kitchen in the hub usually, surrounded by the work buildings that house services, machinery, intensive livestock operations like chickens, hogs and dairy, and some type of cattle feeding operation off to one corner.
A new sign at that entrance speaks volumes about colony changes to keep pace with its calling to help feed mankind.
Mounted on a giant rock, the sign says, “Farming for the Future — From horsepower to a technology trip through the expanding world of modern agriculture helping us feed God’s people and turning soil into a growing food basket.”
Farming is the backbone of life, and all pull their weight as needed.
Modern agriculture is the economic engine for food production that gives Canada a major international reputation as a global grocer. The average age of Alberta farmers is about 58 years, and generational transfer remains the channel for young men and women to take their place.
Hutterites can be born and die on the same colony, usually attaining expertise at various jobs over time. Some move to new colonies, as population demands a split that includes purchase of new land and construction of a new colony.
However, farming remains the backbone of life and work.
Wipf, 73, was born at Hutterville Colony between Raymond and Magrath in 1939. His earliest recollections are the horse and plow and horse and buggy days.
“My memory is still with the horse and buggy,” he said. “I saw lots of horses —14 outfits in the fields creating lots of commotion. There were lots of run-aways and lots of activities. We used six Clydesdales on each outfit because they seemed easier to train.
“Things changed as I grew up, and now, we’re into high-tech, high-style farming with the best of everything.”
Wipf remembers in about 1952 when the colony purchased its first tractor, a D7 Caterpillar that cost $7,000. It caused quite a stir, mostly with the younger men. Older men still preferred the horses.
“I never enjoyed the horses,” said Wipf.
“I always had a tractor
in mind. Some of our neighbours had tractors, and I could see what they could do, and do it all day and night.”
Wipf said mechanization came slow, but grew quickly. Soon the good-old days disappeared, days when teams of horses pulled 14-feet of seed drills, making two rounds of a field by noon. Crews quit at noon for dinner and that’s when the horses were fed and watered. Afternoon work resumed with fresh teams of horses.
It was hard work, he said. His father was a slight man, weighing about 130 pounds who looked after everything for the team and machinery.
Pleasure horses were also a big part of colony life in the early days, said Wipf. Part of that was breaking the horses for riding or work, usually a two- to three-week process each spring.
Introduction of electricity to the colony was another major advance, said Wipf. “That was a start to more fun times because of the major benefits for all aspects of colony life and work.”
Today, the school teachers talks about the horse era that included through 1952 use of a threshing machine to thresh bundles of grain made by 11 horse-drawn binders.
That era ended in 1954 when the colony moved to swathers and its first combine — a John Deere with a 28-inch threshing cylinder.
Wipf said the young generation in the ‘50s could seed the advantages of modern agriculture.
“It was easy for them to switch from the horse era to the era of horse powered machines.”
Wipf remembers years when the colony was pleased to thresh 10,000 bushels of grain a day. Today, 65,000 bushels is easy with combines that often can go around the clock.
Modern agriculture has also allowed the colony to expand its land base. New Rockport is considered an average size colony, farming about 8,000 acres, which are seeded every year.
“Even crops seeded on stubble land last year produced amazing yields,” he said.
A new colony from New Rockport is likely some time off. It boasts 119 residents, and a new colony won’t be started until the population hits 125 to 130.
Wipf keeps busy after a career in the garden and trips to farmers’ markets. He relishes his time teaching Sunday school when he often sought guidance from God.
 “I was a very good story teller, telling stories from the bible. To this day, He is always on my mind. It is a nice feeling to have Him on my side. I believe He will lead me to my death.”

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