Nichole Van Dyk
Future Family Farming
BY JESS CAMPBELL
When it comes to the future of her family’s blueberry farm, Nichole Van Dyk has always known she would be part of it.
The opportunity to become a farmer and a part of the larger agricultural landscape in Canada is a privilege. It’s difficult to start out and even more difficult to maintain, yet most farmers, young or not so young, will tell you it’s worth the work.
What’s even more of a privilege is being part of a farming family and understanding the critical importance of agriculture from the youngest possible age. Nichole Van Dyk is the third generation of Van Dyk’s to be absolutely certain of her lot in life. “To be honest, there was never a time where I thought I wanted to do anything else,” Nichole says of being part of her family’s blueberry farm. “Growing up, I never wanted a summer job off the farm. So, I think I started working at around age 12 with my father on the weekends and school breaks. From there, I always worked on farm whenever I could. I always really enjoyed it.”
Nichole is very quick to say that a big part of her motivation to work within the family blueberry business is her family, both immediate and extended. “My grandparents immigrated from the Netherlands with $200, a kitchen table and four chairs. My grandmother had a few cookbooks, and a few cookware items; my grandfather had a few tools. They started purchasing blueberry land in the early 1960s. The family, the family legacy and working so close with family are why I love what I do.”
Van Dyk is a name synonymous with blueberries all across the province of Nova Scotia, thanks first to Nichole’s grandparents, Cornelius and Henrica, and now thanks to her father and some of his siblings. Together, the family has taken an already thriving business and secured its success well into the future by innovating and expanding the business itself. “My father, Peter Van Dyk, my uncle, Charles Van Dyk and my aunt, Jeannie Van Dyk, own the blueberry production part of our business,” says Nichole. “Then we have our two value-add companies. We make 100% pure wild blueberry juice and that company is owned by a different uncle, Leo Van Dyk and another aunt, Anne Selig. Then, we have a second value-add company which is Van Dyk Specialties, where we dry wild blueberries. We dry them in a microwave under vacuum and get three different products from that production line. We have a chewy wild blueberry, a crunchy wild blueberry and then we make a powder. Then we also have roughly 200 honeybee hives and sell honey products.”
Nichole’s role in the family business varies from month to month and depends on what arm of the business is busy, when. She and her father care for the honeybees, which are used not only to produce honey and honey products but also for pollination across the many different wild blueberry sites the farm owns. “We have land from Yarmouth County all the way to Cape Breton; we’re about 2.5 hours from our Yarmouth land and about 5 hours from our Cape Breton land. As difficult as that can be, it can also be a big benefit for us because each county blossoms at a different time for pollination, and it’s ready to harvest at different times as well.” The Van Dyk family has about one thousand acres of wild blueberries in production, although only half is harvested each year to allow the other half to rest and naturally regenerate.
While every day for Nichole is different, she’s more than happy to be working alongside her family and having a hand in securing the farm’s future for the next several generations to come. “To see where my grandparents started and where we are now, with their hard work and dedication, being able to carry that on makes me quite proud,” Nichole says. “My father is one of nine siblings. There are 20 of us grandchildren and now there are 10 great grandchildren, one of which is mine. Having my daughter grow up and be involved in the business and in agriculture in general makes me very excited.”
For Nichole Van Dyk, helping to build the family blueberry business is definitely worth the work.
“To see where my grandparents started and where we are now, with their hard work and dedication, being able to carry that on makes me quite proud.”
What Matters Most
BY JESS CAMPBELL
When it comes to starting your own farm business, you can get by with a little help from your friends – as long as you’ve got some.
Farming is about relationships.
Yes, it’s more typically about weather and crop rotations and grocery store prices and yields. But even those things wouldn’t be possible without the farmer knowing people or working with people. So, farming is about relationships.
Most especially when it comes to starting your own farm business, as Dane Froese well knows.
