August 15, 2019

Pay it forward: How one farmer’s vision has supported thousands of rural Canadians battling cancer

By Calissa Reid

A cancer diagnosis turns your world upside down. Stressful doctor appointments. Anxiety. Pain. Difficult conversations with family and friends. And all of this is amplified when you live in a rural area hundreds of kilometres away from the nearest treatment centre.

Farmer Edgar Corbiere of Mallaig, Alberta, experienced the stress of uprooting his life for cancer treatment when his son was diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1985. Edgar and his family travelled to Vancouver for his son’s treatment and the pressure on the family was immense. Knowing what the Corbieres were going through, residents of Mallaig wanted to help in any way they could. The town banded together and raised money to offset the seemingly endless expenses of living away from home, and with time and treatment, Edgar’s son’s illness went into remission.

Edgar never forgot the support he received from his neighbours, and 15 years later he had an idea to pay it forward.

Haying in the 30’s

Edgar started the Haying in the 30’s Fundraiser in 1999. The idea was simple—celebrate the history of agriculture and show modern-day Albertans what it took to make hay in the 1930s. One hundred percent of the proceeds were donated to Canadian families impacted by cancer.  Although attendance for the weekend event was entirely free, many attendees donated to the cause. In the first year, $3,500 was raised to help 12 families.

Outdoor sign reading "Haying in the '30s"

Haying in the 30’s started in 1999 after Alberta farmer Edgar Corbiere wanted to pay it forward

Now, 21 years later, Haying in the 30’s features dozens of historic and agriculture events, including horseshoeing, a dairy farm and creamery, and of course, haying. Edgar passed away in 2018, but his dream lives on. The 2019 fundraiser weekend raised $265,000 to support Canadian families dealing with cancer.

True to the deep values in agriculture, the kindness goes beyond monetary donations at the event. Food, entertainment and historical buildings are donated to the charity, and each year over 250 volunteers come together to ensure the event goes off without a hitch. Although the main donation event is the Haying in the 30’s weekend, the charity collects donations throughout the year, with Haying in the 30’s garnering around half of their yearly donations.

Donation booth with line of people at Haying in the '30s event

Each year, Haying in the 30’s raises hundred of thousands for Canadian cancer victims

Neighbours helping neighbours

Martin Naundorf, the president of Haying in the 30’s, says the community generosity is astounding. “Attendees know that when they’re donating, the money is going where it should, directly to the cancer victims.” Last year, the charity was able to help over 400 families. “Each Albertan family who applies receives $1,000 and families from outside Alberta receive $500,” says Martin. “That might not sound like much to some, but it can make a big difference in a family that’s devastated by cancer.”

President Martin Naundorf smiles with council member Randy Kulczycki at the 2019 Haying in the 30’s event

Attendees say there’s a distinct community feeling to the event; previous recipients of donations often come back year after year to support the cause, and they bring their families and friends with them. “We have repeat attendees who have been helped by us or know someone who we’ve helped. It makes them want to support us too,” says Martin.  “And we’re growing. This year, we had attendees from across Canada, the USA and someone came all the way from New Zealand.”

Martin says he got involved in the charity 10 years ago, and his involvement increased after he lost his wife to cancer in 2012. You can sense his pride when he talks about the charity and the event. “I’m a bit of a perfectionist—I always strive to offer the best event for attendees. This year I can say we brought the best.” he says.

What started with a group of neighbours in Mallaig, Alberta helping a neighbour in need, has grown into a community of support across the country. Martin is happy to keep Edgar’s dream alive.

“I made a promise to Edgar, that I would lead this organization in a way that stays true to his vision, not only in helping those undergoing cancer treatment, but also in continuing to create a one of a kind experience by taking you back in time to life in the 1930s. I think he would be proud of all of us.”

You can learn more about the Haying in the 30’s fundraiser and donate to their cause on the Haying the 30’s website. 

Calissa Reid is a PR and Content Specialist at AdFarm with Saskatchewan farm roots.  Although she comes from the prairies, Calissa is happiest hiking in the mountains.