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Young farmers continue outstanding work


From the Field is a new agricultural column that will appear monthly in the Advocate. It is written by veteran Central Alberta reporter and broadcaster Dianne Finstad, who is an honorary member of the Alberta Institute of Agrologists and the Alberta Human Ecology and Home Economics Association. An award-winning journalist, Finstad is well known in the local farming and ranching community for her long-running television program This Business of Farming and other agricultural reporting, as well as her regular coverage of rodeo events.

One of my favorite programs to cover or be involved in on the farm beat is always Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers.

It’s designed to seek out and shine the spotlight on innovative producers who are excited about what they do. Even in years of drought, or economic price crunches, there are still such farmers to be found.

Meeting them and learning their stories is always inspiring. Once producers become involved in OYF as a nominee, they stay on board as alumni, to carry the program forward.

The 2013 National OYF Event took place in November in Regina. Alberta’s region was represented by Michael Kalisvaart and Karen Jansen, a young couple from Gibbons who head up a large grain operation. Kalco Farms has achieved growth through partnerships, such as the farmer-owned Providence Grain company, and employs lots of technology to better manage and track the business.

The young Alberta couple went on to be selected from the seven regional representatives as a national winner. But more than the recognition, Kalisvaart saw the whole experience as both an honor and a responsibility.

“It was an excellent opportunity to spend a week with a whole bunch of people that think the same way as you, all in different parts of agriculture,” commented Kalisvaart.

That ranged from organic vegetables, to direct food marketers to dairy production, so it’s a much more diverse group than you’d meet at your average farm meeting.

“But we had so much in common, and learning from each other, and just seeing how everybody does things was probably the greatest part of what we did,” he added. “With all the alumni there, it’s just such a high calibre group that you’re a little humbled to become part of that.”

Those recognized by OYF see their role as being an ambassador for agriculture, and that’s something they’ve been doing long before the current “ag-vocate” term was coined to describe such activity.

“We’ve gotten a lot of attention from media,” said Kalisvaart. “And it gives you an opportunity to share some success and some stories. I think today food and food production are so front and centre in the public’s eye, I’m happy to be able to share a positive story and contribute to the conversation and dialogue.”

Kalisvaart and Jansen shared the story of their farm on Friday in Banff, at this year’s Regional OYF event. We also had the opportunity there to meet the next young family, who will represent the area at the 2014 National Awards program in Quebec City in November.

Richard and Nicole Brousseau have a dairy farm near St. Paul, a venture they’ve worked into gradually with Nicole’s parents. They’re just moving into a new dairy barn, and sustainability is a key philosophy for their operation.

While both grew up on farms, and had hopes of one day being involved in agriculture, it took some hard work, perseverance and a path of discovery off the farm to get to where they are now. Richard’s road began in hog production, and included time teaching and managing the dairy program at Lakeland College, which Nicole was also involved in.

“That connection to teaching helped,” explained Richard Brousseau. “Doing the hands-on, and actually teaching people what we know, the benefits of farming and what we do, really connected for us. I think that’s definitely part of the mission for our business moving forward.”

Nicole wholeheartedly agrees.

“When we worked at the college, part of what we did was seeing other people who’ve never had an opportunity to be on a farm, or even to know what farming is. To give them a little taste in agriculture is so rewarding, and so much fun. Some kids, right from the city, were some of our best students, and some of the people who had such passion in agriculture. So we want to be able to put ourselves out there, and hopefully become mentors, and invite people out, and give them a little taste of agriculture and see if they bite.”

“We both feel that it’s been our calling to be in agriculture, and we’re very fortunate to be able to follow our passion and our dreams,” added Richard. “To be able to help someone who doesn’t have the opportunity to do that, to maybe open some doors for them, is definitely what we’re going to aspire to do.”

Nicole beams as she relates that another dream of theirs has always been to travel to Quebec City, and since her husband’s ideal vacation is to visit other farms, they’re very excited about their upcoming trip to the national program.

Such deep enthusiasm for agriculture is contagious. In my rodeo trail, world champions like Lee Graves always stress the importance of spending time with “winners,” people with a positive, forward-thinking attitude who can influence your own performance, whether that’s in competition or in business. The Outstanding Young Farmers program provides that opportunity in agriculture.

Look around your area. I’m sure there are outstanding young people committed to agriculture who would be good candidates as future OYF nominees. Or they might even just provide a good dose of enthusiasm to help bring a broader perspective to those daily chores on the farm.

 
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