Although his parents began farming in 1990 near Winkler, Manitoba, Dane has farmed independently since 2014, purchasing his first 80 acres soon after he’d graduated from the University of Manitoba. Since then, he’s slowly grown his business through renting neighbouring acres from those neighbours who own them, again emphasizing the importance of maintaining relationships. Dane also works full time off the farm for Manitoba Agriculture as the Oilseeds Specialist. One might wonder how Dane finds the time to get everything done on the farm if he’s also committed to working full time off of it. “So, what we do is, we trade labour and knowledge and expertise,” Dane says of how things work between his farm and that of his parents’. “Having gone to university for agronomy, I handle a lot of the agronomy and grain marketing and things myself. I make those decisions for both farms. As we purchase and upgrade machinery, I have a share in my parents’ operation and then have access to that machinery. My dad’s a mechanic so I don’t do much of the fixing myself. We split the duties to utilize our strengths. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to run the farm the way I do, not without the other operation.”
While farming is definitely about relationships, it’s also about money. When it comes to starting a farm, Dane understands that growing up as a farm kid makes him one of the lucky ones. “The access to capital and being able to guarantee your first loan if you’re successful enough to buy land is almost impossible without that external guarantor. That initial one or two pieces of land, how do you do it? I think that’s one of the biggest challenges facing young farmers today.”
Relationships are what Dane is choosing to focus on as he considers the future of his farm. Maintaining careers off-farm works for Dane and his wife, an engineer, for now. But it’s the relationships he’s cultivating currently that will hopefully help him grow his farm into the future. “If land goes to tender or to open bid for rent or purchase, you’ve already lost,” Dane says. “The competition for land is intense. Everybody is trying to find a little piece of ground. You have to have those relationships so then when a farmer decides to leave the industry, you have the first opportunity to access the land before it opens to the public.”
There is a succession plan in place for Dane’s parent’s farm, and the fact that they farm “separately but together” ensures they remain successful. “Between what I farm and what my parents farm, we’re close (to 3000 acres). But we’d like to get a little larger than that, just to make sure we can invest in the farm with things like improved grain drying and handling systems and diversifying our crop rotation a little bit more, and to keep a hired hand on full time. But I also don’t want to necessarily rely on my parents’ farm land (to keep farming independently). I want to prove to myself that I can do it, too.”
Maintaining strong external relationships with those around you helps make farming a little bit easier, especially on the hardest days. But that internal relationship with yourself, being proud of your accomplishments, and knowing that you’re always doing your best on behalf of not only your family but also the farm itself, matters just as much. “What makes me the most proud is that we’re always improving. We’re always making something better. This land has been farmed for over 100 years by now, and the fact that it’s still healthy and producing good yields is amazing.”
“What makes me the most proud is that we’re always improving. We’re always making something better. This land has been farmed for over 100 years by now, and the fact that it’s still healthy and producing good yields is amazing.”
Back to the Farm
BY JESS CAMPBELL
Just because you were born into farming doesn’t mean you will become a farmer – at least, not before you’re ready to be one.
Multi-generational family farms aren’t as easy to come by as they were, say, a decade ago. Farming is hard work. There is no glamour and very little fortune in choosing to grow food for your community and your country (and other countries!). The call of doing something different, something more lucrative, has been strong for many farm kids, and so, we lose them to a life outside of agriculture. Sometimes it’s for good. But in the case of Travis Hopcott, it was only for a little while.
For Travis, the choice to leave his family’s farm in Pitt Meadows, British Columbia – even if only for a while – was one he made early on. “I understood when I was younger that you never, ever should work solely for the family business; without working off the farm. For me, you lose the opportunity to work for others and perhaps even take the family business for granted, what it means to work for family. So, I worked off the farm; I went to post-secondary education for accounting and took an ag tech diploma. I also worked abroad, for a farm in England as their sales rep for Western Canada. I wanted to do other jobs and travel, at the very minimum. But by the end of that phase, I knew that this was the best option for me.”
