Water Builds Community

Editor's Note: With spring just around the corner, farmers are gearing up for seeding. While many of us support our farmers by buying local, they also support us – we are a community that rely on each other. Guess what else we depend on? You know it – water. No one knows this more than farmers, and in this blog we pay tribute to a special funder of the OWC that lives by this belief - Gouw Quality Onions Ltd.

Gouw Quality Onions Ltd. is a locally owned and operated farm, incorporated in 1987, that specializes in the growing, packaging and shipping of yellow onions and pumpkins. They currently farm 6500 acres and in 2016, moved to a new headquarters with an 80,000 square foot onion storage, packaging, and distribution facility near Taber.

The business has developed over the years, but it’s success was first sown by Casey Gouw Sr., who ran the vegetable and grain farm for over 40 years, since immigrating from Holland in 1951.

 Early farmers like Casey Gouw Sr. started the agricultural industry that we see today in Southern Alberta.

Early farmers like Casey Gouw Sr. started the agricultural industry that we see today in Southern Alberta.

Today, Gouw Quality Onions Ltd. grows millions of pounds of onions and thousands of individual pumpkins each season that are distributed throughout western Canada.

This requires plentiful, clean, clear water from the Oldman watershed. Gouw Quality Onions Ltd., like other producers in Southern Alberta, use water daily on their farm to irrigate crops, water livestock, provide potable drinking water and to create a source of recreation activity for family and friends.

Access to water is more important today than ever. Irrigation districts and governments allow good access to water through infrastructure and regulations. Water access is well supported and understood. However, when asked what challenges the Gouws are facing in the Oldman watershed today, Kyle responded, “With climate instability becoming more evident - is our water going to be there in the future? Water comes to us in two ways, either rain or irrigation, that is dependent on the weather. Irrigation relies on the snowpack in the mountains that feeds headwaters to flow into the river and is then allocated throughout Southern Alberta.”

 Growing fresh, healthy onions requires access to clean, reliable water.

Growing fresh, healthy onions requires access to clean, reliable water.

The Gouw business understands that a sustainable watershed means sustainable funding. and have generously donated to the Watershed Fund to put their financial support behind OWC’s vision: a healthy, resilient watershed where people, wildlife, and habitat, thrive and prosper.

Investments by donors like Gouw Quality Onions Ltd. support OWC's 7 main projects and 12 community partnerships, in addition to our extensive communication and outreach on both social media and through presentations and events.

“The Oldman Watershed Council allows everyone to have a voice and tell their story,” was Kyle Gouw’s answer as to why they chose to donate to the Oldman Watershed Council. “Everyone has a story about water. Water is not one person’s responsibility; it is everyone’s responsibility. Water ties us together. Water builds community.”

 “Water ties us together” The OWC teaching kids how people, water and land are all connected.

“Water ties us together” The OWC teaching kids how people, water and land are all connected.

When the Gouw family joined the Southern Alberta community in 1951, they had a rich history of family farming and the land here had what they needed: good soil, and a warm growing season; all they had to do was add water and hard work. Casey Sr. gained experience in irrigation and farming through the years; he soon established relations and employment working within the Irrigation Districts. He then expanded to become an irrigation farmer.

In 2000, Kyle and Casey Jr. took over the family business as third-generation irrigation farmers in Southern Alberta. “It was water that kept the Gouw family in Southern Alberta in 1951, and that is still keeping us thriving today,” Kyle commented.

  Water, especially reliable irrigation water, keeps farms thriving in Southern Alberta today.

Water, especially reliable irrigation water, keeps farms thriving in Southern Alberta today.

The Gouws are advocates of a water storage program. The family has personally built water reservoirs on the farm to meet the needs of their business. There are crops which require water earlier in the growing the season than other crops, but the irrigation water is not released until later in the spring. Therefore, Casey Sr. had the foresight to establish a water storage program on the farm.

Today, they have several reservoirs on their land, with the largest holding up to millions of gallons of clean water. The reservoirs provide clean water to sustain the Gouw farm before the irrigation water is released each year in May, and the water conservation program is essential as a backup for drier-weather years.

The Gouw family has invited many individuals and community groups to share in the benefit of the water reservoirs, such as local seniors and youth groups. The reservoirs are stocked with trout for the enjoyment of fishing, canoeing, and winter ice fishing. Water builds community.

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Thank you to Gouw Quality Onions Ltd. for investing in OWC and giving back to the community. Your contribution allows OWC to leverage your support with that of others, in turn influencing system change, purposeful long-term planning, and more conscious decisions about how we live, work and play in Oldman watershed.