This cross-sectional survey was conducted as Phase I of the Prairie Ecosystem Study (PECOS): Environmental Pesticide Exposure and Human Health. In November of 1995, community volunteers delivered a self-administered household questionnaire to 1185 rural households in southern Saskatchewan, Canada. The survey provided a broad description of the general health and the physical environment of 511 men, 499 women, and 393 children (< 18 years of age) residing in 549 respondent households in the rural study area (population density of about one person/km2). Families in the respondent households resided on a farm, in town or both. Of the 369 households that operated a farm, 25.2% of the households did not list the farm as their primary household. Residents of both farming and non-farming households reported contact with pesticides and fertilizers through home or garden use. History of smoking was greater among men and women from non-farming households. The most commonly reported health problems among the children were a history of bronchitis, asthma, skin allergies, pneumonia, and hay fever. The most frequently reported health problems among the men were a history of high blood pressure, bronchitis, pneumonia, hearing problems, and stress; and among the women were a history of bronchitis, high blood pressure, shortness of breath, and pneumonia. Compared to farming households, more members of non-farming households reported a history of respiratory problems, particularly bronchitis among the women and children. Overall, there were important differences in the smoking history, the occupational use of pesticides and fertilizers, and the general health status between the farming and non-farming households and individuals in this rural population.