Travis, along with his sister Jenn and brother Brad, are now the third generation to farm the land they have. “The farm itself was purchased by my dad’s dad, my Poppa,” says Travis. “He bought the farm in 1932 for $9000.” (laughs)
There are now several different branches that make up the Hopcott Farms business, including retail grocery, a bistro, meat counter and soon-to-be abattoir, cranberries, plus a wedding and events venue and even hay and manure sales. Travis is responsible for everything to do with the 72 acres of cranberries they grow each year, selling to the Ocean Spray Cooperative. His sister, Jenn, is the retail manager, and brother Brad is the cattle farmer of the family.
2022 will mark 90 years for Hopcott Farms. While it’s always interesting to look back and see where you’ve come from, Travis and his family are already looking forward. “When it comes to sustainability, the business has to be environmentally, economically and socially stable. So, those three pillars are our focus. People tend to be very quick to call themselves an entrepreneur. It’s very trendy these days, I think. They say a good entrepreneur is someone who has resilience. To me, that’s what Canadian agriculture is all about, which makes me proud to be part of it.”
While some may have the next 90 years planned down to a tee, Travis’ vision isn’t quite that forward-thinking. “It’s the unknown (about farming that I enjoy). Having something in front of you and you know the result will be based on what you put into it and how much you love the job. Agriculture is obviously one of the more riskier businesses to get into because you can’t control weather or price. So, it’s somewhat of the risk factor that I like, too. And also knowing that the people in our community trust our products so much that they want to bring it into their homes with their families. That’s something everyone here should be proud of.”
Having business and work experience both on and off the farm has given Travis a solid perspective of how to continue his family’s 90-year-old farm business. When asked what he’d say to new, first generation farmers, Travis’ advice is helpful no matter whether you’re brand new to farming or were born on one. “Only focus on what you can control. Be proactive, and know when to pivot quickly. Talk to others and make friends in your industry. Even try to have a mentor or a peer group you can bounce ideas off of. Get to know people, because most people are generally very willing and even eager to help. So, get out there and meet as many people as possible.”
“When it comes to sustainability, the business has to be environmentally, economically and socially stable. So, those three pillars are our focus. ”
Jasmin Bautz has always known she wanted to do things her own way when it came to farming.
BY JESS CAMPBELL
For some young farmers in Canada, pursuing their passion in agriculture seems like an uphill battle, something that’s especially true for first generation farmers.
Jasmin Bautz is not one of those young farmers.
That’s not to say she doesn’t have her own battles to fight. As a young woman who has decided to farm on her own, Jasmin definitely has her work cut out for her. But being raised on a farm – even one that’s different from her own – certainly has its benefits when it comes to figuring things out.
“My farm is Country Log Ranch and I raise purebred Boer goats and commercial sheep,” says Jasmin. “When I was young, that’s what my mum did; she ran a meat goat operation. That’s what I was involved in as a kid and where I spent most of my time. That’s when I grew a passion for them.”
With help from her parents, Jasmin began purchasing animals back in 2012, proving it’s never too early to get started in farming. While helping her dad on the family’s commercial cow-calf and grain farm, Jasmin has also committed to growing her own farm business, with her family’s support. “Right now, I have 80 breeding does (goats) and about 50 breeding ewes (sheep). I lamb and kid them out at the same time. So, come kidding and lambing season, I’m in the barn all day and all night, looking after them. I do this by myself. I’m responsible for everything. That can be lonely and challenging. I can call on my parents or friends for support or assistance. But being able to raise them, and see animals grow and develop – that’s what I love. So in the future, I would probably see myself increasing my sheep herd and decreasing my goats, and just raising a smaller herd and making the quality better.”
Jasmin is constantly looking for ways to improve the way she farms, to make sure she’s raising her animals in the best way possible. “Goats and sheep don’t handle stress as well as cattle. So, I need to keep improving my system and keep finding new solutions to problems and what I’m doing wrong if an animal becomes ill. With the meat goats, it’s a smaller industry. There aren’t as many people involved in it so there isn’t as much support and not as much technology as other industries.”
