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Column: Cowichan farmers making hay for charity

Have you ever noticed the coloured hay bales?
Purple hay bales are the colour of choice for many area farmers. When you see them you know that the farmer has paid extra to support of BC Children’s Hospital. (Sidney Venier photo)

A while back I got a story idea tip from one of the first people I ever wrote one of these columns about. Do you remember Renee Closson? She had a chalkboard on the front of her house and wrote quotes for passersby to read. That was way back in 2017. Anyway, she sent me an idea I thought was too good to pass up.

Hay bales.

Wait, what? Hay bales? Yup. Hay bales! As I learned with the whole western town fence thing, you don’t judge a story before you write it, so here we are.

Hay bales. Giddy up and come along for the ride!

Renee put me in touch with Cowichan’s Teresa Van Jaarsveld to talk about the perks of coloured hay bales. The Van Jaarsvelds, Teresa and her husband Cornell, run a dairy farm here in town and Cornell also does custom baling. Who knew that was even a thing?

It’s pretty common to see white and mint green plastic wrap on what my kids like to call the “marshmallows” dotting all of the farmers fields this time of year, but other colours have been popping up as well. My children take great delight in guessing the flavour of those “marshmallows” and dreaming of how long it would take to eat them. While I’m certain on some level the children do understand the big balls are, in fact, full of hay, I don’t want to mess with their imaginations so I usually play along and let them know I’d never get them one because they’d make too big a mess. I’ve got the only child in the world that can make a single raspberry stretch across her entire face and body and still claim to have eaten it all.

Anyway, I had heard somewhere that the hay bale wrap colours were meaningful but I never could find any proof of that. That was, until Renee serendipitously put me in touch with Teresa.

You’ve likely seen the white and mint green bales out there but they’re boring (unless you’re a farmer).

“Some farmers like those colours because they might differentiate them by year or by what field they came from, that kind of thing,” Teresa explained. “Sometimes heifers might need a different cut of hay than say, the milk cows. The heifers might get away with the first cut that is a little bit coarser for them but the second and third and fourth cut would be more for the milk cows sort of thing. So sometimes they go by what kind of hay is in there.”

In my whole life I’ve never considered the concept of hay bale organization but I see the merits of a colour-coded scheme. If only there were other colours…

Aha! There are! Purple, pink, blue and yellow wrap are becoming more prominent out in the fields.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize it’s for charity,” Teresa said, noting that funds raised by the sale of the purple wrap in particular go to BC Children’s Hospital while yellow wrap sales support cancer research and awareness, and the pink and blue colours support breast and prostate cancer research and awareness respectively.

It costs farmers and extra $7 per roll to get the fancy colours, but they do it to support the causes they have connections to and Valley farmers have a bit of a soft spot for purple.

Teresa explained that one of the families in the tight-knit farming community had a child who needed to spend a lot of time at BC Children’s Hospital. Years ago, at just eight months old, Jeremy Wikkerink was found to have a tumor on his side that eventually lead to the removal of one kidney and a transplant from his father. Jeremy is now nearly seven.

SEE RELATED: BC Children’s Hospital was a life-saver for Cobble Hill family

“He was in the hospital a lot so the farmers tended to choose the purple in support of what the [Wikkerink family] was going through,” Teresa said.

At her farm, they also pick purple in support of BC Children’s Hospital as their grandson spent time there after a farm accident years ago. He’s thriving now thanks to the work of the hospital staff.

“We always think of that,” she said. “We’re grateful that we have these facilities so we do what we can to keep that well supported.”

At an extra $7 per roll and just 50 bales per roll, the proceeds add up quick.

Through his custom baling, last year alone Cornell was able to raise $3,000 for the various charities thanks to farmers choosing the coloured wrap.

“The farmers know that if they choose one of the colours for charity they’ll be paying a bit more but they feel it’s worth it,” Teresa said. “They will specifically ask for a particular colour and know that it’s supporting the charity they believe in and want to support. Every year more people know and more people are asking for it.”

It’s pretty cool. And it’s pretty pretty too.

“It is very visual so it does create awareness,” Teresa noted — but only if you know the story behind the coloured hay bales.

And thanks to Renee Closson and Teresa Van Jaarsveld, now you do.

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Sarah Simpson

About the Author: Sarah Simpson

I started my time with Black Press Media as an intern, before joining the Citizen in the summer of 2004.
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