Success? Here’s the beef!

The cattle buyer had a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

Women of Excellence Susan Manyluk: surprised the beef industry with her success.

Women of Excellence Susan Manyluk: surprised the beef industry with her success.

The cattle buyer had a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

“I’ve made a lot of money off you over the past 30 years,” he told beef producer Susan Manyluk as she sat beside him in the stands, watching calves go through the ring at the Burnt Lake Livestock Mart, just outside of Red Deer.

Manyluk had come in to see how the calves were selling.

She gave him a quizzical look. He grinned.

“There was a lot of people thought you’d never make it in this industry,” he said. They’d laid a few bets over the years on how long she’d last.

A few days later, sitting amidst the carefully organized clutter in the two-storey antique shop that overlooks the pens where her cows and horses have bellied up to their hay bales, Manyluk says she’s not sure that those transactions really took place.

But she’s pretty certain that the big burly men whose backsides fill the benches on sale days have tired of waiting for her farming business to flounder.

Viking women aren’t cut that way, says Manyluk, whose family immigrated from Denmark in 1955 when she was eight years old.

Probably because their men were gone for years at a time, Scandinavian farm women became very good at playing both roles in their homes, raising the babies, keeping the house and creating beautiful handiwork along with looking after the fields and gardens and fishing during summer while looking after the livestock year round she said.

It was natural, then, when Manyluk and her husband Glen moved to Red Deer that she set up a hobby farm while he went off to work, travelling all over the province in his capacity as a superintendent with Alberta Education.

The couple had owned a home in Lethbridge.

When the opportunity came for her husband to take a job in Red Deer, Manyluk insisted that they look for a place in the country where they could have a few animals and enjoy a more pastoral life style.

Nearly 35 years later, their original 17-acre plot has expanded to include another quarter of pasture and Manyluk rents pasture on neighbouring farms to run her herd of about 300 beef cows and their annual crop of calves.

The cows all go back to the original 10 heifers Manyluk purchased in 1977 when they bought the place, nursing them on the four dairy cows her parents had provided to get her started.

Another aspect of the business that points directly to Manyluk’s Danish heritage is the massive collection of antique housewares, tapestries, art and literature that started with her mom, Kirsten Jarvis, picking up a few knickknacks here and there.

The Jarvis family had arrived on Halifax’s famous Pier 21 with as many possessions as possible jammed into a single trunk.

As Manyluk expanded the cattle herd, her mother was rebuilding the collection of teacups, tapestries and other dry goods she had been forced to abandon in Denmark.

At about the same time, Manyluk had taken a silversmith course at Red Deer College. She used items from her mother’s collections as backdrops to sell her jewelry at a variety of trade shows.

The collection continued to grow and so did the herd.

Manyluk and her mother continued to pick up more antiques from a variety of sources, including farm and household dispersal auctions. The antiques eventually displaced the jewelry in her trade show booth.

In 2000, she converted the main floor of the shop to a display area and started her retail business, HolmeHus.

The name comes from holme, the Danish word for islets dotting the seas around Denmark. The store is now open year round and occupies both floors of the shop, offering antiques with a distinctly Scandinavian bent along with fresh eggs, frozen beef and garden produce in season.

Manyluk says she has no hard feelings for the men at Burnt Lake, who would leave her on her own whenever she came in to buy small bales of hay.

“I’d load 50 or 60 bales in the back of my pickup. I respect them for not running out and saying, ‘Gee, sweetheart, can we help?’”

Last month, Manyluk was honored in the agriculture and environment category of the Red Deer and District Community Foundation’s 2010 Women of Excellence Awards.

Her nominator, Kim Berube, said in her presentation that Manyluk’s actions give other women “permission” to try things that are different, to follow their passions and to take the road less travelled.

HolmeHus Antiques and the Farm With the Good Food is a member of Central Alberta’s Country Drive farm tour, which holds its Christmas Showcase this Saturday and Sunday. Visit www.countrydrive.ca for details.

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com