You might think that farming on her own might be too much for Jasmin sometimes. In fact, farming by yourself can sometimes seem almost impossible, no matter who you are. But for Jasmin, being a young female farmer is the main thing that keeps driving her forward to pursue her goals. “What makes me really proud is that I’m a young woman, and one of the first women on my family farm to be farming and raising animals by myself, on my own. I’m proud that I’m carrying on the family farm like my parents before me. But I’m also changing the kind of farming (that’s being done). I’m also involved in the industry. I’m proud that I go to meetings and voice my opinions, even though, oftentimes, I’m the youngest person there. In the meat goat industry, it’s majority female dominated. That’s helpful because it’s a little less intimidating. It’s definitely easier to speak up.”
Being a young female farmer has never stood in Jasmin’s way, and likely never will, if she has anything to say about it. “I’ve been raising animals for awhile; I sometimes don’t feel that young! (laughs) As a young farmer, my opinion is just as valid as the next farmer.”
Butcher and vegetable farmer, Newfoundland
BY JESS CAMPBELL
Being a successful farmer often means closely managing a daily To Do list. Farming keeps you present and in the moment, whether it’s filling a tractor with fuel before heading out for spring planting or waking up in the middle of the night to check a cow that’s calving.
What people don’t often realize is that farming is also about looking forward. For many young farmers across the country, farming isn’t just about what they’re doing today. It’s also about what you’ll be doing – how you’ll continue your farm and everything it provides for your family and community – down the road.
Nelson Fagan is a 5th generation farmer and butcher from Conception Bay South, Newfoundland. And although he grew up around farming, he didn’t always think about it the way he does now. “I work alongside my father, Nelson Sr., at N.Fagan Meats and Vegetables. For years, I worked a full time job off the farm and still came home to work on the farm in the evenings and weekends. I always said I would just wait for dad to retire and then step in. I quickly realized that dad will never fully retire and if I want to make this my life, I’d have to branch out on my own so that’s what I did. For seven years now, I have expanded my business to not only selling meat and vegetables on the farm but also to travelling across the province and selling from my freezer trailer. I’ve attended countless markets as well just trying to get my name and product around. I’ve also started retailing my products at markets and stores in the last few years.”
A big advantage of living in Newfoundland is Nelson’s ability to offer a variety of products to communities all across the island. “We are a licensed abattoir and butcher shop so we sell anything and everything that comes from a cow! Our biggest seller is definitely our meatballs. We have chickens throughout the year and we also have a few pigs yearly, too. We grow turkeys every year for Christmas, and we have grown savoury for Mount Scio Savoury Farm for the last eight years and plan to continue. My father grows all the vegetables on our farm which include carrot, potato, cabbage, rutabaga, parsnip, beet, onion and kale which is then sold to Sobeys or locally at the farm.”
Nelson has definitely made some changes since he made the decision to farm full time. Then again, that’s the nature of being a farmer in Canada: you need to be comfortable with change, because things are always changing. The most important thing about that change, though, is to understand that it’s necessary in order to continue doing what you love, a point that’s top of mind for Nelson as he discusses the future of his farm. “I’ve recently acquired 10 Charolais cows from a Beef Genetic Enhancement Program with the Government of Newfoundland and I am the first member of the Canadian Charolais Association and first registered Charolais breeder in Newfoundland. I plan on building on that to have a 40 head cow-calf operation in 5 years, and hopefully bring that number up to 100 in 10 years. This is besides my feeder cattle that I have ready for market all year round. I also plan to have my beef sold in more stores in the next few years and by 10 years, I will have my own storefront market opened up, relocating from the original homestead to our other piece of ground where my cattle are now being housed.”
