In 1986, 2 Portage farm women separately approached the local Home Economist with questions. One was more interested in the technical knowledge of farm life farm transfers, new accounting procedures the other in looking for support and like situations in the farm family, and how to deal with family. With the great support of the Manitoba Agricultural Food and Rural Initiatives Home Economists, an idea was formed.
A conference covering both situations seemed like a good idea. A committee of farm women and some Home Economists met and came up with an agenda that would offer a number of subjects that would be of interest to farm women of all ages and stages of farm life. The first conference was held in Portage la Prairie and had 250 registered participants with another approximately 200 women on a waiting list. What a hit!
In the ensuing years, the success of the conference was enhanced by a steering committee that changed some of the members each year. New ideas were discussed and tools such as evaluation forms provided valuable information. Separate committees were formed to deal with individual aspects of the conference sponsorship, finance, hospitality and programs, for example. The range of topics varied every year.
For those attending over the years, the information gained has been tremendous from learning about farm transfers, how to deal with stress of farm life, to nutrition, farm diversification, entrepreneurship, quilting, retirement and even how to raise teenagers. Add to the mix the camaraderie and discovery of new friends and like companions knowing that there are others like yourself coping with the same problems and especially young farm women starting out and needing help.
The Manitoba Farm Womens Conference has been the only conference of its kind that has continued for over 25 years using the same concept for farm women, by farm women.
MFWC QUIlted banner
Near the very beginning of the conference, around the second year, a quilted banner was made and donated by Judy Morningstar, depicting the conference logo. Every year since, this quilt has hung in a place of honor behind the speakers at every conference.
Judy is a well known fabric artist who has taught courses across Canada and extensively in Manitoba. She lives in Goodlands.
The design for the logo was a collaborative effort between the organizing committee and myself. They wanted it to reflect the whole province and include a female figure. ~Judy Morningstar
The Unintentional, Unofficial MFWC Mascot Bradley Bear:
There is something truly magical about bears. Their appeal is universal.
‘Bradley’ is a 2 ½ foot bear with a huge heart and a special fondness for farm women. He unintentionally became a part of the Manitoba Farm Women’s Conference when it was held in Winnipeg in 2000.
That year, Pat Hall of Wavey Creek Bears was a vendor at the Mini-Market. When I first saw Bradley, he instantly stole my heart. His fur was soft and cuddly, his eyes kind and wise. His paws were rough like a farmer’s hands; his brown coveralls very suited to country living. Although smitten, I was hesitant about actually purchasing him. Pat did not know me but trusted me enough to say, “Take him to breakfast and think about it. If you don’t want him, just bring him back. If you decide to keep him, we’ll settle up later.” Well, who could turn down an offer like that?
Bradley must have known his future was uncertain. He behaved in the most polite and gentlemanly manner that morning. He instantly made friends with everyone at our table as he enjoyed a coffee and croissant. Afterwards his big brown eyes pleaded, “Don’t leave me now.” It was then I decided he would make a perfect Christmas gift for my mother-in-law. She was a special lady and he was a special bear.
However, the conference was just beginning. It didn’t seem right to leave him in my hotel room all alone. So he attended every conference activity from beginning to end. He was very friendly and had hugs for everyone. Bradley really knew how to work a room full of women, and especially enjoyed dancing during the entertainment at the Monday night banquet.
That Christmas, my mother-in-law heard all about the fun Bradley had over the course of those two days, (some stories from me; others from him). The following November, as I prepared to leave for the next conference, Bradley ‘asked’ her if he could come with me. She made sure he was looking his best and had me drop by to get him. He took his place in the passenger seat (on a pillow so he could see out), donned a pair of sunglasses, was buckled in and off we went.
It has been our routine ever since. Once we arrive at the conference he usually likes to sit by the registration table to greet people as they arrive. Many women instantly recognize ‘Bradley Bear’ and approach him for a hug without hesitation. Others simply look and wonder. What has this bear got to do with the conference? Who does he belong to and why is he here?
It is hard to believe 2014 will be his 15th year as an ‘unofficial mascot’. Bradley considers his presence essential at the conference. He believes many of these women need his hugs and affection. He makes them smile and feel loved. He circulates freely with attendees; enjoys the company of all and doesn’t hesitate to sit with someone new. Some mornings I hand him off and don’t have him returned until bedtime. One year he had a sleepover. (I never did hear all the details of that night…) Bradley has taken to the stage with keynote speakers and musicians. In 2012 he even ventured out on a shopping trip to Polo Park. People ask if I’m afraid he won’t be returned. I simply reply that he always comes back.
This extraordinary bear seems to bring joy and happiness to those around him. I can’t imagine attending the Manitoba Farm Women’s Conference without Bradley. After all these years, I know he would be missed. Pat Hall claims her bears are “designed from the heart and stuffed with love” ~ something that special is definitely meant to be shared.
Credit: Sandi Knight