Serben's Organic Farm

Serben Farm History

Ivan and Fivronia Serben

By Tom Serben (Jered’s grandfather) – published in 1986

My parents, Ivan and Fivronia Serben were both born and raised in the village of Sheshkivtsi in Ukraine, Bucovina, Austria.  Living in that country at the time was very difficult.  They owned a very small parcel of land which was not large enough to support them and their children.  Their land could not produce enough grain to keep them throughout the year so they were forced to go to work for the landlord cutting grain with a sickle.  As the landlord owned two thirds of the land and the village people owned one third, they did not have much choice.  Father received as a wage one bundle of grain for every ten for the landlord.  

                Many people from their village had made the journey to Canada and had written to their families about the many opportunities available there.  As it was the tradition to divide the land among the children, Mother and Father felt that there was not much of a future for their children.  In 1912 it was decided that Father should make the trip to Canada and make enough money to buy a larger piece of land in their village.

                Father arrived in Halifax and since he was unable to speak English he was like a lost lamb in the bush.  Like many immigrants before him, he started work for the railway for one dollar a day.  It was hard and exhausting work but it also eased the loneliness and homesickness he had for his family.  After about a year my Dad took sick and was unable to work any longer.  He found out that he had some friends at Chipman so he went by train to stay with them and to see the doctor at Lamont.  At that time, Dr. Archer was the physician in Lamont and he told my Dad that he needed an operation.  Father went ahead with it and began the road to recovery. 

                When he had fully recovered he travelled to Smoky Lake to see the farms his relatives had bought some eight years before.  They had cattle, horses, chickens and pigs and they had already broken some land and produced a crop.  When he saw all this he started to look around for a farm for himself, and for $10.00 he bought the quarter that is known as SE-13-59-18-W4.  When he took a good look around his new farm he thought it was beautiful.  There was a lot of wood which was scarce in the old country, an abundance of hay and a creek going through the farm with a lot of fish.  He wrote back to his family and told them to come to Canada. In his letter he wrote, “I bought a farm of 160 acres in Canada.  A man could earn a sack of wheat in one day”.  One sack of wheat was over two bushels, so Mother thought it was good.

                Mother sold the property but was unable to sell the land of Dad’s 14-year-old daughter Mary from a previous marriage and as they did not have enough money to pay her way, it was decided she would stay with her uncle until her property was sold.  However, in July, World War I broke out and she was unable to leave the country.  She lived there until her death and her children and grandchildren still live there. 

                It took two very long weeks to cross the ocean and my Mother, my sister Sadie 8 ½ and myself at 3 ½, were all very sea sick.  When we reached Canada we headed straight for Chipman to stay with the same friends that Dad had stayed with.  When we were ready to leave for our new home in Smoky Lake we didn’t have anything, so the neighbors and our friends collected 19 sacks of grain and 20 chickens and George Hrehirchuk took us by wagon to our new farm. 

                It was April of 1914 and although we were without a house, money and food, we survived in true pioneer spirit.  Throughout the summer we stayed in our neighbor’s old shack which was located on the farm we now own.  It was very wet that summer and it rained right through the roof.  That year Father and Mother built a small 2-room house and before winter we moved into our own house.

                Our neighbors at that time were Steve Semeniuk, William Radomsky and the Gawryluk family.  That fall Dad helped our neighbors the Gawryluks to cut five acres of rye with a sickle and threshed with a flail.  They asked Dad to take that rye and make sheaves for the roof for their barn; in return they gave Dad all the grain from those 5 acres. 

                After we moved to the house we had an oven or “peech”, made from mud and stones.  Then we got a stone mill from Palamareks to make our own flour by hand.  Father then bought 1 cow, 2 horses and a walking plow.  He made a wagon by cutting the wheels from a big spruce tree, and then he made a rack to haul hay and bundles.

                In 1915 there were 2 acres cleared and in 1916 we had 3 acres cleared and planted our first crop of wheat.  What a beautiful crop! But alas, that summer it was hailed out completely.  That fall Dad worked alongside Palamarek’s threshing machine to make some money to feed us through that winter.

                Our next piece of machinery was a handmade sleigh; that is how our family started farming in this area.  In all, eight children were raised on that farm and we all attended Toporoutz school. 

                In 1944 I bought my first car, a Dodge.  I was in Vancouver working at a war-related job and I was taking a holiday to Alberta to see my relatives when the war ended and so I stayed on the farm.  I rented the farm from my Father on a one-third/two-third share and I bought 5 cows and 5 horses and some sows.  After 2 years, in 1948, Kate and I borrowed some money and along with the money we had saved we bought the quarter NE-13-59-18-W4 for $3800.00 from Bill Teslyk where we still reside.  There was 55 acres cleared and we seeded it that year.  That year and the two succeeding years were very dry and we were lucky to get a yield of 10 bushels to the acre.  We were using a team of horses and a binder and we hired someone to do the plowing in the spring.  In 1950 we hired a “cat” to clear 26 more acres.  That same year we bought our first tractor a R Minniapolis R, and in 1951 we seeded that extra 26 acres but we were completely hailed out. 

                In 1951 Dad died and in 1968 Mother followed him.  They are both buried in the Smoky Lake Russian Greek Orthodox cemetery. In 1958 we bought our second quarter and in 1960 we bought our first combine.  In 1963 we purchased a third quarter. Kate and I had 5 children.  In 1972 my brother George who had taken over the original homestead, sold it and in 1976 our son Bill and family moved back to Smoky Lake and have continued our family farm. 

                In 1979 we built a totally automated hog barn to accomodate a 70-sow farrow to finish operation* and we now farm approximately 1000 acres.

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*This intensive farrow-to-finish hog barn was in operation on the farm until 2002. The hog market crash of 1998 ultimately forced the Serbens to get out of hog production entirely and the barn now sits empty.  Jered worked off the farm for a few years and then returned in 2007 to begin farming in a style more similar to his grandparents', and Serben Free-Range was born growing naturally-raised, free-range pork, chicken, turkey, lamb and eggs ever since. In 2015 the farm evolved and became certified organic. 

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