No one can predict the future, but you can certainly plan for it, just as Nelson has. Perhaps that’s a little easier to do when the future you’re planning for is all you’ve ever wanted to do, anyway. If anything, continuing to look forward makes managing the daily To Do list just a little bit easier. “Farming is a way of life. Growing up on a farm, I always knew I didn’t want to do anything but that. I don’t feel like this is a job and although each season brings on its own set of tasks and it never gives us time to slow down, it’s always right where I want to be.”
Annapolis Valley, NS
BY JESS CAMPBELL
Counting yourself as a young farmer in Canada is pretty exciting; after all, you’re part of how Canada will continue to feed not only its own citizens but also citizens throughout the rest of the world, producing high-quality, safe and healthy food year after year.
At least, that’s the plan.
Vanessa Junkin is a brand new farmer who, within the last 10 months, has purchased 71 acres just on the edge of the Annapolis Valley in the heart of Nova Scotia. While she has only just begun her farming adventure alongside her husband, Will, Vanessa already has a passion for Canadian agriculture and for being part of something bigger – even on a smaller scale.
Of the 71 acres they own, just 11 are workable. And working they are. “We’ve designed this process to have the first season on the farm to just get ready because you need that time when you’re starting with a cabbage farm that hasn’t been farmed in 35 years. You need time to get that ready for it to be functional again. The vision we have for the farm is to control as many of our inputs and outputs as possible to make it a full circle operation. So, trying to grow our feed for our animals then using our animals to fertilize our soil to grow our vegetables. It’s like homesteading on steroids because we want to sell our surplus to our neighbours so we can keep doing what we’re doing on the farm.”
Vanessa is also passionate about education and helping people learn about where their food comes from through sharing what she’s learned on her blog, honeywwoofers.wordpress.com. “I know there’s somewhere in this process for me that revolves around sharing and education. It’s starting with the blog. I can see in the future, running seminars on the farm to help other people who are starting from scratch. First generation farmers who maybe have little to no experience or maybe just a little bit of volunteer farming experience like us, who really want to get their wheels spinning on their own property.”
Vanessa and Will got most of their farming experience by WWOOFing – which stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms – where farmers offer room and board to travellers and those wanting to learn more about farming in exchange for farm labour, an experience that worked as a catalyst to get started on their own farming dream. “We knew we wanted to have a farm but when you don’t inherit land or animals or machinery, it takes a lot of start up to get things going. It blows my mind. We’ve been here for six months and the amount of effort – and money! – that we’ve put into this is crazy. And we’re still pre-sales. We still don’t know if this will be a viable business or if this just ends up being a really expensive hobby.” (laughs)
And what, exactly, does this viable business/potential expensive hobby consist of? “In terms of livestock, we’ve started with ducks, quail and we have alpacas that just sort of fell into our laps. So yes, really common livestock!” (laughs)
Vanessa says they have breeding plans for the ducks and quail along with egg sales. The alpaca are an agri-tourism draw but with a useful twist. “Alpaca manure is a cold manure; you can put it in your garden right away as an amendment. We’re new to this community and people want to come up to see us because they want to see the alpacas. So, making those connections has been great. Plus, I can use alpaca fibre to barter or sell.”
Vanessa says everything on the farm is multi-purpose; the ducks help with pest control (“We have a lot of ticks around here!”) and the quail can be harvested for meat after just eight weeks (“I’m not so sure but my husband says we’re eating them.”). As they dive into their prep for spring planting, they also need to prepare for the arrival of a few new, multi-purpose residents. “I have my pig order in so we’ll be getting pigs this spring. They’ll be helping with our land management. We have a really old field in our forest; you can barely tell it was a field, it’s so scraggly and overgrown. So, I’m going to be using my pigs to reclaim that piece of land. We’ll be harvesting them in the fall but also considering a breeding program for them.”
