The women who came before us - Donna Barkey

This post is the first in the series 'The women who came before us'. AWN members were asked to write a tribute to their mothers, the women who came before us, and brought us this far, as a thank you for everything they've contributed in celebration of Mother Days. This first piece was written by Kathryn Doan in collaboration with her siblings about their mother Donna Barkey.

Donna Barkey, a farmer for over 50 years, a woman of high values who represents the skills that many people like herself, give to Canadian agriculture. No, Donna may not still be getting up at 5 am to milk the cows, but what she still does today at the age of 76 as a mother, grandmother and partner in Altona Lea Farms is a vital part of the farm success both past and present. Defining words that best describe Donna Barkey are energetic, committed, loving, loyal and dedicated to all activities she is involved.

In this special Mother’s Day tribute to farming women, Donna Barkey would identify her characteristics as her passion and love for her family, all who were raised on the family dairy farm Altona Lea, near Blackstock, Ontario. It all started back in 1964 when Donna Johnson married Frank Barkey and located on his family farm in Altona, Ontario. In the early days on the farm, there were challenges of living under the same roof has her in-laws on the small mixed farm; however it was Frank’s keen eye for purebred Holstein cattle that ultimately led to the their successful business venture and independent farm business.

Donna with three of of beautiful grandchildren

The farm evolved from their rented historical farm in Altona, which was consumed by the federal government’s aquistion of farmland for the proposed airport to purchasing their own farm near Blackstock in 1978. The years of starting a business were not easy, with a young family in tow, the new farm was a work in progress, however the ability to own their farm far outweighed the challenges of fixing up the outdated farmstead. But still today, the care and pride of ownership that Donna & Frank invested in their farm with trees, roses and clematis that adorn the lanes, shed and gardens today. You can be rest assured, if that cattle break out of the pasture, Donna is the first one out rounding them back in. To quote Donna, ‘farming is a family business, it is being part of the team’.

Donna, husband Frank who passed away in 2011 with three excellent sister

Donna was blessed with nearly 47 years of marriage to Frank who passed away in 2011, but their legacy was most certainly their children, Sharyn, Elaine, Glenn, Eric, Carolyn and Kathryn, all of whom have married and contribute to her 20 grandchildren.

"There are not too many mothers who can proudly say that all six of her kids are university educated and all remain connected to agriculture today."

The Holstein breed was good for the Barkey’s, but equally so the Barkey’s were good for the breed. Although Frank was politically active in the county and provincial Holstein boards, it was Donna who took charge of caring for the farm with the children. But never fail, when local fairs, meetings and events allowed Donna to participate, her near photographic memory of people and names always ensured that every person was remembered and always connected through her interactions.

Farming organizations, such as Junior Farmers, provided a key foundation to Donna’s upbringing. It certainly provided the opportunity to meet Frank, but it also taught the values of community building, socializing and providing a network of longtime friends, that still exist today. The primary youth organization that the Barkey children were encouraged to participate in was 4-H. Donna was a proud 4-H Mom and today 4-H Grandmother, where she still appreciates ALL youth, not just her own relatives, engaging and being excited about agriculture. For example she still supports and sponsors the pre-4-H calf show yearly.

Donna still regularly attends and supports 4-H Shows

If an award was given to the most hours spent ring side, watching cattle or 4-H shows, Donna would be a top contender. A core family value, which is something experienced through life, and not necessarily taught, is the ability to give back, and be a part of a community. These are the skills which have been passed on to her children who thrive in giving back to agriculture, as much as she does.

Unfortunately when Frank passed away in 2011, a huge void was created in her life and the farm, however still living in the main farm house where the hub of activity occurs provides the daily interaction of the farm, combined with her family visit each and every day, that make life worth living. As Mom would say “Family isn’t an important thing. It’s everything.”

Stopping by the Altona Lea farm today, you will find Donna busy at work doing one of mostly likely four things; 1) looking after her grandchildren such that the business of the farm life isn’t compromised by the safety of everyone involved in the farm today (she has no problem “keeping everyone inline”), 2) cooking meals for visitors, hired help, or making special ‘grandma bread’ for anyone stopping by, (she has an ability to make anyone feel a part of the family and welcome to just stop by anytime) 3) working in her extensive vegetable garden and rose flower beds that surround her property, 4) doing the farm book keeping, updating of cow signs or mostly likely, she will be doing all four, as she the most energetic 76 year old women out there.

Kathryn (Barkey) Doan, @kathryndoan

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