Even though she’s a brand new farmer, Vanessa says she and Will have already felt the weight of farm business overwhelm. But they’re trying their best to use it as a tool in the planning process. “I worked for 10 years as a paramedic so I have a lot of anxiety around going from being a salaried employee to hoping someone will buy my carrots so I can pay my electricity bill. It’s a complete shift in thinking and mindset, and it’s very hard because it’s challenging what we are taught to believe success means. But the way we’re trying to mitigate those risks somewhat is by being diverse. Not so diverse that we get lost in our mission but diverse enough that it’s not devastating if we lose a crop or some animals. But that equates to having a lot of balls in the air at once, which can be really difficult to manage at times. So, there’s always a trade off.”
No matter how much you’re juggling as a young farmer, it’s difficult to look at your operation and your efforts and say it isn’t worth it. You are, after all, working to feed the future – and yourself – and even after the hardest days, there’s something to be said about that. “We always tell people that if we won the lottery, this is what we’d be doing. This is how I would spend my time. I love being in sync with the sunrise and sunset, and the rhythms of animal care and the seasons. This is how we’re supposed to be spending our days: with our community and with the animals that support our lifestyle and on the land we’re caring for. It’s a soul’s purpose kind of work, and that’s important to me.”
Ann & Cody Legge
Blomidon, Nova Scotia
BY JESS CAMPBELL
What do flower farming, raising cow-calf pairs, milking cows, running a feedlot, working as a veterinary technician and growing grain crops have in common?
If you’re not sure, you’d better ask Ann Legge of Blomidon, Nova Scotia. Between she and her husband, Cody, that list of work is how they make their living.
“I work full time at Patterson Farms Limited, a local dairy farm milking 50 cows,” says Ann. “I also run my own farm, Petal & Bay Flower Farm, growing cut flowers for wholesale or to order. Cody works full time at K.B. Kinsman & Sons Limited, a local feedlot, raising 400-500 feeders and also runs his own farm, Cody Legge Farms, growing hay and grain crops. And together, we help on Cody’s family farm, Legge Farms, raising 40 cow-calf pairs. And on Saturday mornings, I work as a Veterinary Technician at Glooscap Veterinary Clinic.”
If you think that sounds like a ton of work, you’re correct. But these newlyweds – married in October 2018 – wouldn’t have it any other way. “We both love keeping busy and especially the variety that comes with farming. Every day is the same but different. We work in acres, not hours!”
Cody is a third-generation beef farmer so farming is not only their livelihood but their lifestyle. Ann admits that farming isn’t always easy – but it isn’t something they’d ever give up on. “There can be really long days. But (we’re) thankful for rainy days when we can catch up on house chores or get in the shop, fixing things. At the end of the day, as we wipe the sweat – or tears – from our faces and watch a sick cow get better, a tiny seed grow into a quality product after so much work… to fail some days but be able to get back up the next morning and try again with determination makes it all worth it and we wouldn’t change it for anything!”
Ann and Cody’s farm is right on the Minas Basin of Nova Scotia. The Basin “plays an integral part in agriculture in the area” adding a unique soil mixture, temperature and weather fluctuations. Plus, the tides rise between 46 and 52 feet every day! Their opportunity to farm within such an extraordinary location isn’t lost on Ann or Cody yet their community and the many partnerships they have which help them do what they do is equally important to them. “We are grateful for all our fellow farmers, nutritionists, veterinarians, supporters and consumers for helping us along the way, and encouraging us to grow with experience and knowledge to be the best we can! In fact, we don’t really consider this a ‘job’ – it’s simply how we have chosen to spend our lives.”
Being members of the Canadian Young Farmers Forum is another meaningful opportunity for Ann and Cody. “It has allowed us to meet so many farmers and members of the agriculture industry with so much knowledge and experience to share, allowing us to grow and innovate. It’s so helpful to have a whole support group alongside us!”
Having so many things to accomplish in a day may seem overwhelming to some. But to Ann and Cody Legge, it’s about building a beautiful legacy.